The clunk of rubber wheels on the wooden floor and the smell of sweat. Hot red faces under shining, colorful helmets. These are a few of a roller girl’s favorite things.
Roller derby is being reborn all around the country and Columbia has joined in. Since the founding of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association in 2005, leagues have popped up from coast-to-coast and today stand 37 strong in the WFTDA alone. There are more than 100 leagues that are non-WFTDA, averaging about three to four teams per league.
The Springfield and Columbia league is called the Destruction Junction Derby Dames and was started with the help of Adriene “Bitchy Valens” Weller. It is not yet a member of the WFTDA, but it aims to become officially recognized.
Weller first encountered roller derby through its theatrical side by watching the 1970s television show “Roller Jam.” She lost track of it during her teen years and came back around to it when she saw the A&E series “Rollergirls.” Around that time, a St. Louis team, Arch Rivals, held a demonstration bout at Empire Roller Rink.
“Watching their team skate with attitude and abandon was what really pushed me to get a team here,” Weller said.
Bex “Bex-plosion” McNaughton, 25, first heard about the return of roller derby six years ago when she moved to St. Louis from New Zealand. She and her friends became interested in the idea of starting a league then, but nothing came of it. Derby faded from her mind until she moved to Columbia, where she looked up the Empire Roller Rink and saw a message on its Web site promoting roller derby. After discovering the early stages of the league’s formation, she strapped on her wheels to get her rink legs back.
“I started skating at Empire to get my bearing on skates, as it had been over 10 years since I had laced up,” she said.
The league had a new member. McNaughton became a part of the executive committee, and from there helped get the league up and running with Weller.
The skaters own the league. and they are required to be an active member of a committee. McNaughton said she always enjoyed sports, but her large size kept her from finding one she would love to play. Derby just seemed like a perfect fit.
“It’s so much fun,” McNaughton said. “You get to roller skate with a bunch of very individual, fun females, which is something a lot of us had never done before.”
She says the only requirements to join roller derby are to be older than 18 and have a desire to learn the game.
“There is no one type of female that roller derby attracts,” she said, “but the reasons are the same. To be part of an empowering female group that kicks their own butt every practice.”
The Destruction Junction Derby Dames consists of the Yo Ho Hos and the Blarney Ban-shees and formed in January of this year. With skating names like “Whiskey Shindig” and “Ninja Skwidd,” these women race around Empire Roller Rink during Sunday night’s weekly practice. Track side, a toe-stop (front brake) is replaced after a tear, and a shin splint is painfully, but gently, stretched out by team members.
“We’re such a growing thing that we’ve got to appreciate every league’s accomplishments,” McNaughton said about the camaraderie in the sport, which appears to cross league and team lines.
“Through derby, I have made some amazing friends, people I would not have encountered outside of this sport,” Weller said. “I think that is my favorite part of derby, the camaraderie.”
“All drama is left on the track. You can’t get mad at someone for slamming into you when it’s their job,” McNaughton adds with a laugh.
Jobs are something McNaughton knows about; she works two of them while not on the rink. You can hear her voice on the radio on Y107’s mid-day shift, and she might just deliver your pizza. McNaughton says when you work hard, it helps to play harder.
“That’s a good thing about roller derby, you can get frustration out,” she said. “We get bruised up, knocked down and are exhausted by the end, but we love every second of it, and will always be back at the next practice wanting more.”
Weller works at a bank, teaches swimming and coaches swimming for Special Olympics as well.
Destruction Junction Derby Dames practice together three times a week at the Empire Roller Rink. It holds two main practices and a junior beginner practice. There are about 35-45 women involved. Sunday night, some mothers waited on the sideline, others were cheered on by their own children.
“We have stay-at-home mothers, single career-minded ladies and college students,” McNaughton said. “If you have the desire, you can be in roller derby.”
Practice started with an hour of stretches and calisthenics. Sometimes players wore their skates, other times they carried them as weights. Faces were red and sweaty before any game-play practice could even begin.
“These girls, as a whole, have just improved so much since I last saw them,” Ken Watts, one of the league’s coaches, said during a workout.
“Never enough Gatorade, never enough fishnets,” said Weller, team captain of the Blarney Ban-shees, as she exited the rink Sunday night.
Most roller girls wear tights or pantyhose to avoid floor burns from falling and sliding across the rink. According to the WFTDA rules, participants must wear, at a minimum, wrist guards, elbow pads, knee pads, mouth guards and helmets. Most of all, players are only allowed to use quad skates during bouts.
During games, teams are required to wear matching jerseys with their numbers displayed on the back, but most women liven-up their uniforms with funky socks or stockings, makeup and bright skirts. As long as they use team colors and don’t obscure their numbers, they’re good to go in the WFTDA.
The league is planning to have its first public bout in September at the Empire Roller Rink. The Blarney Ban-Shees will be facing the Yo Ho Hos. Competing within their league, then with other leagues already in the WFTDA is the start of the path to membership, and the league’s travel team will face WFTDA team River Valley Roller Girls of Fort Smith, Ark., in November.
Roller Derby Terminology
A bout has four columns of players. The two women in the first line are the pivots from each team. The second line is made up of the blockers and consists of two women from each team in alternating order. Two more blockers from each team form the third line. Thirty-three feet behind is the fourth line of two team point scorers, called jammers.
The basic goal is for the jammer to pass though the pack of blockers. Bouts last up to an hour in 15-20 minute segments.
A jammer may use the blockers on her team to help her forward while trying to avoid the opposing team’s blockers, who attempt to knock her down or out of bounds with their upper bodies. After a jammer is through the pack the first time, she may try to get through again, now whenever she passes an opposing team’s blocker she scores a point for her team.
A jammer may pass her position to her team’s pivot as a strategic move, allowing said pivot to become the point-scoring skater for her team for the remainder of the jam. This is called “passing the star,” as there are covers on the jammers’s helmets displaying a star, which can be removed and put on the pivot’s helmet.