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ISSUE 119 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/2/2005

Roller derby women fight monotony

By Lisa Gulya
Arts Editor

Friday, December 2, 2005

Trips to the roller rink in elementary school were always full of drama: what couples were skating together, what fights were breaking out, who was crying in the bathroom.

Now we are all grown up, and the skating has turned sassy and sophisticated. The romance has gone, but the drama remains. The Roller Derby girls are out to win, and they don’t mean the guy.

“I’m of two minds about the whole thing – whether it’s pro-women or sexist,” said Associate Professor of English Eliot Wilson, who took his advanced creative nonfiction writing students to a bout on Nov. 18. “I wanted to take them someplace they wouldn’t normally go,” Wilson said.

There are two all-female, flat-track roller derby leagues that compete in the Twin Cities area: the Minnesota RollerGirls and the TC Rollers. The RollerGirls team was founded in August 2004, while the TC Rollers are less than a year old.

The basic rules are simple. During competition, two teams are on the track. Each team has a jammer, whose job it is to pass the other team’s skaters. For each skater she passes while she is in bounds, her team receives a point.

The pack of skaters, with three blockers from each team, is led by one pivot from each team, who lead the pack and control the speed. The pivots attempt to help their jammers through the blockers. Whichever team accumulates the most points wins.

The actual competitions, though, are far from sterile, well-mannered sport. Team members have aliases of intimidation, such as “Wanda Hurt U,” “Knocker Blocoff” and “Suzy Contusion” (Wilson said his name, were he a roller girl, would be “Donna Matrix”).

Competitors wore fishnets, and some flashed ruffles from underneath their miniskirts as they circled the track.

Then, of course, there are the fights.

“Roller derby is not a violent game as some may think,” according to the TC Rollers’ website. The ostensible aim of the sport is not to pummel the opponent. But, pain is part of the package, as photos of purpled thighs in the “bruise gallery” on the Minnesota RollerGirls website ( proves.

After the TC Rollers’ November exhibition, St. Olaf’s own “Mama Crash” could attest to the game’s violence.

“I’ve got some spectacular bruises,” Annie Westmoreland ‘06 said, who found herself in one of the evening’s handful of brawls. I've got one [bruise] up the back of my leg that's imprinted with the image of my fishnets. I didn't even know that was possible. So I guess roller derby is educational, too.”

The TC Rollers league is still finding its footing, but the RollerGirls are supportive of their sisters.

They and their opponents from the Nov. 18 bout, the Carolina RollerGirls, attended the TC Rollers’ exhibition. Unfortunately, the exhibition, staffed with half as many referees as usual, was confusing at times for both the skaters and the audience.

“There are obviously a lot of kinks to be worked out, but for our first bout I thought it went really well,” Westmoreland said.

The fun is not contained to the action on the rink. Like any good sporting event, the roller derby has announcers and half-time shows. Minnesota RollerGirls offer both pre- and post-bout parties, and TC Rollers’ fans had a party after the exhibition in Princeton, Minn., down the road at RJ’s Too.

The competition is not all about violence and drinking, though. Many of the spectators were the families of the derby participants.

The Minnesota RollerGirls donate to various charities; the Nov. 18 match benefited The Sexual Violence Center, non-profit serving victims in the Twin Cities metro area.

Wilson also believes the competition serves a greater purpose than entertainment, allowing these women to break away from the monotony of day-to-day life by taking on personas and competing athletically.

“When do you get to do that when you’re in your cubicle?” Wilson said.

He compared roller derby to its male counterpart, wrestling.

“If you work a crappy job all the time, and good never prevails, you can go to wrestling, and good will,” Wilson said.

The Minnesota RollerGirls next compete in “Close Encounters of the Female Kind” on Sunday in the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul.

TC Rollers, still recruiting over 21-year-old females, will have their first official bout Jan. 28 at Cheap Skate in Coon Rapids, Minn.

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