Gem City Rollergirls do derby in Dayton
By Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin
Photo: The next Gem City Rollergirls home bout will be April 19 at Hara Arena; photo: David Davidson
It could be an intimidating set up. Girls that look like they could open walnuts without aid of a cracker whiz by, hiked up an extra two inches beyond their already larger-than-life selves on these-are-not-rented skates. Caution tape is rolled out around the perimeter of the track, dotted with signs warning front-row spectators, “Suicide seating, 18 and up only.” High-grip urethane wheels reverberate off the arena floor and echo high in the rafters, giving the sensation of having fallen into a very large, very much alive colony of bees.
But then a chipper young lady rolls up, smiles and asks if it’s your first time, hands you a stack of well-produced literature and scoots you on in to join the pulsing throngs of fellow derby enthusiasts. This is roller derby, and the Gem City Rollergirls (GCRG) are your fierce and friendly neighborhood knock-outs.
Roller derby got its start in 1930s Chicago, grew in popularity during the ’40s and ’50s, suffered a decline in interest due in part to the development of scripted and pre-determined matches, and then experienced a revival in Austin, Tex. near the beginning of the 21st century. Modern derby consists largely of all-female, self-organized leagues founded around the world by women of all ages, races, professions, sexual orientations, social strata and income brackets. Some would call it a fine example of third-wave feminism. None would doubt the presence of girl power.
And it’s all right there, in your face. Hearts on sleeves. Hearts, shamrocks, skulls, flowers, endless ink. Lacy short-shorts, sparkly short-shorts. Mesh stockings in small-weave, wide-weave, web-weave, ripped-weave. Self-proclaimed Diva Vin Detta, Harrowing Banshee, Demented Damsel, Mortal Wombat. The Purple Reign and The Violet Femmes whip by in a whirl of wine-colored poise, self-confident and intoxicating with their coolness.
Despite the bevy of distracting active-wear and clever monikers, every so often you will be reminded you’re at a legitimate sporting event. You stand up and look at a flag while a nice lady sings the National Anthem; you pay $4 for a plastic cup full of AmberBock; you sit in grandstands with some really enthusiastic fans. And these athletes you’re watching, they may elicit the same emotional response you have while watching a Nike commercial.
How do they do that?
Obviously, they’ve been training, but surely adrenaline is playing some part in these eight-wheeled calisthenics. We’re talking running on toes, sliding on knees, taking on walls of interlocked opponents and occasionally crawling like possessed pussycats to get back on the track in a timely fashion. How does one train for this kind of event?
“We have practice three days a week,” said GCRG president Outer Spacey, whose alter-ego is a Dairy Queen manager and Miami University psychology major. “During practice, we do what we call ‘land drills,’ and it’s push-ups, sit-ups, we do laps, stuff like that. Keep our legs strong. It’s also core and upper body. It’s all important in roller derby, so we do a lot of different exercises to build our endurance and our strength to benefit us on the track.”
And train they must. Each team has five skaters on the track: four blockers and one jammer. The jammers’ job is to get past the blockers, lap them and then get past them again, scoring a point for each member of the opposing team they overcome. But while there are specific positions being played and specific plays being positioned, depending on which jammer is where on the track, offensive players become defensive and team members literally switch hats in order to score more effectively. Plays unfold quickly, often ferociously, and not all emotion is left at the door. A trip to the penalty box is worn as a kind of badge of honor for some ladies, who may or may not intentionally booty-bump other skaters out of bounds after the whistle.
Does all this fierce competition and intense training negatively affect relationships within the derby community? Not a bit, according to Spacey.
“It’s funny, because during game play, we obviously want to beat the crap out of the other team, but as soon as the game is over or as soon as that particular jam is over, we love our opponent,” Spacey said. “And after the game we go and we have an after party, and we’re all like best friends and it’s wonderful and everything is awesome. Even though we’re super competitive, don’t get me wrong. But the whole derby world, if you play derby, it’s like you’re automatically one big family.”
One big, beautiful, growling, panting, hip-checking, black-n-blue and grinning-all-over family. I suppose if they love as hard as they hit, I could go for a couple of blows.
The Gem City Rollergirls’ next home bouts will feature Purple Reign vs. Ann Arbor Brawlstars and the Junior Gems Full Bout. The bouts will take place Saturday, April 19 at Hara Arena at 101 Shiloh Springs Rd. Doors open at 4:30 p.m., and the first whistle will be at 5:30 p.m. To meet your Gems, check out game statistics and learn how to get in the jam yourself, please visit gemcityrollergirls.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin at firstname.lastname@example.org.