By Erin Crowell
Its a Tuesday evening in the Kalkaska Kaliseum and the Derby Dahlias are practicing for their first bout, a roller derby scrimmage happening on Saturday with the Sault Roller Derby Travel League Team from Canada.
The 11 young women are decked out in derby attire: helmet, knee guards, ankle guards, fishnets and striped knee-high stockings. Although just months old, the team is focused, cranking out drills, dropping pushups and hitting the floorliterallydoing a drill specifically aimed at falling the right way.
Somewhere in the middle of the scrimmagewhere two skaters must push their way through the pack of womensomeone yells stop! as one skater glides over to the bench that is normally used for hockey teams in the winter.
Phrases of are you okay? turn into Hell yeah! as Holly Anderson a.k.a. Rolivia Newton John (all derby skaters have nicknames) rubs the bridge of her nose, a single stream of red running down the center.
Its our first bleeding! someone yells proudly, and it‘s high-fives all around.
These are badges of honor in the sport of roller derby, and with leagues popping up all over the United Statesand even here at home, with two separate Traverse City teams (the Derby Dahlias and Traverse City Roller Derbys Toxic Cherries)the physical world of this girls-only sport is showing the rest of us that black and blue is the new pink.
THE RED, BLACK & BLUE
There was a time when Roller Derby was as American as apple pie, baseball and bootleggers.
It was in a downtown Chicago restaurant in 1935scribbled on a tablecloththat sports promoter Leo A. Seltzer came up with the idea of the Transcontinental Roller Derby, a co-ed endurance race that took skaters around a track. Whichever team could finish the 3,000 mile-equivalent race the fastest would win.
Fast forward to 1937, sportswriter Damon Runyon suggests changes in the sport, increasing the level of physical contact between skaters (athletes received points when passing an opponent) evolving the sport from an endurance event, to one of speed and physical contact.
Roller derby brought in droves of action-hungry fans, with clubs appearing in over 50 major U.S. cities by 1940; and drawing more than five million spectators. The time of big egos and broken bones subsided when the U.S. enteredand derby skaters enlisted in the armed forcesfor the real butt-kicking action of World War II. It regained momentum in the 1950s and 60s, only to fizzle out again by the 1970s.
Today, roller derby is *Girls Only* as over 15,000 female athletes compete in 470+ leagues around the world, most of them right here in the U.S. The Womens Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), the international governing body of womens flat track roller derby, boasts the sport is the fastest growing in America. It witnessed a revival approximately eight years ago, when leagues began popping up throughout Texas.
LOGISTICS OF DERBY
Roller derby competitions, also called *bouts*, involve two teams of five skaters per two-minute playing segment (*jam*), in two 30-minute halves.
Youre constantly moving during those two minutes, says Dahlias skater and acting president Jenn Price a.k.a. Jenneral Kills. Its not just skating, its bumper cars.
The five skaters are divided into separate roles. There are pivots, designated by a helmet with a stripe, who serve as the leaders of her teammates in that jam; blockers, who may play either offense or defense; and a jammer, the star-wearing helmeted warrior who must pass opposing blockers and emerge from the pack, earning points for every blocker she passes.
Liz Koehler MacIntyre, a.k.a. Lizzy Luscious, age 24, of Traverse City Roller Derbys Toxic Cherries says her greatest high is breaking free from the pack and the contact that comes with it.
I think the first practice where we really got into making contact we were all grins from ear to ear. There‘s a certain satisfaction in hip checking, booty blocking, and all out railing someone that you can‘t describe. In the same vein, it‘s almost as satisfying to get hit and not go down, she says.
According to the WFTDA, 63% of skaters are 25 to 34 years old, most having some form of secondary education; and 31% of the organizations survey respondents have children under age 18 and 36% of skaters are married.
Leah Singer, a.k.a Yoko Ono-You-Didnt, is captain of the Toxic Cherries, the original local TC derby team. For the 22-year-old senior client success specialist at OneUp Web, derby has become another venue to vent stress and make new friends. She discovered the sport through Facebook this January.
I thought, that sounds kind of cool, she says. Now, Traverse City Roller Derby has 30 skating and non-skating members and it just continues to grow.
