They laughed, they yelled and they sang along to the music coming from the sound system. And why shouldn’t they? They had been practicing for seven months. A few sported full face paint, others wore fishnets. A couple of them had words written on shorts under their skirts allowing them to flash words like “Sucka!” in the face of their opponent as they sped by.
Saturday was the first official bout of the Destruction Junction Derby Dames roller derby league. The Blarney Ban-Shees, donning green, orange and black skated against the Yo Ho Hos in blue and black.
Watching the women circle the track of Columbia’s Empire Roller Rink for 45 minutes of warm-up might have made some heads spin, but the bout had to be pushed back that long because the line to get into the invite-only bout sprawled out into the parking lot. Before too long, the particleboard risers inside were packed as well, and the audience of all ages began to fill the space left on the floor. If somebody had been looking to crowd surf Saturday night, Empire Roller Rink would have been the place. By 10:15 p.m., the lights dimmed as the song “Under Pressure” faded out, and the entire inside of the building was swaying like a human ocean.
“All bloodthirsty Columbians are out here tonight,” joked Maggie Jones, mother of referee Evan “BatWing” Jones. Her son was standing in the center the rink with a pair of bat wings attached to the safety pin-covered ref’s jersey he wore along with a black skirt.
The teams were introduced, each member giving their own individual salute to the crowd as they skated by. Then a slow motion example of a jam was given, as the crowd, many new to the sport, followed along in the programs that explained the rules. Multiple jams, up to two minutes long, make up each period. Jammers try to circle the track faster than the rest of the group to earn points for their teams.
Finally, the skaters took positions on the track for the real thing. The whistle was blown, and the pack of blockers took off. Seconds later, after a double whistle blast, the two jammers sprinted off their line like “Jesus lizards” across water as they used their toe brakes to pick up speed on the straightaway. The first jammers of the night, Felicia “Whiskey Shindig” Leach of the Blarney Ban-Shees and Kristin “Ninja Skwidd” Smart of the Yo Ho Hos, charged toward the pack.
Rob Odom cheered Smart from the sidelines.
“We go to the same yoga class,” he said. “She’s so small and quiet and nice. None of us believed it when she said she was in roller derby. She’s so different out there.”
By the end of the first jam, the Ban-shees had scored 10 and the Yo Hos had nine. There were seven more jams in the period.
Highlights of the first 15-minute period included Smart’s impressive speed and slipperiness, Adriene “Bitchie Valens” Weller’s energetic blocking of any Ban-Shee within range, and the wild, enthusiastic cheering of “Kill! Kill! Kill!” from both team’s reserves on the sidelines. The Ban-Shees led 55-50 at the end of the period.
A hula-hooping contest entertained the audience while the teams re-grouped and took drinks. The pirate-dressed cheerbeaters, the roller derby equivalent to cheerleaders, rallied the crowd. The audience had been a little reluctant at the beginning of the night, but 20 minutes later, their shouts started to rise in volume tremendously.
One couple decided to leave the risers, unable to see when a gray-haired woman in front of them stood up to cheer, and then never sat back down.
Chrissy “Slamrock” Darby, the Ban-Shees’ team captain, started the second period on the jammer’s line, but the Yo Hos pulled ahead 65-63 after the second jam as the bout’s intensity increased. Darby took down Smart, slamming her into the wall with a resounding clunk. The crowd’s reaction was that of seeing a crash in a NASCAR race.
“Stomp her!” a voice in the audience hollered over the din.
Ban-shee Lisa “Fice-T” Hill didn’t hold back jamming against Ho Hos team captain Trish “Knockout Summer Teef” Robertson, never slowing as she was pummeled between blockers. Weller even attempted to stop her, but was sent spinning off the outside of the track. By the end of the second period, it was a tie at 85.
The run of entertainment before the final period was a game of musical pillows, won by Darby, and the “Time Warp” song performed by the cheerbeaters and one of the Yo Ho Hos’ skaters, who wore a French maid’s outfit under her jersey.
In the final period, Smart once again showed her sneaky self as a jammer, and picked up points for the Ho Hos in the first two jams. A four-woman pile-up occurred as “Knockout” Robertson went down and Weller tumbled over her, catching two more players in the jumble. Heather “Howie Crusher” Garcia took a fall next. Pain contorted her face as she went to her team’s corner for a breather, but she was back out only one jam later, the pain replaced by determination.
The seconds were falling off the final period. Outside the building, the weather accompanied the surge of adrenaline the teams felt, as a thunderstorm grew in ferocity. Inside, the points piled up, 105-95, 105-100, 113-102. The jammers raced.
“Whiskey” led “Skwidd.” “Skwidd” led “Whiskey.” “Skwidd” flew out of bounds. “Whiskey” accidentally plowed into the refs at the center of the track. The crowd noise reached its height of the night as the last seconds of the game fell away. “Whiskey” made a final charge at the blockers, but it was too late.
The buzzer sounded, and the Ho Hos won 125-121.
Winning and losing aside, everyone seemed to agree on one thing; the night was a huge success.
“I’m astounded,” coach Ken Watts said afterwards. “They really stepped it up, above and beyond what I expected, 246 points in a game is amazing when you’re just starting out.”
“Slamrock” Darby didn’t seem too crestfallen that her team had lost.
“Every athlete was pushed to their limits. We really discovered what abilities we have tonight, which is important for everyone,” she said. “The first game is a real milestone.”
Robertson reflected on her blocking, pinning it as her best position of the night, while Lindsay “Maye Hymn” Mitchell recalled with glee a moment when Bex “Bex-plosion” McNaughton slammed her “so hard every bone in my back popped.” She said she thought it took until the second period for the women to get comfortable enough with an audience to really duke it out.
Outside, as the last of the league members trickled into the slowing rain, Jeanine Felt, who had been holding up signs to indicate which team’s jammer was ahead, talked to some friends.
“I wasn’t very sure when I saw practices,” Felt said. ”I was like ‘are we really ready for competition?’ But I think tonight proved that we are. Tonight, everything just fell into place so perfectly.”
By 12:38 am, the last of the skaters walked off into the parking lot. The steam from the cool rain on the asphalt hung in the headlights of their cars as they drove away, and the Empire Roller Rink grew quiet for the night.