The Twin City Derby Girls (TCDG) are CU's premier women's roller derby league, which has exploded from a few women's mere interest in the sport to a full out four-team league with dozens of participants from around the area in about nine months. SP's Mark Laughlin has covered much of their journey here, here and here, but I had the pleasure of attending their bout on Friday. I'd watched TCDG's first bout in May, and had a wonderful time witnessing the athletic, yet somewhat subdued, sport unfold before my eyes. Three months and countless hours of practice later, the women of TCDG promised an action-packed bout between The 'Paign and The Damagin' Dames, the newest team in the league.
In order to get everything I could out of what promised to be an interesting bout, I tagged along with friend and self-proclaimed women's roller derby fanatic, Brent.
6:23 p.m.: I arrived late to Brent's pre-derby happy hour due to an unfortunate incident with a dead animal. I'll spare the details, but I didn't get the luxury of a cocktail to quell my nerves about TCDG's second bout and had to ride to the Savoy Recreational Center with a couple of tipsy, overly-excited derby enthusiasts (and a sober DD).
Who are you rooting for tonight?
Brent: THE 'PAIGNNNNNNNNNN
On a scale of 1 to 10, how big of a derby fan are you?
What does derby need to do to earn that extra point?
Brent: Derby in my living room!
6:42 p.m.: We arrive at Savoy Rec Center, the parking lot is already at capacity. We park on the street and walk to our destination.
6:48 p.m.: We're greeted by some badass-looking folks in "Security" t-shirts, the smell of pork from the concession stand, and the loud clamor of derby-goers, excited for the bout to begin.
I spy a "Bakesale! Everything $1!" sign and beeline my way to a table covered with delicious sugary goods. A few derby girls greet me, one with her entire left leg in a bright purple cast. It turns out Cherry Deadly was injured during practice one day. "My foot was at a 180 degree turn when I fell---it was facing the other way. I currently have 15 screws and 2 metal plates in my leg," she told me with a giant smile on her face. "She was even smiling in the ambulance!" added Sigourney Beaver, a TCDG teammate. Cherry reported that she's getting married in January, but expects to heal up by November or December.
Count this as the moment I become queasy with the realization I might be seeing a woman's leg break in two during the bout.
6:59 p.m.: I tell Brent of my trepidation about watching the bout as I gnaw on a giant rice krispy treat and follow our group into the arena. I'd already seen a dead animal today; I didn't want to see a dead derbier. He chortles and points out where we'll be viewing all the derby action: the suicide seats. Marked "18+ ONLY!," the suicide seats are on the floor, directly surrounding the flat derby track. The only thing separating me and the women flying past on skates is a piece of brightly-colored duct tape.
7:01 p.m.: Before I can protest the suicide seats, I meet Adam and Andrew, two brace-faced pre-teen boys sitting on the floor between me and the bench for The 'Paign. I ask why they're spending their Friday night at the derby.
Adam: I think it will be interesting to see Roller Derby girls, and see people get beat up. I've seen practices, but never a real bout. I know some of the women on the team.
Andrew: My mom knows some on the team too.
What are you looking forward to the most?
Adam: The skates that people have, and seeing people fall down.
You're sitting in the "suicide seats." Are you scared you're going to get a skate to the face?
Adam: I'm excited about it. We're praying for that!
Andrew: Dude, are we gonna get hurt?
7:10 p.m.: The derby women wrap up their practice round and show the crowd a mock-Jam. The announcer introduces the teams over a terrible PA system. I can't hear what's going on. Brent is clapping loudly. The 'Paign takes their places at their bench, about four feet from where I'm seated on the ground. The wind they create as they skate past blows my hair in my eyes.
7:28 p.m.: I reflect on my first derby bout experience in May. It seemed like the women all skated in slow motion, clumsily bumping each others' shoulders. A few fell, but there wasn't much "violence," as I'd been told to expect. Maybe tonight will be different. I take off my glasses so, perchance I get a derby girl flying at my face, I don't get shards of glass in my eyes. I contemplate inquiring about mouth guards for spectators.
