Roller derby is so badass. I know this instinctually and personally. A bunch of ladies with skate skillz, alter-egos, and the ability to take a punch here and there. Yes. I would like to be a derby girl when I grow up, please.
Unfortunately, I’ve broken my right ankle three times in my life and my doctor has said no to an adamantium cyborg leg. No skates for me. However, when Peoria, IL got together a roller derby team of its own, The Peoria Push, I wanted to get involved, so I did as a non-skating official. So far, my job has been to work the outside penalty whiteboard. That means when the outside skating refs see a derby girl do something illegal, they tell me, I write it on the board and hold it up like a bikini clad ring girl in boxing so the inside penalty trackers can see it. Then they make a note of it on the official penalty board.
Confused? I was too for a while. If you go into a derby match knowing nothing about derby, it just looks like a pack of weirdly dressed girls all fighting each other at fast speeds around a track. And sometimes there’s falling, and sometimes one girl with a star on her helmet breaks out and everyone cheers. What the hell is going on?
First, roller derby is totally real with a set of official rules that every team has to adhere to if they want to be a part of the WFTDA (Women’s Flat Track Derby Association). The WFTDA is just as serious an organization as the NFL or the NBA. If a team does not meet all the requirements and follow all of the rules, they are not recognized by the WFTDA and cannot participate in WFTDA authorized bouts. All derby girls and refs (skating or non-skating) must pass a series of exams to be recognized by the WFTDA and officially claim their badass derby name.
For a super fast intro to how derby is played, The Hammer City Roller Girls have put together this tutorial:
Neat. Gone are the days of 1970s wrestling style antics. Derby is a serious sport for serious women.
But, not stuffy serious. Check out the theme for the Peoria Push’s latest bout:
Holy shit! Superhero roller girls fighting cancer! The double-header bout was this past weekend. The Peoria Push Hard Knocks won against the McLean County Missfits, and the Peoria Push Polka Bots lost to the Quad City Rollers by one stinking point. But scores don’t matter so much in a fundraising bout. This event raised over $26k for the Illinois Cancer Care Foundation. No matter who won or lost, that donation made everyone feel good.
I had a chance chat with Sam “Fifi Fo Fum” Boehle, most excellent blocker and pivot for the Peoria Push Polka Bots and she had this to say about the bout: “We've helped in soup kitchens, we've cleaned up garbage, we've donated numerous charities. It all felt good, but nothing compared to what we did on Saturday, January 22. By selling over 2,700 tickets to our last bout, we were able to donate $26,370 to the Illinois Cancer Care Foundation. We are making a difference, and that is by far my favorite part of being a derby girl!”
However, what I’ve learned by talking to and hanging with some of the Peoria Push is that derby isn’t only about the track and the game. It’s a way of life, an attitude, an issue of self confidence. Derby girls know they are badass. They go through a sort of transformation as they train and get accepted on a team. They feel better in body, mind, and spirit.
“Being a derby girl has certainly also made me more comfortable with my body,” says Fifi. “After I had my son, I never thought I would feel at home in my body again, but derby has helped me love it in new ways. Am I any skinnier than I was when I started? Maybe a little, but I haven't seen a significant change in my weight. I still have big thighs. I still wear pants in the double digits. It doesn't matter what size I wear when I step out on that track, though. In fact, I'm pretty sure my mass (and the way I tend to throw it around) is a huge factor in how effective I am out there. Girls are scared to be hit by me! It feels good to be doing something with the body I've been given.”
FiFi Fo Fum, courtesy Dave Vernon of escapesphoto.com
Sure, roller derby teaches rules and regulations, but it also teaches a clearer sense of self. I’m still a Non Skating Official in training but after attending scrimmages for the last month and helping officiate this last bout, I feel… better. I feel an amazing sense of belonging with the officiating team and am getting to better know the roller girls in the Push. I feel good knowing that I have something I enjoy doing that has nothing to do with work and is social and doesn’t involve sitting on the couch. I have fun, the Push has fun, and my community has fun watching us have fun.
A lot of cities or counties have fledgling derby teams these days. Many have been recognized by the WFTDA (for a list, check out www.wftda.org) and many more are still getting started. If you want to get involved, find your nearest friendly neighborhood derby girls. If you’re unsure of the idea of you as a derby girl, don’t count yourself out. Give it a shot – you’ll probably surprise yourself. If you want to officiate, most teams always need volunteers.
Dudes, sorry – no team membership for you. The whole being a dude thing kind of precludes that. But you can still try out to be a ref – skating or non, and you still get to pick out a badass name once you pass your tests. If you’re into derby just as a spectator, that’s cool, too. All teams need rowdy cheering sections and hardcore idiots willing to sit in the suicide seats (other than derby boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, and wives). Do it. I dare you to go and not fall in love.
P.S. I have not yet tried Jam City Roller Girls for the Wii – I’ve been too busy with real derby.