In a region where many women traditionally trend toward Lilly Pulitzer prints, pearls and Pi Phi “Something,” the growing roller derby movement is an extra-sassy breath of fresh Southern air.
The Midlands is lucky enough to be home to three flat track roller derby teams. The two female teams — Columbia QuadSquad Rollergirls and Richland County Regulators — are circuit veterans now in their fifth years of competition. This year they are joined by the Carolina Wreckingballs, a brand-new male team that debuted in late 2011.
So what’s the excitement about? Let’s break it down, derby style.
The First Half: A Jammer in the Eye, aka A Short History
To grasp the sport’s unique pedigree and rules, head straight for someone with track experience, like five-year sport veterans Hilary Stone (known as Danielle SteelToe), executive director of Columbia QuadSquad, or Leia Corley (known as Jean Gravy), the Regulators co-captain and founder. The hectic pace of the derby life is nothing to Leia who, in addition to her team duties, is also a mother, wife and professional hairstylist. While skating for CQS on back-to-back state championship teams, Hilary has pursued something that requires an altogether different level of drive: after years of studying, she will soon graduate with a degree in nursing.
Leia notes that while roller derby’s roots rocket all the way back to the 1920s, modern flat track roller derby started around 2004 in Austin, Tex., and has grown exponentially in just a few short years. “Today, the United States has around 1,000 teams. Of those teams, 147 are in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, and 67 are in WFTDA apprentice leagues,” says Leia. State champions in 2009, 2010 and 2011, Columbia QuadSquad was accepted as a full WFTDA member in March. The Regulators is currently a WFTDA apprentice league.
While bouts are very family friendly, players are known by colorful, somewhat crass names they may or may not have created on their own, like Mel Anoma, Bloodshed Red, Dani Dynamite, Cary Anne Conceal, Halle BuryHer and Rose E. Riveter. Often, a new player crafts a derby name only to be replaced by a nickname bestowed by a veteran player. In keeping with tradition, every bout also receives a memorable moniker, too. Recent bout names have included “Broken Hearts,” “Body Parts” and “Pride & Gory.”
The big difference between the sport then and now, according to Leia, is that the campy, disco-saturated roller derby from the 1970s is history, as is the banked track.
“Today we’re on a flat track. It’s played five on five over two 30-minute halves. Each team has one jammer and four blockers. The jammer has a star on her helmet and scores the points. She has two minutes to score as many points as possible by lapping blockers from the opposing team,” says Leia.
That might sound pretty simple until you consider the team’s blockers are trying to protect their jammer from the other team’s four brawling blockers, while all 10 speed skate in circles in a jostling scrum. It’s certainly not a sport for the faint of heart, but many players have found their team to be more than a sporty passing. It’s often a second home full of nurturing “derby sisters.”
The Second Half: When Mary Decked Callie, aka The Derby Girls
The Regulators began in 2007 with five team members. Today their ranks have swelled to more than 20 with a fully stocked crop of fresh meat — new players — trained and in reserve. While some players have actual derby experience, many, like Leia, simply picked up the sport and the ability to roller skate on the fly.
“Our training now is more structured than when we started, and we have a larger following which allows us to raise more for our local charities. We have fresh meat courses every nine weeks to teach new skaters about the game starting from the very basics,” says Leia. The first lesson dropped on a derby newbie? How to fall.
The Columbia QuadSquad started in March 2007 with 10 women. With the 2009 premiere of the movie Whip It, recruitment increased and today, the squad is 77 members strong. As the sport continues to grow, the players carry their banner with pride. This is not a campy catfight dressed up with hairspray and fishnet stockings. It’s an aggressive contact sport many women use to offset the stress and frustrations of their day-to-day lives.
Eva Foussat (known as Eva Las Vegas), a web and graphics designer/manager, has been a CQS Rollergirl since 2009 and finds her laps on the track very cathartic. “I get so focused on what I’m physically doing out there that I can totally check out mentally from all the stress or drama I’ve had that day. It’s just me and my skates on the track,” she says.
(Left) Eva Foussat skates for the Columbia QuadSquad as Eva Las Vegas. (Right)A Richland County Regulators member
Stacey Russell-Franklin (known as Holly Hunter) works for a local law firm by day and has skated on the CQS team for five years. One of the team’s most experienced members, Stacey serves as captain of the Allstars team. “What I love most about this team is that we are a true family. While we don’t always agree, we respect each other and will do anything at all for each other in our times of need. My teammates motivate me to be a better skater, captain and person in general,” she says.
For Hilary, team and teammates are very important, but what speaks to her is the action of the sport. “What I love most about roller derby is the game, the competition. I love to play this game,” she says.
But can just anyone join a team? “Absolutely anyone can,” says Leia. “That’s one thing we love about this sport. Girls of all shapes and sizes can play and be proud of their bodies. I have seen girls with small frames be hard hitters, and just the opposite – girls who you expect to make great blockers due to their size but are quick on their feet and can jump through a pack.”
The Richland County Regulators get phsyical with their opponents during a recent match.
Eva says one of the greatest joys of the sport is her derby sisters. “We come from so many walks of life and different backgrounds but all unite under this one thing — skating fast, turning left and hitting things,” she says.
Think you could be the next Raquel Welts or Tazer Swift? Give it a go.
Learn more about the sport, its rules and what all those different whistles mean by visiting www.derbynewsnetwork.com or www.wftda.com. To learn more about local roller derby bouts and teams, hit ‘em up on Facebook or the team websites.