The Women Of Arizona Roller Derby Bring Passion, Drive And Spirit To A Re-Emerging Sport
Bout action at Arizona Roller Derby can get quite intense.
By John Guzzon
Modern Times Magazine
March 29, 2011 — On certain Saturdays throughout the year at an athletic club in West Phoenix, a group of athletes come together to compete, win and fight while entertaining fans in what just might be one of the roughest, toughest, yet totally feminine exhibitions of sport in the world.
It is the Arizona Roller Derby, and it is sport personified.
Teams of girls of all ages, sizes, colors and backgrounds come together to play a sport they love in a way that sets a new standard in women’s roller derby. The over-the-top showmanship of the past — which at times made the sport seem unauthentic — has been pared down to only those elements that allow for fun and passion without hucksterism.
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Not so long ago, a women’s derby league was either known for the fighting or for the skin-show. Arizona Roller Derby strives to maintain the middle ground.
Sexy uniforms are still the norm but only to the point that they don’t inhibit any skater’s ability to effectively play their role on the oval. And, yes, there are also the nicknames that each and every girl use as their roller derby persona.
(editor’s note: these girls take these nicknames so seriously, they only wanted to be quoted under their “skate names.” Anyone who feels like they must contact us regarding the credibility of such a thing may call 480-269-3688.)
“It is a sport and it isn’t fake. We have a saying, ‘we put on a show so we can skate where other leagues skate so they can put on a show,’” said Rum Bunctious, captain of the popular, pirated-themed Surly Gurlies squad.
Toughness is also defined a bit differently in this league. In the past, a girl was considered tough if she would get into a fight. Now, that badge of honor is awarded when she can legally knock someone down, delay her, or get up after a legal hit sends her sprawling, sometimes with broken bones. It turns out that playing roller derby legally is even tougher than playing it ‘dirty.’
“When I went to my first bout, it was this big huge event. There was admission at the door and organized teams and I was like, Whoa! I thought this was going to be some gimmicky thing but it wasn’t. Then I saw this guy walk in with this big mohawk and I was like, I love this,” said Messy Missy of the Bad News Beaters. “It was this whole underground punk rock thing. Girls were beating the crap out of each other and wearing crazy costumes. When I first started you could elbow, beat and pull the girl down and beat the crap out of her. I’ve always been real competitive anyway and I got really into getting known for hitting really hard. I just wanted to be the big bad ass. I kind of evolved with the game.”
What arose from those times is the dedication to the game of roller derby. And, for this league, there is no better place to pay homage to that than on bout night — those special Saturdays when they are the stars of the show and the best athletes in the building.
“Being a competitive person, I show up every time for a trophy,” said Redhead Revolver, co-captain of the Bad News Beaters.
The bouts are the epitome of sport: Players that get little or no compensation put their bodies on the line for both the sport they love and the fans that love them. The vibe is one that must be akin to that experienced by baseball fans at the turn of the 20th century and basketball fans in the 1930s.
But in this game, bloodied noses, battered bones and a bucketful of bruises are the hallmarks of any bout. If the knockdowns aren't treacherous enough, these girls skate for almost two hours straight. Throughout the two halves of a bout, they skate as hard as they can while trying to knock down opponents and remaining upright themselves. By the end of a bout, even the most fit derby girl is sucking wind.
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But they fight through the fatigue. Jammers fly around the track while blockers terrorize the opposing team and clear paths for their team-mates as they fly around the track.
And the crowd goes crazy.
Beyond Bout Night
Almost every night of every day of the week, a warehouse in west phoenix comes to life with skaters. Inside, it is half-filled with stored mattresses. The other half has a oval rink taped on the floor. This place, as much as the bout locations, is where flat track roller derby ‘happens’ in the Phoenix metro area.
Flat track roller derby is the fastest growing type of roller derby in the country and Arizona Roller Derby is an affiliate of the Women’s Flat-Track Derby Association, or WFTDA, founded in 2005 when 30 independent leagues from around the country joined together, with each league “owned and operated by skaters sharing the singular, driving compulsion to re-imagine roller derby as a modern sport.” Today, there are more than 110 WFTDA affiliated leagues throughout the country.
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Next home bout:
April 9 at 6 p.m.
Castle Sports Club
11420 North 19th Ave., Phoenix
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