Bash, bam, pow – women’s roller derby takes off
The Mid Iowa Rollers skated to a perfect season last year, bumping, grinding and slamming their way to roller derby glory.
By the end of the 8-0 run, there were no demands for bonuses, no contract disputes, not even a prima donna pouting rinkside about her lack of playing time.
There were deep thigh bruises, broken ankles and sprained knees, but few complaints among skaters who are attracted to the sport, in part, because it provides an outlet for aggressive female behavior.
The Mid Iowa Rollers were formed in April 2006, when Jamie Daugharthy watched a television series about the sport and called a friend, who in turn called another friend. As a trio, they decided “why not give it a try?”
“I had never actually seen it before, so I looked it up on the Internet, of course, to figure out what it was,” said Jessica Anderson of Grinnell, one of that original trio of friends. “I knew that there was nothing like it around here, and I just thought how cool would it be for us to have something like that.”
The women posted fliers and put the word out in bars in an effort to attract enough women to form a team.
By October 2006, they had rounded up 11 women, and they were being tutored by a team from Omaha.
In the last four years, the roster has grown to nearly 35 players and a number of women who show up for practices just to find out whether they have the right stuff.
The right stuff means having some athletic ability, though not necessarily a high level of skill on skates – that can be acquired. It also requires the ability to absorb some physical punishment.
“It’s a chance to be athletic but also to be aggressive,” Anderson said. “I think most women’s sports don’t give you the opportunity to really be aggressive, and this is a sport that celebrates that.”
Lyndsay Leimbacher, who manages a West Des Moines insurance agency, was attracted by the opportunity to let her tough side show. She learned about the team when women would come into a skateboarding shop where she used to work to buy elbow and knee pads and helmets.
She decided to become a co-owner and handle public relations chores for the league.
That job could become a little easier now that the Mid Iowa Rollers have accepted an invitation to be an apprentice team for the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, which functions as the sport’s international governing body.
Among the benefits is access to group insurance rates – an important consideration, Anderson said – and promotions.
Ella McLandsborough, a Grinnell factory worker who was one of the founders of the Mid Iowa Rollers, cautioned that eventual membership in the international association won’t guarantee that the Greater Des Moines team will become a big profit maker.
“I would hope that some day we can actually make money out of it,” she said. “I don’t think the four of us are actually looking to make money.” On the rink, McLandsborough goes by the name Knock Around Suzie.
Any profits go back into the Mid Iowa Rollers, paying transportation costs, rink rentals for practice, promotions and supplemental health insurance. After that, the money is given to local charities.
“You might get famous, but not rich,” said Anderson, whose derby name is Sin DeRolla.
The benefits of the sport come from “having a full house and having an undefeated season like we had last year; that’s rewarding enough,” Leimbacher said.
Jessica Graves, whose derby name is Vyolent GriMm, joined the team in 2009. She has skated as a blocker – blockers knock opponents out of the way to prevent them from getting to the front of the pack and scoring – and as a jammer, the one player on the five-person squad who scores points by skating to the front of the pack.
Graves said roller derby is like a “mosh pit on skates.”
“It’s just something fun, and it gets me out and actually gets me doing something, because I don’t exercise otherwise,” she said. Graves is studying to be a Web designer.
As a blocker – there are four on each five-member squad – and a jammer, she doesn’t get confused about what is required of her on the rink. She often got confused playing other sports in high school.
“I lost interest in other sports in high school,” she said. “I was too airheaded and I would get confused, like basketball it would be our ball and I would still be guarding the other girl.”
Once they join the team, the women give up their given names. It is not unusual to hear “Hey, Snot Face” shouted out during a practice at Skate South.
McLandsborough, when talking about the other co-owners, refers to “Double D” – that’s Daugharthy, who had the inspiration for the league and goes by Dangerous Daugharthy while on skates – or “Fanny,” which would be short for Leimbacher’s nickname, “Fanny Firestarter.”
“Even when there are new skaters who come in and they decide on their derby name, they’re no longer ‘Sally,’ let’s say,” McLandsborough said.
Regardless of their names, the women have built a successful operation.
The games, also called bouts, are held at the Iowa Events Center, a step up from the Central Iowa rinks where they got their start, and last year average attendance was up to about 1,400 people.
In Iowa, the Mid Iowa Rollers compete against teams from Cedar Rapids, the Quad Cities, Iowa City, Sioux City and Oskaloosa. They will play a team from Topeka, Kan., during the 2011 season, which will begin in April and run through August. Admission is $10 or $12 a ticket.
The sport’s popularity is growing in Greater Des Moines, where a second league, called the Des Moines Derby Dames, recently started. That league also has been invited to act as an apprentice for the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. The two Greater Des Moines teams have yet to play each other.
So, do people turn out to watch the Mid Iowa Rollers because of the fast-paced action or the entertainment value that some might derive from watching women knock each other around a concrete or hardwood rink? A little of both, Anderson said.
“Twelve bucks is like a movie ticket around here,” Anderson said. “I think we’re way more entertaining than some romantic comedy.”