Last night, Lisa and I did something we’ve talked about for years…we took our daughters to a roller derby bout. We have been fascinated by derby for a long time, joking that we should definitely try out.
If you are under the mistaken impression that roller derby is just girls skating around in fish nets and crazy make-up, you’re only half right. Derby is a full-contact sport for girls. I would say that it is as rough as American football, and these chicks do it on roller skates.
Isabel and I took off in the early afternoon, while Dave & Ben went to a movie. We ran some errands and got a quick bite to eat. I relished the opportunity for some easy one on one time with Izzy. At seventeen, her life is changing quickly. She has her first job interview tomorrow, and she’s taking a driving course later this week. To have a chance to talk and laugh together is something I treasure.
The bouts are usually held in Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum. Thanks to a scheduling conflict with a gun show, the games got bumped to the Agricultural Building at the back of the fairgrounds. We met up with Lisa and Victoria in the parking lot. In the row in front of us, several cars with Arizona Derby Dames stickers and personalized license plates, including one for Kruelah de Mille and KMSMALZ for Killin’ Mae Smalz. That got us excited. We’ve already come up with our own derby names…Izzahella and Barbie-Que’d! Parked in the very front was the most decrepit, bumper sticker covered VW van I have ever seen. It was exactly what a derby coach should drive.
At the will-call booth, we were greeted by Big John, an enormous black man with an incredible smile and a naughty sense of humor. He had us laughing and blushing at the same time.
Behind the will-call trailer, several dames met us in “Fresh Meat” tee shirts and all sorts of amazing accessories. There were lots of torn fish nets, tattoos, piercings, hair every color of the rainbow, and even a pair of Wonder Woman-style booty shorts on a very large dame. They handed us programs and we bought raffle tickets. These girls are the league rookies and when they aren’t skating, they interact with the crowd and handle miscellaneous duties for p.r.
The Agricultural Building is essentially a huge warehouse. You enter through a big garage door opening, and the first thing you see is the track.
If you’ve seen the movie, “Whip It,” with Drew Barrymore and Ellen Page, this was right out of that movie. The banked track looks both bigger and smaller than you would imagine. As we walked in, a team of girls in red and black was warming up, racing around the track, alternately veering around other girls and jointing hands with others to practice blocks.
Along the right side of the track were rows of bleachers. Because we were fairly early, we had our choice of seats. We worked our way up to a spot about halfway up in the middle section. We had a great view of the track and could do some serious people-watching.
As interesting as the Dames themselves are, the crowd collecting to watch the bout was even more fun. You see everything: folks with all sorts of tattoos and piercings, parents with little kids, senior citizens in walkers , rock and rollers, and a very concentrated lesbian population. The lesbian group had it’s own subgroups…lipstick lesbians, bull dykes, and androgynous, Justin Bieber-y types.
In the row next to us, and in the row behind us, a whole cheering section had turned out for a member of the Schoolyard Scrappers. “Slam Helliott,” a very pretty girl, reminiscent of a 40’s pin-up queen, sat among them in a blue tank top with her name & number on the back in silver, a teeny, tiny little Catholic schoolgirl skirt and bright blue sprayed into her coal-black hair. Her boyfriend, her parents, and several other family members and friends had come in from California to support her. We spent time while we waited for everything to start talking to them. The boyfriend proved to be a great resource for deciphering the rules and various signals and calls as the rounds went on.
Gradually, the hall filled, and the announcers started warming up the crowd. Unfortunately, this probably wasn’t necessary. At several points around the track, there were huge coolers blowing; but, with all of the bodies and an outside reading well over 100 degrees, temperatures inside quickly went beyond uncomfortable. We began comparing it to an evening in Atlanta. “Mah, mah, it’s hot! Thank GOD it’s not Stickeh…I just HATE when it’s Stickeh!”
We settled in for the start, resigning ourselves to an evening of physical misery, distracting ourselves with the excitement of the game.
After a great version of the National Anthem by US Air Force vet, Blake Silver, it was time to roll. Team intros came first and then they got down to business. The first bout was between the Bombshells and the Runaway Brides. The Bombshells gathered in a huge huddle and as each name was announced, that girl would pop up out of the pack & vamp for the crowd.
There is a surprising amount of strategy to derby. The coaches call actual plays and it quickly becomes clear that there is more to derby than skating fast and banging into people. In fact, there are quite a few rules that are strictly enforced by “The Regulators,” the track officials.
Unlike Roller Derby in the 70’s, there is no fighting allowed in today’s version. Malicious or dirty play can get a player ejected from the game. There were several ejections last night. “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t skate here!” There are still some incredibly hard hits and more than a little trash-talking. Because you are so close to the track, you can hear it all; and, the girls definitely play to the crowd. There are clear favorites and some real villains, too.
Right away, I found myself wrapped up in the bout, yelling and cheering for what quickly became “my” team, the Bombshells. It was fun to find myself as into this as much as I would be for a football game or a basketball game. I guess that I’m just a sports fanatic.
After a close game, the Bombshells hung on to win 126 – 115.
During the intermission, we went down behind the bleachers, where you could buy tee shirts, pins, stickers and other team merchandise. Isabel got an Arizona Derby Dames cami and I got a Bombshells shirt.
Several of the Bombshells team members happened to be milling around. Lisa had her “Tammy” doll along and we got a picture of Victoria and the doll with several of the girls. The Tammy doll was a gift sent to Lisa upon her initial diagnosis. It’s in the same vein as the troll statue in “Amelie.” You take pictures with it in unusual situations or on your travels. The girls couldn’t have been nicer and were really gracious. They thanked us for coming out to support the league.
The second bout, between the Schoolyard Scrappers and the Brutal Beauties, was a bit more lopsided. Though the Beauties seemed to be made up of much older players, they were definitely the better team. Smacaroni N Cheez was too tough to catch. It was a bit of a blow-out, with the Scrappers falling 153 – 82.
We waited for the raffle drawing – Victoria won a goody bag with a cool pair of sunglasses and a hairclip with a big yellow flower – and then headed out. Lisa was so uncomfortable in the heat. The combination of wig and hat were extremely hot and her fingers and feet were beginning to swell.
There was a warm wind blowing as we walked out to our cars, and even though it was still hot, the moving air felt good.
Out of curiosity this morning, I logged onto the Arizona Derby Dames site. I wanted to see what it would take to try out for one of the teams. After seeing some of the gals out there, I think that I would definitely have a shot. Surprisingly, you don’t have to have more than basic skating skills. You do have to commit to a lot of training and practice time, as well as participate in meetings and promotional events. Ultimately, it’s the time committment that holds me back. Watching the dames, they come in all shapes and sizes. I love that they embrace so many different body types. Isabel and I agreed, though, that we would never wear fish nets. They look really cool, but we saw one girl go down hard after a hit. When she got up, her fish nets had caused a net-shaped burn on her leg that was bleeding. I’m not sure how the bruises and floor burns would go over at insurance enrollment meetings!
We will go again. The play-offs are in August and the championship bout is in September. I’m just sorry that the season ends before my cousins and future sister-in-law come into town in December for my brother’s wedding reception. It would make for one spectacular girls’ night out. This sport is everything awesome about being a girl…campy, feminine, tough, rough and totally kick-ass.