By Kelly Brooks
Photos by Erick Gibson
Surrounded by fire, your world becomes small, defined by a sphere of dancing flame. Your skin tingles as the fire’s heat passes close; your ears hear only the whoosh of air slapping back into the vacuum that trails behind the blaze. With senses buzzing and adrenaline pumping, you feel more alive, more primal than you did before the wicks were lit.
“I always get a rush when I’m spinning fire,” says Pam Howe. Her tool of choice is fire poi — two balls of fire that are each attached to a two-foot chain. She uses the chain to “fling the burning objects” in intricate patterns around her body.
“There’s no better way to feel alive than when there is an element of danger,” she says.
It’s that danger that entices and awes the audiences that flock to see Pyrophoric, Frederick’s local fire performance troupe. During a show featuring Howe and the group’s other seven performers, you’ll see fire breathers and dancers using a fire poi, a staff, fans, orbs, torches, umbrellas, swords and whips. A DJ, sword swallower, magician and the fire sculpture Cosmosis, a fantastical creation that shoots 20-foot flames into the air, complete the spectacle.
The name Pyrophoric references “a chemical that spontaneously ignites in the presence of air.” And, indeed, Pyrophoric’s members are eager to demonstrate their talents anytime and anywhere.
Fire holds a prominent place in many worldwide cultures. In Central America, the Aztecs performed a fire dance in worship of the fire god Xiuhtecuhtli. In the Pacific, Samoan warriors proved their prowess dancing with a fire knife, and in Bali, the fire dance is a trance ritual in which men dance around and through a fire.
In the United States, where fire dancing was once relegated to the realm of circus sideshows and baton twirlers, the art form can be seen today at street festivals, beach parties, festivals and rock concerts.
Pyrophoric has lit up such Frederick events as Fire & Ice and First Saturday downtown, Flying Dog’s Merry Firkin Christmas Freak Show, Independence Day in Baker Park and a host of private parties celebrating birthdays, holidays and weddings. The group has its sights set on Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for that town’s inaugural Steampunk festival in March.
Sue Kemp, the group’s founder and ringleader, recalls how she discovered fire poi in action at the Spoutwood Farm May Day Fairie Festival in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania in 2004. Although she was initially fascinated by fire poi, she waited several years before buying her first set of practice (nonflammable) poi. Once she did, she quickly learned that poi wasn’t the best tool for her. “I kept whacking myself in the face,” she says with a laugh. “I knew I didn’t want to hit myself in the face with anything on fire!” And with that thought in mind, she let her burning dream flicker out.
But seeing her first fire hula hooping performance rekindled the desire. “When I saw that, fire sparked within me, literally. The hoop [unlike poi] wasn’t winging all over the place like crazy, and I thought, ‘I can do that.’ I became an avid ‘hooper’ after that.”
Kemp made her own hoops and practiced for a full year before finally lighting up her theatrical moves in 2009. What’s it like to spin fire for the first time?
“It was one of those moments where you’re transformed completely by something you decided to experience in your life. Standing in fire, not everybody does that every day,” she says. “I felt natural in it. I craved it and enjoyed how it created a new type of dance and creativity for me. It gave me courage.”
Kemp now had the passion — and the gumption — to start her own business as a performer and instructor. Operating under the name “Soolah Hoops,” she teaches hooping for fun and fitness with Frederick County Parks and Recreation, Frederick Community College and the Ananda Shala yoga studio. She also leads the Shooting Diamond Hoopers, a local teen hoop troupe, and performs with Pyrophoric.
“Before, I was just regular like everybody else. After I started spinning fire, there was a shift in beginning to understand a deeper aspect of who I personally am, not for everybody else, but for me,” she says. The feeling Kemp describes sounds like a spiritual metamorphosis.
“You don’t see this type of performance every day,” Howe says. But for those who do, burnout is possible. Howe’s 10-year-old daughter Grace, for example, “finds it quite boring and is no longer impressed,” she laments.
“What’s a mom got to do to be cool anymore? Sheesh!”
Members of the Frederick Cricket Club passionately play Great Britain’s traditional sport — sticky wicket, googly and all
By Mike Clem
Photos by Erick Gibson
“There’s a breathless hush in the close to-night —
ten to make and the match to win —
a bumping pitch and a blinding light,
an hour to play and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
but his captain’s hand on his shoulder smote —
‘play up! play up! and play the game!”
— From “Vitai Lampada”/Henry_Newbolt
These young men gathering at Utica District Park on a summer Saturday afternoon for a game aren’t really doing it for awards or accolades from an adoring crowd. In fact, not a single spectator appears in attendance to cheer them on. No, they’ve come together for the sheer joy of sharing a sport most began playing as tiny chaps. And while they use a bat to hit a ball in an attempt to score runs, this sure isn’t America’s pastime.
