CLEVELAND — Cleveland’s first Guardians sports franchise has nothing to do with baseball. It also went largely unnoticed until it sued the former Cleveland Indians ballclub last fall for adopting the same name.
The two teams have settled the lawsuit, agreeing they can co-exist. Neither team will discuss the deal.
The Guardians who play on four wheels say the team is focused on rebuilding the young franchise sidelined by COVID-19. The team hopes to get back to a 15-game season and again host special events for roller derby enthusiasts and the curious. The team says they are planning a roller derby clinic and showcase, known as the “Guardians Summer Affair,” this August.
“It’s really exciting time in roller derby because for a long time we were the weirdos of roller skating,” said Lindsay Chapman, who skates under the name "Coco Sparx." “Now we have all these new people who started rolling skating in Covid and now they want to do something with it.”
Jeremy Copeck, a.k.a. “Zero” and Guardians team captain, said the roller derby is a volunteer sport.
“Everybody does it because they love it,” he said.
Founded in 2013, Cleveland’s roller derby team is the city’s first sports club to formally take its name from the hulking, 43-foot-tall sandstone sculptures that anchor the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge. They are known as the Guardians of Transportation.
The Guardians roller derby team competes in a league run by the Men’s Roller Derby Association, though the team holds itself out as an all-gender squad.
In a typical 15-game season, the Guardians find rivals in Detroit and Pittsburgh.
Modern roller derby action doesn’t look anything like the roller derby of the 1970s, which was played on a banked track with men and women in tights and plastic helmets fake fighting.
The Guardians play on a flat track. The contact is real, with real consequences.
“I broke my right leg seven years ago,” said Chapman, who owns a roller skate shop in Fairview Park. “I tore my meniscus and had to have that repaired three years ago. Beyond that, it’s the typical bumps and bruises.”
Mark Schatz, an art teacher who plays under the name “Glamour Schatz,” cracked a rib during his first practice.
“You gotta die somehow,” Schatz said. “But it’s so much fun. Falling is part of the sport.”
The team’s finance director, Gary Sweatt, who is a musician and works in healthcare, said about the sport: “Probably the hardest hits I’ve taken since football.”
The competition isn’t called game or match – it’s a bout.
Teams have rosters of 15 players. Each team puts five players on the track -- four blockers and a jammer, who, like a running back, tries to break free of blockers to score points.
“I’m pretty positive I’m going to be a jammer,” Kopeck said. “I’m Zero. I’m the something from nothing. I stand sideways. Give me an inch and I’ll take a mile.”
A team gets a point for every blocker on the opposing team the jammer pass during each lap. Each of the two 30-minute halves consists of a series of two-minute jams. Scores rival those of an NBA game.
Watching can be confusing to the uninitiated.
“My dad came up to me at halftime and said I have no idea what you are doing, but you don’t have as many points as they do,” Copeck said.
Athletes come in all sizes and from all walks of life.
“There is a role for everyone,” Schatz said. “There are tiny people with really big skaters. But their speed and agility are their strength.”
The team is recruiting, hoping former ice and field hockey, football and rugby players will apply. The team promises to teach rookies to skate and train them during no-contact exhibitions.
The Guardians players who spoke to 3News said they enjoy the competition, but it’s the ethos of the sport that keeps them coming back.
“I like the community,” Chapman said. “The people really pump each up and help each other out. It’s like an extended family and it’s a place where I feel really powerful.”
These Guardians will likely never be as popular as the city’s beloved baseball team.
But with some grit, a good nickname, and desire to play for your hometown, you can be a part of this professional team.