Roller derby girls in your own backyard - the Ann Arbor Derby Dimes are forming
Morgana Kraus, the muscle | photo by R. Retyi
The crowd in the back room of Arbor Brewing Company is standing-room only, packed with girls (and a few guys) of all shapes and sizes; tattoos, loud hair, a handful on the older side and some fresh-faced and wide-eyed. I count one black eye, a medical boot and a back brace. This league is going to be interesting.
Betty Beretta from the Devil’s Night Dames of the Detroit Derby Girls league speaks to the crowd last. Two nights ago she competed for the Detroit Derby Girls league championship, narrowly losing to the Funk All-Stars. Prior to her involvement in Detroit, Beretta was part of the creation of the Mississippi Rollergirls in 2006 - a team that concludes its second year of competition next month.
“There’s an incredible amount of chaos involved in starting a league,” Beretta says, “but roller derby is the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Gallardo, along with Derby Dimes treasurer Milinda Villegas, run the open meeting, stoking the enthusiasm of the crowd but keeping expectations realistic.
“Our first bout won’t be for about a year,” Gallardo says. The air gets sucked out of the room for a second. “We might scrimmage in six to nine months. We don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
It gets quiet. Then Gallardo encourages.
“Anyone can do this,” she says. “If you haven’t skated in a long time it’s okay. If you’re an experienced skater, you’ll move into a leadership role quickly and help everyone get better.”
They don’t gloss over the physical aspect of the sport. The injuries and the extensive padding used to protect derby girls from said injuries.
“It’s something I want to try before I die,” says Kraus. “Betty and some of the roller derby girls are great customers. I’ve heard a lot about it and apparently it’s not as vicious as it seems. It’s not a blender.”
Nevertheless, there are risks.
“You wanna keep your grill pretty,” says Gallardo, talking about mouth guards. The slow progression from inception to the first official bout helps minimize the chances of injury and maximize skill. It takes time to build a successful derby girl.
Katherine Yates - the wheels | photo by R. Retyi
“I haven’t roller skated since I went to a birthday party in Ypsi when I was young,” says 33-year-old Katherine Yates. Yates heard about the meeting from a friend who saw the event invitation on Facebook.
“I watched Whip It, I enjoy roller derby and I knew they were open to older athletes with mixed skill sets,” she says.
Roller derby isn’t strictly for jocks. Every member of the Derby Dimes is expected to serve on a committee, ranging from training to recruiting, sponsorship, PR, fundraising and merchandise. This is some serious stuff. There are dues, voting and executive positions. But each league is responsible for its own destiny - skater owned and skater run. Even volunteers are given a say, paying lower dues but getting a chance to vote on league matters.
“It’s DIY at its best,” Beretta tells the crowd.
“Roller derby is challenging and time consuming,” says Gallardo, a mother of four. “A lot of people in this room won’t be with us when we start.” The room gets quieter again. Heads turn.
Summer Squash, a member of the fledgling Jack Town Rollers in Jackson is also in attendance to offer advice on equipment, training and to offer encouragement.
“I’m a stay-at-home mom, I have five kids and I train 12 hours a week, but I make it work,” she says. “Anyone can do it.”
“If you are volunteering and can only help out for six hours, rock those hours,” says Beretta.
Roller derby people come from all walks of life and each will face a different challenge fitting the sport into their busy lives. Kraus is a manager at Hot Topic at Briarwood Mall. Yates works in an ecological consulting firm. Beretta is a waitress at the Fleetwood who’s returning to school in the fall. I profiled Tracy Toepfer (aka Summers Eve-L) last week, who is an associate creative director at an interactive development company. Some will make it and some won’t have the time and energy.
Betty Beretta, Summers Eve-L, Summer Squash - derby names are important. There’s a master roster online where derby girls can see if their desired monikers are already taken. Willie Half-Nelson - taken. A.C. Slater - taken. 5 Scar Jeneral - taken. Jimmy Kimmel Live - NOT TAKEN!
“I’m going to put a lot of thought into my name,” says Yates, perhaps not wanting to tip her hand.
I forgot to ask Kraus what her nickname of choice would be, but we did talk training.
“Last week I put on my old quads and skated the neighborhood,” she says. “I wore an angsty band t-shirt and my helmet. I made sure the neighborhood kids were out.”
Today the Derby Dimes are just a seed, but if the enthusiasm at Arbor Brewing Company is any indication, the league has the potential to build strong roots before finally flowering. It’ll be a long process. Skater packets need to be filled out and turned in. Skates and pads need to be purchased. YouTube videos need to be studied. Practices need to be lined up. Squats and sit-ups need to be done.
And badass names need to be created. I’m available for consultations. I'm dead serious.
(Richard Retyi also has a tumblr. How hipster!)
(With his second article on roller derby in five days, Richard Retyi is now AnnArbor.com’s resident expert on all things derby. Check out his profile on Devils’ Night Dame Tracy Toepfer. If Richard was a derby girl, his name would be Emily Bronte - not taken! If you have a story not related to roller derby, email Ed Vielmetti. Just kidding. You can reach Richard at email@example.com and/or read more of his work here.)