7:30 p.m.: The 'Paign and The Dames (note: brand new team) take their places on the track. Derby girls from each bench let out guttural sounds of excitement. I get goose bumps and a lump in my throat.
The first whistle blows and each team's pivots and blockers take off. The second whistle releases the two jammers. Seconds later Delta Badhand, The 'Paign's jammer, takes a Dames' elbow to the chest and crashes to the floor, almost taking out chairs in the penalty box. BOOM! The derby has begun.
7:32 p.m.: The first jam is over after several hefty blocks and spills, and it's obvious The Dames are out to prove what a new team can bring to the track.
7:42 p.m.: The Dames are much more rough and tumble than I'd expected, and dare I say, they were playing a little dirty? Their star Jammer, Oh No Bobo, is hell on wheels on and off the track. Brent relates the bout's intensity to the added amount of time the women have spent practicing.
Suddenly, a Dame blocker flies from the pack, skates-first toward my face. As if the neon strip of duct tape creates a force field around my skull, the derbier screeches to a halt on her left thigh just centimeters from my suicide seat. I punch Brent in the arm and yell, "WHY THE HELL ARE WE SITTING HERE?"
8:15 p.m. By half-time my heart has stopped beating at least eleven times, I fear for my personal safety, and I realize that closing one's eyes while trying to film a Jam on the Flip Video makes for shoddy footage. I have no clue what the score is, but The Dames just busted out a Triple Grand Slam and are definitely kicking some 'Paign ass. I ask Brent for his half-time commentary.
Why are the Dames already whopping the 'Paign?
Brent: It's all about the Jammers. Oh No Bobo is like a woman among girls. She's just skating circles around them.
What's the secret to a good roller derby team, in your opinion as an avid fan?
Brent: You have to keep your pack together, and rely on your jammers to get through.
Whose fault is it that The Dames just got a Triple Grand Slam on that last Jam?
Brent: The defense, but also the ['Paign] jammer because she couldn't get through. When [the other team gets] a Grand Slam, you are getting lapped as a jammer, and that's disgraceful.
8:20 p.m.: The half-time show pits four TCDGers against each other, with the help of kids from the audience. It's cute overload on wheels. The announcer explains that tonight's proceeds go toward a local non-profit, The Center for Women in Transition.
I talk to some women seated in real chairs outside of the suicide seating, and discover one is a TCDG Board Member.
How do you enjoy coming to the bouts as a Board Member?
Board Member: The bouts are awesome, and I spend a lot of time at practices as well. The women are so athletic, it's amazing!
8:47 p.m.: The second half brings more crashes, more elbows, more players in the penalty box. A 'Paign blocker crawls off the track on her hands and knees. "ELBOWS!!!!!!!!!! ELBOWS!!!!!!!!!!" screams 'Paign Coach Rice A Horni from the other side of the arena.
The Dames aren't as organized on the track as The 'Paign, but they're a little tougher in the we're-gonna-knock-you-on-your-ass kind of way. I still don't know the score, but the bout is coming to an end and The Dames are getting frantic. "NO, THE BOX!" several Dames scream at one of their Pivots as she straps on her striped helmet cover and skates out to the track. "THEY TOLD ME THE TRACK!" she yells back, obviously frustrated, and a bit confused. "Looks like they need to get their shit together," one pre-teen comments from a few feet away.
9:00 p.m.: The rest of the bout is a blur of purple Dames and blue 'Paigns, skating, falling, yelling at each other, and cheering on their respective teams. I have a headache from the echo of skates on the hard floor, and derby girls yelling expletives as they're knocked on their faces a few inches from me. I stare in awe and wonder how they're able to get up again and again and again.
