Hundreds of American women are leading double lives; by day they are accountants, bartenders, teachers, students, even homemakers with sons and daughters of their own. At night, these women don battered helmets and anxiously tighten the laces on their brazened quad-style roller skates. Come jam time, their athletic alter egos take the form of “Tiki Torture,” “Sequin Destroy” and “Scarlet Bloodletter.” Once thought of as a dying spectacle, the all-female roller derby sport has returned with vengeance.
Fort Collins is among only a handful of American cities with an officially registered roller derby league, The FoCo Girls Gone Derby. The league’s season opener bout, or derby match, is rolling out this Saturday at local skating rink Rollerland Arena. Although the event is open to the public, parental discretion is suggested, as beer, vivacious uniforms and some violence are elemental components of roller derby.
Three teams make up the Fort Collins league: Chanel Cartel, Deathrow Dolls and Kung Fu Donnas. This weekend’s event – the league’s third season kick-off – pits Chanel Cartel against Deathrow Dolls, and given the scoring statistics of last season’s bouts, it will be a heated competition.
Then and Now: A Brief History
In 1993, at age 20, Fort Collins resident Jerica Trevena achieved Olympic-caliber skill as a speed skater and won a gold medal in the World Speed Skating event. Fifteen years later, Trevena is a mother of two and an admissions coordinator at a local elder care facility – but at the rink Trevena coaches, both teams and will be “jamming” for Deathrow Dolls at this Saturday’s bout. Her derby moniker is “Urrk’n Jerk’n as booty block ya,” and her knowledge of the sport’s history and years of personal skating experience gel into an effective coaching strategy.
“Roller derby really faded out after it had been invented,” she said. “It used to be coed and rehearsed until about 15 years ago before the Texas Roller Dolls brought it back with an all-girl attitude, the flat track rules and without theatrical staging.”
In fact, this all-American sport first emerged during the Great Depression, and was packaged for profit more and more with the advent of television. Historically, it was played by paid skaters on a humped rink. Over time, the ethic of amateur athleticism combined with spectacle exhibitionism evolved the sport into what it is today.
“A flat track is cheaper and less dangerous – except for spectators because now a girl can fall right in your lap,” said Trevena.
Today’s spin on roller derby isn’t exactly safe, however. Trevena recalls dealing with a broken elbow, broken ankle, slipped ribs, shattered scapula and chipped tailbone, all happening within her league, which started in 2005. Required helmets and pads curtail some injuries caused by hard falls but nothing will prevent torn ligaments, swollen knees and wrists, scrapes and constant bruising.
Another exhibitionist element to modern roller derby is the grungy attitude joined by feminine appeal. The Chanel Cartel team uniforms feature sparkle hot pants whereas the Deathrow Dolls wear orange dresses with short skirts.
“The racy costumes are for the spectators,” Trevena laughs. “We dabble with a different persona – it’s fun and provocative.”
In addition to confrontational flair, the derby-ers today carry out all the team managerial duties. In fact, FoCo Girls Gone Derby requires the players themselves to promote, organize and raise funds for the derby events.
Chanel Cartel vs. Deathrow Dolls
Roller derby as a sport is understated and always has been. The women skaters on Chanel Cartel and Deathrow Dolls are modest in their athletic endeavor, which takes mammoth dedication.
“It is a huge commitment; you will not succeed as a derby girl if you’re not here and into it,” said 23-year-old Deathrow Dolls captain Brittany Dahl, known as “Mia KrushHer.” “It’s real. We hit hard, we play hard and we are athletes.”
The rules of roller derby are fairly simple. Derbies take place on an even circuit track; each team uses two blockers for defense and obstruction, a pivot to control the speed and cluster, and a jammer is the skater that earns points for her team.
A random mesh of four blockers and two pivots make up the pack. The two jammers start 20 yards behind the pack and must skate through defense obstacles including hip checks, booty blocks and boundaries. The first jammer to emerge is declared the lead jammer and is awarded points for each opponent she manages to pass on any remaining revolutions in the jam’s maximum two-minute time length.
Typically the jammers are quick, stealthy and can absorb hits. The pivots and blockers can barricade opponents or strategically slingshot the jammer to the front of the pack. The lead jammer determines the length of the jam.
After three periods of 20 minutes each, both teams are understandably sweaty and exhausted but invite all ticket holders to the season debut to an after-party at a Campus West bar.
During the event, Fort Collins rock band Harvey Knuckles will perform during intermission, and concessions, beer and paraphernalia are available before and during the derby.
Melissa Garner, known as “Bullet Bourbon Betty”, 22, is a medical assistant in one life and captain of Chanel Cartel in another. Garner has been on the team since it started, roughly two years ago.
“The best part of our league is that the players are in careers,” Garner said. ” We are career women and students – skating, we are badass super heroines. We do and say things not allowed in society but at the same time we get to be awesome athletes.”
Coach Trevena heavily suggests to those interested in being recruited to the roller derby league to attend the season opener to “get a sense of what we’re all about.”
Mandatory try outs for the league are being held on April 13 and 14 at Rollerland Arena. Some skating experience and determination are required; any unanswered questions can be followed up on the league web site at focogirlsgonederby.com.
Staff reporter Griffin Faust can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.