Rocked and rolled: Intensity, identity keep Minnesota RollerGirls going strong
By Madie Ley, University of St. Thomas
Lindsey is a freelance stylist assistant and seamstress.
Scootaloo is a blocker and jammer for the Garda Belts, sporting a handmade jersey with #FU on the back. “I got myself into a lot of fights back in the day. And today,” she boasts, rubbing her knuckles.
Leah works in a cubicle and saves kittens from being run over by fire trucks.
Lydia Punch is a Dagger Doll. She plays blocker, jammer and pivot while emulating her rock ‘n’ roll roots when she collides with other roller girls on the track. She’ll tell you that Garda Belt member Soft Serve isn’t so soft. (Her snapped shoulder blade after a collision will agree.)
Pam also works in a cubicle and owns a derby outfitter store.
Abbie Mischief is a self-proclaimed troublemaker with an athletic background in beer curls and Prancersize. She’s a blocker, jammer and pivot for the Rockits.
Clark is a reporter for the Daily Planet with an excuse to be present at crime scenes.
Superman is, well, you get it.
In the world of roller derby, whether you’re a Garda Belt, Dagger Doll or Rockit, you’ve got instant celeb status in Minnesota. However, it takes more than a rough-and-tough personality to become a member of the alter ego elite.
Much evolved from its 1930s roots, roller derby remains fast-paced, full contact and unfit for the weak-minded. It’s also not for people who get dizzy easily.
After all, skating around a circular track, colliding with other girls and trying to keep the other team’s jammer from lapping the pack can mix you up, pronto.
ROCK’EM SOCK’EM ATTITUDE
Established in 2005 by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), the Minnesota Roller Derby is a distinguished branch of national derby consisting of four interleague teams — Dagger Dolls, Garda Belts, Atomic Bombshells and Rockits — along with an All-Star team made of the top 30 girls in the league.
On Saturday nights each winter, anyone walking into Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul can witness the RollerGirls jostling opponents and showing off their backward-roller-skating abilities.
The game involves more than just physicality, though.
Aside from body checking and skate-tripping, there are precise rules for gameplay. Points are scored by the “jammer,” usually identified by a special helmet cover different from the other team members.
“It’s based on skill, just like football or hockey,” Scootaloo said.
The jammer’s goal is to fight and push to the front of the pack (the huddle of girls that aren’t jammers) before the jammer from the other team. Once they’ve established themselves as the lead, they try to lap the pack and score a Grand Slam, or five points — one point for every member of the opposing team that was passed, including the other jammer.
Blockers prevent the other team from escaping the lead jammer, who is racing around the track to catch up with the back of the pack. Pivots lead and direct blockers where to go.
During each “jam,” there are five members from each team on the track — four blockers and one jammer. At any time during a jam, the lead jammer can call off the jam by hitting her hips with her hands. The clock is then stopped to prevent the other team from scoring points.
“I was always in awe of the girls. Most of them are these beautiful, full women, not scrawny sticks …” said Missy Wann, a RollerGirl season ticket holder and self-proclaimed “super fan.” “They are true badasses. These women are powerful.”
“The girls intimidate me because they’re so strong. They just want to have fun and do something crazy. And that’s kind of how I am starting to become,” joked fellow super fan Laura Larson.
AIMING FOR ENTERTAINMENT
The RollerGirls have a reputation to uphold outside of gameplay, as well.
They embody their personas to the fullest and “take care of each other like family” if spectators get too personal — which is why they try to protect their real names.
While the RollerGirls promote physicality and trash talk, their goal is always to have fun.
“We make an effort to make a whole night of it and make it entertaining for our fans, outside of just when the whistle blows,” said Hannah Shot First, (a.k.a., Amy), a former super fan-turned-Dagger Doll.
First on the list of events at every bout is Derby 101 — a beginner’s guide to the rules and basics of roller derby. Don’t worry if you miss the lesson, though. A detailed explanation of gameplay is included in the program.
At halftime, fans will see the roller girls painting black eyes on fans, hear the band playing from the auditorium (ranging from an AC/DC cover group to polka band “Bratwurst Brothers”), and maybe even catch a T-shirt fired from a four-barrel cannon.
“It’s more of a party atmosphere than that of organized sports,” added RollerGirls announcer John Maddening, also a colorful character with at least four different types of plaid on and blue hair.
A SECRET SOCIETY
While the RollerGirls are spontaneous and aggressive on the track, they show their soft side when it comes to their community and young fans.
The staff is all-volunteer, and the players attend several charity-based events in the community, including a partnership with the Ann Bancroft Foundation. Their “Let Me Play” grant helps girls, ages five to high school graduation, acquire athletic equipment.
“A lot of the community work that we’ve done is just volunteering because our girl scout troop happens to need something or everyone involved in it usually has a passion about and bring it to the table,” said Lydia Punch. “That’s the whole point of the organization, is getting involved in the community,”
The multifaceted nature of these girls and the never-seen-anything-like-it factor to the derby give off the feel of an underground social club, a place where athletes and spectators can become a different person.
By day, they are just regular human beings. By night, their alter-ego races across the cement floor in a flurry of skates, sweat and fishnet stockings.
“When people hear I am a derby fan, I usually get a sneer or two. I am not aggressive in any way. I am a single mother of two, pretty much on the quiet and polite side … Derby is an outlet for me. Kind of a secret society with secret names and its very own lingo,” Wann said.
“Describing the derby to someone who hasn’t been to a bout before is like explaining to someone what passion is. It’s different for everyone. You find yourself among people who are amazing, exclusive and inclusive at the same time. They chat with you, they smile with you, they scare the (expletive) out of you, and they laugh with you.”
SEE ‘EM LIVE
The RollerGirls are local superstars … and they’re coming soon. See the RollerGirls in action during the Season 11 home opener at 7:30 p.m. October 18 at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul.
Click here for ticket information.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Madie Ley is a freshman at the University of St. Thomas. A graduate of Elk River High School, Madie served as a senior reporter during the 2013-14 school year and a ThreeSixty intern during the summer. She has written essays on religion and adolescence, along with stories on Laura Sobiech and Dessa.