The final buzzer sounds and The Dames erupt in hearty cheers, scream-propelled hugs and high-fives. Brent clues me in that they beat The 'Paign 84-65. The new team on the league takes a victory lap, as spectators line the track to cheer them on.
9:20 p.m.: Event staff immediately start pulling up the tape that marks the track. Derby girls get hugs from sig others, children, friends and random fans. I flag down a few players and coaches to ask their thoughts on the bout.
Sasha Smashmouth, The 'Paign
You had some really good hits and blocks out there tonight. How did your second bout go?
SS: It's totally empowering to be out here and doing all of this, learning the sport with all of these other amazing women.
How do you feel about the new team's win?
SS: In derby, 20 points isn't a blowout like it would be in football or basketball, but I have to give it to the other team. The Dames played an awesome bout and they deserve all the credit.
Oh No Bobo, The Damagin' Dames
This was your first bout. What was it like to be the superstar jammer out there?
ONB: I had awesome blockers, they just opened those holes for me and it made it a lot easier.
How did it feel when you got that triple gland slam?
ONB: I was glad it was over, I was exhausted!
How long have you been on the team?
ONB: Since the middle of May.
How have practices prepared you for this bout?
ONB: Amazingly. We do just about anything. And practicing with the girls, they push you to be as good as you can be.
Anything else you want to say about being the new team with this win tonight?
ONB: Don't underestimate the newbies, because we're here and we're ready to rock!
Coach Rice A Horni, The 'Paign
How do you feel about The Dames' win tonight?
CRAH: I thought it was an awesome game, both teams came and brought the best they have and with intent and competitiveness. It was a really great game all the way to the end.
How did this bout compare to your first one against The Boneyard Bombshells in May?
CHAH: As a coach I had more experience in this bout...and felt a lot more confident, and the team felt more confident.
Coach Don Vito, The Damagin' Dames
What's it like being involved in women's roller derby as a male, since your only potential roles are referee, coach, or volunteer?
CDV: I have 2 daughters and part of the reason I want to be a part of this is because it empowers women, and my daughters can come out and skate along and watch the women in the league. I'm really proud and honored they gave me the opportunity to coach in the league.
9:42 p.m. Finally, a post-bout wrap up from Brent, who was a little disappointed that The 'Paign didn't bring home a W.
How did you feel about the Dames' win and the game they brought for their first bout?
Brent: The Dames definitely had the better jammers, they looked well-organized. Their coach threw a little bit of a hissy fit at one point, but he mostly kept it together. He did a good job and kept them organized.
This bout seemed more confusing in the penalties and spacing on the track. Why do you think that is?
Brent: During the first half in particular, [The 'Paign's] pack got really loose and the Dames' jammer was able to get through. Also, it was one of the team's first bout, and the other team's second bout. It's hard enough for someone who knows what's going on to follow it, let alone folks who are new to derby.
Any final comments about this bout?
Brent: MORE DERBY!
10:00 p.m.: I arrived home safe, unscathed, and extremely excited that CU has a women's sport that is as well-received as TCDG's roller derby. Not only has this non-profit organization succeeded so quickly after starting from the ground, it encompasses an otherwise untapped community of strong, intelligent, dedicated and overall bad-ass women and supporters who invest in the sport. Roller derby is community-oriented, fan-rewarding, and family-friendly. TCDG's teams The 'Paign, The Damagin' Dames, and The Boneyard Bomshells have all had their hand at a bout or two, and are ready to organize more. They've sold out both bouts within minutes of releasing tickets, so I hope to see them book a larger venue and pack it to capacity within the year. Even more impressive, the league's traveling team the Twin City Travelers beat the St. Chux Derby Chix 111 to 88 at their first inter-league bout in St. Charles, MO on August 21. St. Chux has been around about four years, and The Twin City Travelers is only a few months old — we have a lot more excitement to expect coming out of out CU derby league!
To find out more about TCDG or to sign up for tryouts in September, visit their website.
Photos from Twin City Derby Girl's Facebook page.