Roller derby is a contact sport on wheels known for its brutality, but also its inclusivity. Anyone willing to strap on a pair of skates and protective gear is invited to join the area teams. Rachel Otwell visited with a men’s team, Springfield’s Capital City Hooligans, as they prepare for their first official bout:
Springfield’s Capital City Hooligans will play against the Bruise Brothers from Chicago on June first at the Decatur Civic Center. That bout will open for the Decatur Derby Dames as they face off Wisconsin’s River Valley Roller Girls.
About twenty peopl are skating around the rink on a Monday night at Skateland South in Springfield. It’s mostly men, decked out with helmets, kneepads, mouth guards and other protective gear as they skate and do stretches at the same time.
Michael D’Amaro takes a break from the warm-ups to chat. He reads me the roster of the men’s team – there are 15 names on the list:
D’AMARO: “Cunning Hammer … Dr. Whoa … Loop Hole … ”
Michael D’Amaro is a 25 year old news production assistant by day – but on the nights and weekends he’s with his roller derby crew, he goes by a different moniker, which is slang for his Italian heritage:
D’AMARO: “My name is Dago Wop.”
No one said roller derby was politically correct. As a spectator sport, it peaked several decades ago. But its popularity among players is in resurgence. So, what is it about roller derby that appeals to D’Amaro?
D’AMARO: “The carnage I guess, it’s kind of more of an alternative sport – it attracts a different kind of crowd, it’s not so much of a jock kind of thing. I really, really grabbed a hold of that. I always enjoyed sports in high school, but I wasn’t the greatest athlete.”
Roller derby is definitely physically demanding however.Want proof? Just take Paul Elders for example. He’s sitting in a wheelchair – his leg in a cast. Elders took a hard fall during a previous practice.
ELDERS: “I was like, I think I broke it … so then I tried to move my leg up – like I was going to get up just to see. And part of my leg moved and my foot just stayed on the ground. Everybody started yelling at me, ‘Don’t move it! Don’t move it! You definitely broke your leg.'”
As the practice goes on, players take turns acting as blockers and jammers – the two positions there are to play in the game. Katie Baird explains the objective of the roller derby games – called bouts. She’s one of the team’s coaches:
BAIRD: “Roller derby’s played with two teams on the track at a time. The jammers are the ones who are the stars, and they score the points. A jammer scores points by passing members of the opposing team, so each team has a double duty of playing both offense and defense at the same time. They want to stop the other team’s jammer from getting through, at the same time helping their jammer through.”
The 24 year old Baird works as a graphic designer – she’s also known as Bambi Bloodlust and plays for a womens’ roller derby team in Decatur. She’s wearing zebra-print knee-pads, tall hot-pink socks, and a helmet with antlers painted on it. Female teams are known for their theatrics, including costumes. Guys’ teams sometimes dress up, but to a lesser degree. Baird says as is the case for many people who are sucked into the roller derby world- it’s changed her life:
BAIRD: “I was never an athletic person before, but I found this sport that I love and I’ve learned that I can be athletic and I am strong and I like going to the gym and working out now, and I want to be buff – these are things I never would have ever dreamed of wanting in my life. And the friends, an amazing group of supportive people – we have so much fun together, and yeah – I just get all warm and fuzzy when I think about roller derby.”
Baird says roller derby also provides a community service by donating proceeds from games to charities. Team members also take part in local fundraisers.
Like Elders with his broken leg – Baird has also felt the pain that roller derby can bring with it. She broke her collar bone playing last summer.
Elders says the sport that has left him with one medical ailment also helped relieve another. He says he was dealing with clinical depression around the time he started playing roller derby:
ELDERS: “I don’t want to say that necessarily, ‘Oh, I played derby and it solved all my problems.’ It was more along the lines of, I started playing derby, I started really caring about the sport. And because I really cared about the sport and cared about my performance in the sport, I started caring about myself … because I want to be a better player and because each one of these guys is family.”
Elder’s doctor told him it could take anywhere from three months to a year for his injury to heal. But that won’t stop him from coming to weekly practices where he helps however he can – at the very least providing support to his teammates.
And as the team members prepare for their first official bout – they’ll accept any guy to practice who’s 18 or older and willing to strap on a pair of wheels and some protective gear. Those trying out the sport are given a set amount of time to attend practices before becoming dues-paying members. And now, with the formation of the men’s team in Springfield plus the one for ladies already in existence– men and women alike have the chance to test out their bravery on the rink.