Putting It All Together
It is Saturday morning and players, family and friends work putting together the metal fence needed to gate in the otherwise open concrete park. Gnarly Nailer works by the south side of the park, bolting fence pieces together and draping it with sponsor advertising.
“We,” she says referring to the Battle Born Derby Demons, “have to put all of this together, skate for 90 minutes and then take it all down again.” No hint of irritation or resentment exists in her statement. Rather, she expresses excitement about the coming game.
I return to the park at 4 p.m. and receive my instructions from Whiskey Ginger. My job as an outside board penalty tracker is to write down any fouls the outside referees call and relay the penalty and the degree of violation to the record keepers in the middle of the track. I am also told that I am to remain neutral at all times, not cheering for the Derby Demons or expressing disapproval of any call.
Dark clouds roll over the park 30 minutes before game time. The players express concern. Like baseball, roller derby can get rained out. Meanwhile spectators begin arriving, paying $10 each to see the game.
With a clap of thunder, drops of rain start falling. Even if it stops, the track has to be dry to play the game. Mama Whiskey, mother of Whiskey Ginger, says that last year the same thing happened and the Cal-Neva, a casino next to city hall, loaned the team squeegees to clear the track.
Fifteen minutes before game time the falling rain increases, baptizing the track in water. Protected by a covered stage, The Shames, a local band, play a selection of audience-friendly rock music. Susan G. Komen for the Cure has a booth at the event, promoting breast cancer awareness. On the other side of the track, GourMelt’s food truck appears, selling grilled-cheese sandwiches and sweet potato fries.
And then, as if by an act of Providence, the rain stops, the clouds part and the track dries. The game starts on time. Michelle Calhoun, the Derby Demons’ announcer, welcomes spectators and describes the rules of flat track roller derby.
The game, according to the official Women’s Flat Track Derby Association rulebook, allows four blockers and one jammer from each team on the track during play. The blockers of both sides form “the pack.” Behind the pack, each team’s jammer tries to work her way through the pack. Once she breaks through, she must skate around the track and try to break through the pack again. She scores a point for every blocker she passes. Once the jammer scores, she can end the jam. The players return to the starting line and start another jam.
Roller derby is a contact sport, but the belief that it is a brawl without rules is a myth. The WFTDA has rules – no elbows for example – and the referee will penalize players for misconduct.
Calhoun announces the end of the first half of the game. The Wild West Outlaws are ahead of the Derby Demons. The Derby Demon’s coach gathers the team, telling them to keep focused on the game and not on the score. The team returns to the track for the second half of the game.
The game ends. The Outlaws defeat the Derby Demons 87 – 152. With the game over, the crowd leaves and the Derby Demons shed their gear and turn to the task of breaking down the fences and cleaning the park.
“This Makes Me Feel Like I’m A Rock Star”
Although the season is over, derby is still on the mind of the players. Schmidt and Maulher still have the sport on their minds. Practice continues weekly until they return to competition in May and fresh meat arrives weekly to try out for the team.
With the season behind her, Schmidt takes some time to reflect on what being a Derby Demon means to her.
“If you take away the fishnets and the glamorized version of it that people perceive and start to look at it like we all do, it’s a sisterhood of women that are like-minded. I typically don’t get along with the average woman. This is a sport that brings together women that are like-minded, independent, strong willed and willing to take the risk of stepping out of their comfort zone.”
Schmidt adds that she spends more time with the derby girls than she does with her friends and family.
“It’s a very positive co-dependence,” Maulher says with a laugh.
Both skaters say that derby has increased their self-confidence and given them a positive outlook on life.
Since she spent most of her time on the bench in high school sports, Schmidt finds roller derby to be special. This is the only sport she’s done that she feels like she actually benefits the team.
“I fell in love with it,” Schmidt says. “And it’s unlike anything I’ve every felt before because it is such a close-knit family that fill a void I never knew I had.”
Schmidt, who is 6 feet 2 inches tall, is not a petite girl. She has spent her life being self-critical because of her size and height. But being a part of the Derby Demons has given her a new outlook and added meaning to her life.
“This makes me feel like I’m a rock star; that I am beautiful; that my body is beautiful. I’ve always been so hard on myself. But now, I can look in the mirror and be proud of myself.”