by Jim Nintzel
The wild women of roller derby are back into action.
Erica Nannini of Arizona News Service reports:
Eye-gouging and hair-pulling are no-nos.
Light jabbing, pushing and diving into opponents, however, are completely legal in the Tucson Roller Derby women's league.
In the first international showdown at the Tucson Indoor Sports Center, Montreal's New Skids on the Block came skating in with toy noses, lime green T-shirts and the hunger for a win over the Tucson Roller Derby Saddletramps.
But the hell-raisin' home team, donned in black uniforms, was not prepared to be overthrown by
their Canadian counterparts.
A referee started the bout, or match-up, with the blow of a whistle.
Roller derby hit the mainstream about 10 years ago. The Women's Flat Track Derby Association governs the rules of the sport, ensuring that the play doesn't get too scrappy.
Women with names like Helen Wheels and Nokka Ho Down wear helmets, knee pads and elbow pads as they glide on old-school four-wheelers to try to out-skate and out-muscle one another around the makeshift track.
Each player on the track helps the team score points. The jammer, singled out by the star on her helmet, tries to break away from the circling pack of women to lap them and score points. Three blockers pave the way for the jammer, and at the same time do whatever it takes to prevent the other team's jammer from scoring.
No. 5 is the pivot. She skates near the front of the pack to keep pace and provide the last line of defense against the opposing jammer. Each bout is 60 minutes and consists of an unlimited number of two-minute jams.
"You have to want to block and get hit and get hurt," said stay-at-home mom Elia Chap, who was drafted by the Copper Queens in January. Her derby name has not yet been approved by the league, but she is crossing her fingers for Mad Dawg 22.
Chap said she has only suffered bruises and minor injuries, but she has seen everything from torn ligaments to ribs popped out of place. Broken skates are a routine part of the game, she said.
Even women who are reluctant to unleash their inner Mike Tyson can be transformed by the spirit of the game.
Bri Date, or Bea N. Hayve as she is known to her teammates since she began competing in October, said roller derby brings out her fierce side. As the head of production for this bout, she stood out in a neon spandex, tummy-baring suit and cowboy hat.
"The part that's least like me is the whole hitting thing," Date added. "It requires you to step up and let loose."
[Kamanda and Poly Graf flank Georgia W. Tush during a roller derby match at the Tucson Indoor Sports Center. Photo by Otto Ross / ArizonaNewsService.com]
Kamanda and Poly Graf flank Georgia W. Tush during a roller derby match at the Tucson Indoor Sports Center. Photo by Otto Ross / ArizonaNewsService.com
Part of the trick is getting into character on the track. Date said she lets her alter ego take over and allows Bea N. Hayve to forget the rules of etiquette.
Even the audience of nearly 1,200, which puts the Tucson Indoor Sports Center at capacity, is transformed. From the back of the crowd, an older woman with a Bud Light in hand shouts, "I came here to see some girls get their asses kicked!"
In a different corner, a group of college-age men chant "USA" at the top of their lungs as a man in a leather vest starts up the wave. A huddle of Girl Scouts ranging from ages 5 to 9 take a break from their cookie-selling duties to watch the action behind a line of "caution" tape.
Kailee Emmett, 9, one of the girls from Troop 1616, said she loves seeing the skater get beat up.
"I wanna do that when I get older," she added. Her fellow Scouts nodded in agreement.
Indeed, Date said she considers the sport to be a healthy bonding activity for women of any age (the typical range is 18 to mid-40s).
"It's probably the strongest group of women that I've found in Tucson," she said. "It really takes over your life in a great way."
Chap said that the fun and stress relief is worth the commute that she makes from her home in Sonoita for practices at Catalina High School, which are held three times a week or more.
She brings her 6-year-old daughter to bouts and hopes she'll be excited about putting on mom's skates one day.
Many of the Roller Derby bouts are held at TICS, formerly Bladeworld, at 1065 W. Grant Road in Tucson.
Date said roller derby requires the same amount of tackling and intensity as does men's football.
"Except we wear less padding," she added. "Oh yeah, and we're on skates."