It’s that most quintessential, if not eccentric and esoteric, of English competitive activities — cricket. From April through September, you’ll find the Frederick Cricket Club (FCC) going forth in matches against rival members of the Washington Cricket League (WCL). Although less familiar and more of a mystery to most Americans than Harry Potter’s quidditch, cricket enjoys such a global popularity with 106 nations belonging to the International Cricket Council — you could say the sun never sets on the game. It’s not surprising that the club’s current roster of 30 players is comprised of those from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and even the UK itself.
“Everyone who has a passion for cricket is welcome to join,” says Sanjay Trisal, the club’s founder and coach. “We prefer residents of the county, but we invite anyone who’s interested to come to our practice sessions. If they agree to our rules and regulations, then they can become part of our team.”
He adds that players who participate in the Washington Cricket League matches must pay $200 a year to cover the WCL’s annual membership fee, insurance requirements, field fees, team kit equipment, water, snacks, ground preparation and maintenance.
The fielders do not use gloves, and leg pads or helmets are only worn by most when batting, so the game requires a minimal investment to get started. “We provide some equipment that can be shared by all members, but most players prefer their own bat or protective gear, which can cost somewhere in the range of $300 to $1,200 depending upon the brand and quality,” says Trisal. “Just like in baseball, many cricket players are superstitious about their gear.”
That lack of specialized paraphernalia helps explain the sport’s appeal to the youth of various countries. Just like when cricket was first played in 16th century England, all you really need are a leather-covered cork ball, a willow bat, wickets, enough people for two 11-member teams and a grassy field. In fact, that’s about all the FCC had when Trisal started the team a year after his software engineering career brought him to Frederick from the Midwest in 2002. When Trisal discovered some fellow cricket fans playing in a park or tennis court, he began organizing informal matches in a recreational area off Key Parkway, nicknamed “Lords” after London’s traditional grounds and home of Britain’s national sport. Several years later, as interest grew, he approached the county parks and rec department with a request for a formal cricket field, which was granted in 2006 with grounds established in Ballenger Creek Park.
Today, they host their home games at the new Utica District Park in northern Frederick County. Unlike most sports, the laws of cricket don’t specify the fi eld’s dimensions, but it’s generally oval in shape. In the center sits an official pitch, the 22-yard-by-10-foot clay strip with wickets at each end where the key action takes place. Two batsmen face each other at opposite ends of the rectangle, standing behind a line called the crease and in front of the wicket. Those three stumps are the true target of the bowler’s windmill-like straight arm throw of the ball to one batsman at a time. If successfully defended by a hit, both of the batsmen run back and forth between the wickets. They score runs until the outfi elders retrieve the ball.
Because the 5.5-ounce ball must bounce once — usually with a wicked spin at an average of 90 miles per hour — before a swing is taken, the surface of the pitch must be hard and smooth. (Otherwise a wet or soft pitch presents a bit of a “sticky wicket” for the bowler.) And that requires some care. Perhaps the $1,000 price tag the team recently paid for a shipment from Baltimore of special “cricket mix” earth to maintain the pitch displays the club’s devotion to their sport.
“Growing up in India, I started playing cricket when I was 8 and continued at the college and league levels before moving to the United States,” the 40-year-old Trisal recalls. “I derive a great deal of personal satisfaction from the game. I guess since most of us come from foreign countries where cricket is the primary sport, it provides a reminder of boyhood, home and a sense of belonging.”
Many of his teammates, however, range in age from 18 to 40, and are students, scientists or businessmen whose work or studies bring them to the Frederick area temporarily. “We’re more like a social club with some members who come and go,” says Trisal. “We let everyone play. We also want to encourage those who’ve never played before to learn the sport. You don’t have to possess any special physical attributes to play the game. The challenge is to attract more locals and youth because our mission is to grow cricket at the grassroots level like soccer.”
When asked to name his favorite cricket team, Trisal smiles and answers, “India.” He proudly adds that his native country won the 2011 Cricket World Cup. “Since cricket is an international sport, your favorite team tends to be that of your homeland. So, of course, off the field, those of us from India have a good-natured rivalry with our teammates from Pakistan. But all national boundaries disappear when we’re on the cricket grounds.”
Watch and Learn
Cricket’s complexities and subtle strategies are difficult to explain, but the fundamental concepts can be quickly grasped by attending a game. And no, this won’t require a trip across the pond and five days spent watching a match, only to have it end in a draw.
The Frederick Cricket Club (FCC) doesn’t play that traditional format, called a “Test Match,” supposedly because its length tests players’ character and stamina — not to mention that of the spectators. Instead, as part of the Washington Cricket League, the FCC competes in a modern version known as “Limited Over Game” that was devised so games could be completed in about seven hours, including a short lunch break.