Erin OMalleygraphic designer for the Grand Traverse Resort by day, butt-kicking cherry babe by nightsays her original intention of joining the team was to help with graphics; but that all changed when she met the tight-knit group of women.
I made the leap into skating and havent looked back, she says. Roller derby is exactly the kick in the ass I needed.
Because of the sports physicality, there are injuries although not nearly as frequent as those in its heyday; there are rules and regulations, especially regarding physical contact.
People tend to think of (roller derby) the way it was, says Singer. If you watch certain YouTube videos, youll see the old video highlights you know, where it says this isnt your grandmas roller derby.
Actually, roller derby in grandmas day probably *was* more violent (as youll recall the evolution of the sports physicality in the 1940s and beyond). While those daysparticularly during the 1960shad few rules and, therefore, many injuries, certain things just arent allowed on todays rink.
It used to be similar to WWF wrestling, laughs Singer, and even though its still a contact sport, I cant throw an elbow in your face, which you could do back then.
Many injuries occur from falling, which happens often. Its only a matter of knowing how to do it correctly.
I sprained my ankle during a practice last week, recalls Singer. I was playing jammer and one of my teammates did an awesome block. I didnt fall correctly.
How does one fall?
There are several ways, all with nicknames, of course which include the Superman sliding forward and landing on knees and elbows, as well as the Rock Star, landing on both knees at the same time (think guitar solo, hips forward with optional head tilt and tongue flick).
Dr. Eileen A. Schweickert (a.k.a. Dr. Demento) serves on Traverse City Roller Derbys Medical Committee Chair, supervising Cherries practices and even establishing a referral network of physicians to work with the skaters primary care physicians.
The retired family practitioner heard about the team through her nieceRochelle Nevedal (a.k.a. Rochella De Ville) and, having experience raising bucking breed cattle for bull riding, the doc says she knew the team would need well organized medical support because skaters would sustain the injuries similar to those that bull riders suffer, she explains.
Schweickert reports the Cherries have sustained numerous blisters, strains, sprains, shin splints, broken ribs, two mild concussions and one ankle fracture that required hospitalization and surgery.
So far, she added.
Singer points out there are teams whose websites have a section dedicated entirely to injury documentation photos included.
FAMILY OF MISFITS
Both teams have graciously found a temporary home at the Kaliseum, the multi-sports complex in Kalkaska. However, with practices happening on the cement floor of the ice rink, their venue will soon be unavailable come mid-September.
Our biggest goal right now is to find a permanent home, says Singer of the Toxic Cherries. We want a place to skate right in TC where we can have home bouts and tons of people come to support us.
Meanwhile, the Dahlias are focusing on their own goal: their first bout, which will serve as a learning experience.
We wanted people to come out and see what this is about, says Price. Well work hard; and though we dont know how ridiculous we might look, youve got to start somewhere.
With two teams in one town, is there any derby rivalry?
Not at all, says Price, who branched off from the Toxic Cherries in pursuit of starting her own team. Ive actually told interested players to check out both teams and see where they fit best.
Both teams have reached out to other roller derby teams across the country. These out-of-town teams offer advice, encouragement and even training camps for the TC athletes.
That‘s the best part of derby, says MacIntyre with a smile, it‘s one big loving family of misfits.
Price also points out that while interested parties may be drawn to the appeal of the rough and tumble, tough girl world of roller derby, just like any other sport, it requires a certain amount of dedication.
Some girls are just more into the image and lifestyle thing. Its a lot more than a uniform and catchy name, she explains. When you are completely dedicated, both in and outside the rink, there is a lot of empowerment. You really look inside yourself and realize what you can do.
*Want to get involved? Learn more about both teams by visiting their Facebook pages. Just type in Traverse City Roller Derby and Traverse City Derby Dahlias in the search bar. Check out the real thing when the Dahlias scrimmage the Sault Roller Derby Travel League Team on Saturday, September 11, at the Kalkaska Kaliseum, 7 p.m.. This family event is open and free to the public, but donations are appreciated. Young skaters interested in the Derby Dahlias new junior team, TC Derby Dudettes (open to ages 11-17) are invited to sign up at the Kaliseum on Sept. 12, from 3-6 p.m. Parents must be present. Cost, $4 to skate; $2 for rentals. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.*