A League of Their Own

Posted on March 22, 2009 – 3:43 PM | by OldManFoster
  • Share

By James W. Cameron

Derby GirlsAttractive, smiling, vivacious, proudly proclaiming her status as the married mom of three children, Dez Astris hardly looks like someone who’s dedicated to battling it out with pugnacious opponents while trying to avoid their elbows and balance on a pair of roller skates at the same time. But that’s exactly what she does on a regular basis as part of Sacramento’s own Sacred City Derby Girls, one of the city’s entrants in the world of extreme roller skating sport. 

The River City has two roller derby teams; the aforementioned Sacred City Derby Girls and the Sac City Rollers.  Until late 2006, the Rollers were the only game in town, but late that year, a splinter group of twelve women left the team to form their own club and join the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), a national league that Dez describes as the “NBA of the sport”.  Whether her Sac Roller counterparts would agree with that designation or not, the Sacred City team does compete nationally while the Rollers play other California teams.   At the end of last year, the Derby Girls were ranked 22nd in the nation according to Lisa Washington, the team’s Director of Marketing.

Big time roller derby is a boisterous, banging barrel of bellicosity with bruising conflicts and entangled bodies playing key roles. It’s a rough, tough physical encounter, a hard fought, brawling game where players take hard knocks as a matter of course.  Like hockey, the rules are simple and easy to understand, and the execution is a joy to watch– a mélange of fast moving, intense competitors bent on as much destruction they can mete out on a wooden surface that would cause a professional footballer or wrestler to holler “uncle”.  It’s no game for sissies.

Derby GirlsBut the game is not without its cerebral side, strategy being a key component In a winning effort.  Each team has four blockers and a “jammer” on the track at the same time with both teams trying to score.  A jammer must pass through the entire pack to earn points and while the physical effort expended by the players is of obvious importance, the tactics involved by team members in getting the jammer through the pack are equally important.
Like most sports, roller derby has hardcore fans that follow their teams avidly and root for them at the top of their lungs.  In the closed and often small arenas used for the game, the noise level is a constant crescendo of ear-splitting proportions, a cacophony of encouraging and dissenting dissonance that will deafen and drive the faint-of-heart from the hall.  There are no halfway spectators, none without a strongly expressed point of view.  At a recent Sacred City game, some avid fans looked and acted like candidates for the Oakland Raiders famous “Black Hole”.
And the players.  Ah yes, the players.  They run the gamut from full-time moms to lawyers to nurses, and even schoolteachers– all are responsible citizens.  They work or attend college under their normal names by day, only becoming Be Be Brewski, Shadow Soldier, Candy Crusher, Vicious Tokens, Wrench Wench and Mugshot Mary, etc on the track.  It seems perfectly natural that the coaches answer to Dirty D and Slingshot.

Dedicated in a way that puts some professional athletes to shame, they often labor through three hour practice sessions several times a week and personally pay for their own equipment, travel and insurance.  Teams are owned, managed and operated by the skaters who handle expenses by hosting car washes, bake sales and mud-wrestling matches and constantly search for sponsors.  Early last year, the Sacred City gang held a fundraiser in a Roseville bar in their pajamas, giggling while they drew admiring glances from the men in the crowd.

A man named Leo Seltzer created roller derby back in 1935 as an endurance skating event but he noticed that spectators enjoyed the occasional body contact that naturally resulted.  Two years later, he revised the format and made roller derby a full contact sport with teams competing on an oval, banked track.  The sport took off in the ‘50s and ‘60s with men’s and women’s teams playing in arenas in front of tens of thousands of fans with television as a vehicle for its display to a national audience.  Eventually the sport degenerated into staged theatrics, and poor management and soaring travel costs hastened its demise. By the early ‘70s it was finished.  An attempt to rekindle the sport in the late ‘90s lasted only briefly.

In 2001, a group of Texas women reinvented the sport, staging it on a flat track with women’s teams.  The grueling game contained no theatrics, just skill, endurance and hard physical effort.  The new sport boomed in popularity and multitudes of new fans were born.  In 2004, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, a national   organization, was formed.  By the end of 2006, there were over 200 leagues in existence, some national, some local, and the number continues to grow.

“This is not grandpa’s roller derby.  We play to win, every hit is real, and it’s a technical game with strategy involved,” says Dez.  “I like to compare it to ‘football on skates’ but instead of three hundred pound dudes, you get to see bad ass chicks skating fast and hitting hard.  We’re athletic and feminine at the same time.  The game is intoxicating to watch and I guarantee that anyone who comes out to see the Sacred City Derby Girls will become fans of the sport. We easily attract crowds of a thousand at every bout.  We’ve outgrown our current venue and would love to play at a venue capable of holding larger crowds.  We’re exploring our options but our biggest roadblock in securing a new venue is the cost of securing a portable track which is about $20,000.”

Will we see the sport become coed?  Dez again:  “There are men’s and coed leagues in some parts of the country but the WFTDA was founded by women and is governed by women devoted to giving women a sport all their own. Let’s face it, it’s way hotter when chicks do it!”

For more info on Sacto Roller Derby:

Post a Comment