Bringing a picnic meal would be a good idea if you plan to attend a match. Sunscreen, a hat, umbrella or other sun protection are recommended, as there is often no shady area at the local cricket grounds. You may also wish to provide some seating.
If you’re interested in seeing the Frederick Cricket Club in action, more information, schedules and directions can be found at www.frederickcricketclub.com or at the Washington Cricket League’s website, www.wclinc.com.
Cricket by the Numbers
Size and weight of a cricket ball
A cricket ball weighs 5.5 ounces (155.9 g) and measures between 8 13/16 and 9 inches (22.4 and 22.9 cm) in circumference.
Size and weight of a cricket bat
Following the rules of the game, the length of the bat may be no more than 38 inches (965 mm) and the width no more than 4.25 inches (108 mm). Bats typically weigh from 2 pounds, 7 ounces to 3 pounds (1.1 to 1.4 kg), although there is no standard.
Typical score for a match
Cricket is usually a high scoring game. It’s normal to score 200-plus runs while batting in a limited over game (single day) format.
Number of rules in the official rulebook
There are about 42 laws of cricket.
The Wheelmen Enjoy X-Treme Cycling Turn-of-the-Century Style
By Mike Clem
Photos by Casey Martin
People who love to use that old cliché “It’s just like riding a bicycle” to get you to do something new obviously never met Eric Rhodes and one of his bikes. That thought strikes me as I accept his invitation to climb up in the seat of an old-fashioned high wheeler that’s as tall as my horse — only this form of transportation requires balancing on two thin tires with spindly spokes instead of four sturdy legs and a broad back. With Rhodes acting as my human training wheels, I begin a wobbly little circuit in Baker Park.
“See, it’s not as difficult as it looks; just don’t let the height intimidate you,” he coaches encouragingly. Easy for him to say. The 37-year-old Frederick resident has been riding these bicycles with the big front wheel for five years. And he’s raced modern cycles competitively since 1992. Today he serves as captain of The Potomac Region Wheelmen, the Maryland chapter of The Wheelmen, a national nonprofit group dedicated to promoting the golden age of cycling. Although they’ll ride any version of a pre-1918 two-wheeler — the “Hobbyhorse,” “Velocipede” or “Boneshaker” — many prefer what is known as the “Ordinary,” “High Wheeler” or “Penny Farthing” (think of a big coin next to a small coin).
Developed around 1870, the high wheeler caught on with the public a decade later as an improvement over the earlier machines. The iconic design that has come to symbolize the Victorian age proved to be the first truly efficient bike. A larger front solid rubber wheel, pivoted on a tubular frame, gave a smoother ride over rough roads for more comfort and allowed for greater speed. In the days before bikes had chains and gears, the only way to cover more ground faster with a direct drive system was to increase the wheel’s circumference. The height or size of the front wheel was only limited by the rider’s inseam, since his legs had to reach the pedals. (Note to self: the next time I buy a suit, ask the tailor for the appropriate size for a penny farthing.)
Rhodes explains there was an unfortunate attribute of sitting high up and perched directly over the front axle. “When you’d hit a rock or a rut, you’d pitch forward and could dive right over the handlebars. It’s where they coined the term ‘taking a header.’”
Now he tells me. A quick glance reassures me that he still has a grip on my bike as I cautiously make a slow turn, my thighs mashing against the straight handlebars. I see a soft cushion of grass and decide it’s a good place to dismount. I look for the brakes, which seem to be missing. Apparently, there are none. “The only way to stop is to pedal backwards,” Rhodes helpfully advises.
These drawbacks in design don’t deter enthusiasts like the 30 members of Rhodes’ club from taking their high wheelers out for a ride, a cross-country tour or race. “I feel safer than when I’m on my modern carbon road bike,” says Keith Carter, who recently moved from Brunswick to Hagerstown. “I’ve been cycling for years but wanted to do something different and this looked like fun.” The 60-year-old learned to ride an “Ordinary” by watching YouTube. He began riding a 48-inch “Gentle Giant” but is anxiously awaiting delivery of his handmade, 52-inch “Victory” from a bicycle maker in Florida.
While some of The Wheelmen collect or restore antique machines, many just ride for the sheer joy and own reproduction models. Cost can be a factor in choice. Replicas range from $1,500 to $4,500, while the average $10,000 price tag of a penny farthing isn’t exactly pocket change. There are also models made with modern lightweight materials and brakes for racing or other events. But as with any hobby, there are always people looking to sell their equipment because they’re getting out or trading up.
Mike Kennedy, 56, bought his traditional, 50-inch bike from a manufacturer in the Czech Republic. “I’ve been high wheeling for several years now and as a lifetime cyclist, I have to say these bikes are not only fun, but it’s great exercise,” notes the Hagerstown resident. “A 30-minute ride on a high wheel is like the equivalent of a couple hours riding a regular bicycle.”
