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Rock ‘em and roll PDF Print E-mail
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 26 May 2010 13:57

Ozaukee High graduate Lynn Klas, aka Juke Boxx, is making a name for herself as a star of roller derby, the rough-and-tumble women’s sport that puts a premium on athleticism, courage and sex appeal.

People here may remember Lynn Klas as a 2005 Ozaukee High School graduate and member of the Fredonia school’s state champion soccer team.

But elsewhere in the country, the 23-year-old Klas is known as Juke Boxx, a roller derby star who has made a name for herself in this flashy, rough-and-tumble sport with her skating skills and good looks.

That’s what it takes to be a roller derby standout — athleticism and courage, and yes, a bit of sex appeal.

For those not familiar with this niche sport that Klas says is finally coming into its own, 10 players wearing roller skates — five on each teams — race around an oval rink. Led by blockers, the jammer, the position Klas plays, tries to pass as many players as she can to score points. Borrowing from the sport of boxing, games are appropriately called bouts.

“You’re basically trying to lap as many players as you can before you get creamed,” Klas said. “It can get pretty rough.”

The equipment worn for this fast-paced, sometimes brutal sport includes knee, elbow and hand pads, a helmet and a fairly skimpy uniform.

“We’re basically saying, ‘Take us and our sport seriously while we wear our sparkly hot pants,’” Klas said. “There is that kind of sexy, campy side to roller derby, but there’s also a lot more to it. It’s very athletic, and there are some huge hits.”

Roller derby may sound like a simple sport, but it’s not, she said.

“It really takes awhile to wrap your head around the rules and the strategy involved,” Klas said.

Klas obviously has a handle on how the game is played.

She joined the Madison Mad Rollin’ Dogs league in 2008 and was drafted by the Vaudeville Vixens.

Klas, who helped the team win the league championship, tied the record for most points scored by a rookie and was named most valuable jammer.

“That’s pretty unheard of for a rookie,” she said.

In 2009, she joined the league’s all-star traveling team, the Dairyland Dolls, or Double Ds, as some call them, and played around the country making a name for herself.

She recently moved to Minneapolis and is currently playing for the Minnesota RollerGirls All-Stars. Various Web sites dedicated to covering the sport have dubbed her a “rookie sensation.”

Klas’ biggest fans are her parents, Peter and Sue, who are accomplished roller skaters in their own right and have traveled the country following their daughter’s roller derby career.

“Some guys watch roller derby to drink beer and see girls bouncing around, but it’s not just a bunch of girls racing around in fishnet stockings. There’s a lot of talent, athleticism and strategy involved,” Mr. Klas said. “We’re very proud of Lynn.”

You also get the impression that Klas’ parents go to as many bouts as they can to make sure she has her helmet strapped on tight.

“It can get pretty rough,” Mr. Klas said. “Lynn’s mother is a physical therapist, and she gets called on quite frequently during halftime to check on the girls.”

Very few girls grow up dreaming of becoming roller derby stars, but in retrospect, Klas has been training for this sport most of her life.

“She learned to roller skate at about the same time she learned to walk,” her father said, adding that at age 7 his daughter won the 1993 state speed skating championship in her age group.

Klas’ second home was the Ozaukee Skateland roller rink in the Town of Cedarburg. Her four siblings are also talented roller skaters, as are her parents, who are still avid skate dancers.

“I think I worked just about every job at the roller rink, from soda girl to DJ,” Klas said. “Then I got into jam skating.”

Jam skating, which has its roots in roller disco and incorporates gymnastics and dance into skating, prepared Klas well for her future on the roller derby rink.

In high school, Klas also made time to play volleyball and soccer.

“I could definitely hold my own on the soccer field, but I wasn’t one of the stars on our team,” she said. “But roller derby plays to all my strengths, so I’m just soaking it in.”

After graduating from Ozaukee High School, Klas went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where roller skating took a back seat to other interests, at least temporarily.

“One day I read about roller derby and decided to give it a try,” she said.

Klas, who unlike some other young women vying for a spot on a Madison Mad Rollin’ Dogs team, was already an expert skater. She rolled through tryouts, survived training camp and was a hot prospect in the draft.

But there was one last hurdle standing between her and her roller derby career — picking a name for herself.

Players take the process of choosing their roller derby names seriously, often opting for a double-entendre or other play on words that they think will resonate with fans. When they’ve found their name, they register it in a national database to be sure it remains one of a kind.   

June Meat Cleaver, Dutch Treat and Erin No Brah are just a few of the more creative names found on the register.

Klas, who wanted a name that reflected her skating style but wouldn’t cause her father to blush, chose Juke Boxx.

“That’s the way I skate. I can juke people to get around them,” she said.

So while Lynn Klas doesn’t register among roller derby aficionados, Juke Boxx is becoming a household name.

“We’ll be at a meet yelling ‘Go Lynn, go Lynn,’ and people will be looking at us like who the heck are they talking to,” her father said. “Some names are pretty edgy. I like Lynn’s. After all, we’re still a Luxembourg family from Fredonia.”

Klas calls roller derby a “total DIY, grass-roots sport.” Players don’t get paid. Rather, they pay to play the sport and to travel. They also have to volunteer to support the leagues they belong to.

But what began as a fringe game that was half sport and half show is becoming more professional and more popular, Klas said.

“There used to be these ridiculous half-time shows with apes skating around the rink,” she said. “It used to be a lot more campy, but some leagues have become a more professional and the fan base is really growing.”

The Dairyland Dolls were drawing crowds of 2,000 to 3,000 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison when Klas moved to Minneapolis. There, the sport is even more popular and crowds of 5,000 aren’t unheard of, she said.

As for the makeup of the crowds, it’s eclectic, a mix of families, hard-core fans and the occasional bachelor party, Klas said.

“Going to a meet is like going to a Halloween party,” her father said.

Klas loves the sport and the people who play it, despite what happens on the rink.

“There’s quite a bit of trash-talking,” she said. “But while some people can be very intimidating on the rink, they’re nothing but sweeties at the after-parties. I guess it’s like any time you get a bunch of women together.”

Klas, who graduated from UW-Madison with a degree in graphic art design, moved to Minneapolis this year because her boyfriend got a job there.

“That was our deal. Whoever got a job first, that’s where we were going to live,” she said. “But if he went to a place without a roller derby league, that would be a very hard sell for me.”

Klas is now traveling with the All-Stars and was in Colorado last weekend.

“It’s funny because they refer to our boyfriends and husbands as derby widows,” she said. “This sport keeps you really busy, but it has totally changed my life.

“I really love being on a team again, and I’ve met so many good friends through this sport.”

Wearing the star on her helmet designating her as the jammer, Lynn Klas, aka Juke Boxx, raced around a roller derby rink during a match against Oly Rollers in Olympia, Wash., in March. Photo by Joe Schwarts/Joe

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