Rhodes says a good workout is just one of the many benefits. “We’re a family-oriented, multigenerational club,” he says, adding that members range in age from 2 to 82. “Whether you enjoy collecting bikes and memorabilia, dressing in period costumes for parades and historical demonstrations, racing and trick riding, or taking a high wheel out for a leisurely spin, this activity has something for everybody and that can be shared with anybody.” You know, I think he’s right. After my test drive of his “Ordinary,” I just might be tempted to pull on a pair of knee breeches, plop a newsboy cap on my head and ride off tall (and maybe a tad shaky) in the saddle.
To learn more about the hobby of high wheeling or The Wheelmen, visit the organization’s website at www.thewheelmen.org. For information about The Potomac Region Wheelmen chapter, contact Eric Rhodes at email@example.com.
By April Seager
Photos by Bill Millios
Honoring A Family With an Armful of Ink
It took two—maybe three—minutes for Alfredo Maggi of Frederick to peel off the long sleeved, preppy-striped dress shirt he had on.
“To be honest, I show this tattoo to almost everyone I meet,” Maggi says, his right arm held out taut.
Dedicated to his parents—both deceased—Maggi’s tattoo stretches from shoulder to wrist. Picture by picture, the portable mural narrates a journey that started in the Caribbean and ended on Market Street, downtown.
“Cuba’s right there,” Maggi says, pointing to a puddle of ink near his elbow.
His father, Alfredo, and mother, Herminia—whose cameo appearance can be found on Maggi’s lower arm—both grew up in Cuba, though the couple actually met in the company of “Lady Liberty” in New York City. Eventually the Maggis migrated to Miami, whose visual shout-out is represented on Maggi’s “sleeve” by a tattooed reference to Miami’s Ocean Drive.
Then there’s the image of Saint Barbara, floating at the crest of Maggi’s arm. Bigger than Cuba and the Statue of Liberty combined, the tattoo inspires reverence and a little bit of terror, he says.
“Sometimes, growing up, I made fun of it,” Maggi adds, referring to the icon whose duplicate once hung in his home, shaping his childhood belief system. “A couple of times I had to pray to it.”
The Saint Barbara image is the needlework of Thomas Kenney of North Market Street’s Classic Electric Tattoo and Piercing, while the stained glass-like cityscapes elsewhere were created by Shane Acuff of Gus’s Tattoo Studio, also on North Market. Other artwork on Maggi’s limb was created by Gordon Staub of Time Bomb Tattoo—yet again of North Market Street.
Maggi says he decided to sit for three different, downtown tattoo artists as a way of spreading around the love he has for downtown Frederick.
“What makes Alfredo’s sleeve different is that it has artwork by so many different types of tattooers,” Kenney says. “There’s a real painterly style that…may not be what’s common in tattoos—[perhaps] a mimic of a portrait—and then there’s a more tattoo [-ish] style, which are the parts I did.”
Gazing through this party of styles are two realistic portraits by Staub. The tattoo artist’s skill became clear when Maggi—a fount of family lore—laid out the source photos Staub worked with. The snapshot of his mother was taken in 1972. She’s posing beside her husband, though Maggi chose to use another, older photo of his father.
“My dad and his brother flew to New York on Eastern Airlines in 1956,” he explains, showing a black-and-white image of two young men in suits holding messy piles of snow. “They’re sitting on top of a roof in Brooklyn. They were from Cuba, so they’d never seen snow.
Memorial tattoos aren’t always this elaborate, nor are the emotions they represent so obvious, Acuff says.
“A lot of times [memorial tattoos will] be someone’s name, maybe a date—something small, like a flower,” Acuff explains. “But there can be no doubt that Alfredo’s is a memorial tattoo.”
Maggi’s sleeve wasn’t his first tattoo project, and, from all indications, it’s unlikely to be his last. Still, it might end up being his boldest.
“People I know were, like, ‘You got a sleeve this time,’” he says proudly. “No [B.S.], I got a sleeve. It took long enough….And the only way I’m going to lose it is if I lose my arm.”
By Kelly Brooks
Photos by Bill Millios & Tim Tyson
A deafening blow lands on my helmet. My skull rattles, my eardrums hum.
I try to stay loose and limber as Sir Tascius deals another blow. I close my eyes just before the sword hits.
Local Roller Derby—Mason Dixon Roller Vixens & Key City Roller Derby
By Rachael Schankle
Photos by Bill Millios
Flat-track roller derby—how cool is that? It’s a cult phenomenon—or a sport—that has been sweeping the U.S. for almost a decade now. And it’s inspiring to see women play, such as those on the Mason-Dixon Roller Vixens.
And when it was time to don my own skates and derby gear, I thought, “what have I gotten myself into?”