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Posted on Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 8:45 a.m.

Roller Derby packs Buhr Park in the A2D2 Brawlstars home debut

By Richard Retyi


The BrawlStars’ MVP of the bout, jammer Hermione Gank-Ya, breaks through two Flint City Derby Girl blockers.

photo courtesy of Farzin Montazersadgh (

Tattoos, tank tops, short shorts, lycra, mouth guards armored padding and colors as bright as a bag of mixed jelly beans.

Saturday was about more than college football with the A2D2 Brawlstars facing the Flint City Derby Girls at Buhr Park in the Brawlstars’ first home bout. Elbows, jamming and insubordination: It was the perfect night for derby.

I was there at the beginning - May 24, 2010. I attended the first open meeting of the Ann Arbor Derby Dimes where the standing-room only crowd learned that their first bout wouldn’t occur for at least a year.

I remember the long looks on the faces in the room. One year until an actual competition. It was clear from the start that being a derby girl equaled a great amount of commitment.

Flash forward to Saturday, when three Ann Arbor teams were padded up and ready to compete. At the top are the Brawlstars, the select all-star travel team representing Ann Arbor, drawing the best players from Ann Arbor’s local squads, the Tree Town Thrashers and the Huron River Rollers.

“This team has progressed faster than any I’ve been involved with,” says Brawlstars head coach J.T. Slyde (John Miller). “They’re smart and educated in the game, and they’re going to be successful.”


General Strike pushes a FCDG blocker in back form BrawlStar jammer Roof’s On Fire. BrawlStar pivot Courtnasty and blocker Michelle O’She’ll Bomb Ya square off with a FDGC blocker up front. Far right, A2D2 referee Megapickle

photo courtesy of Farzin Montazersadgh (

The cheers from the crowd, the music and the voice of announcer Brawl McSnarkney drift out of the open-air arena, down the dirt path and through Buhr Park. Inside, the edges of the track are ringed with folding chairs which are nearly filled with parents, friends, children and curiosity seekers from all over Washtenaw County.

The track is a lot smaller than I imagined, outlined with colored orange tape. Caution tape is laid out 10 feet beyond the track roping off the “Suicide Zone,” where it’s warned that errant skaters will sometimes fall into laps.

After the line-ups are announced and the teams begin circling the track, I’m pretty much lost. The game has a steep learning curve, even though the concept is simple. Each team has a jammer (she wears a star on her helmet) who gains points by passing the opposing players. Blockers on each team try to prevent the opposing team’s jammer from getting past them, using hips checks and wide-bodied skating. Those are the basics.

Two periods of 20 minutes generally yield scores in the 100s, which makes for a lot of action on the track. There are packs and majors and jam time and low blocking and grand slams. It’s overwhelming complicated. The jammers mostly stay in control, with only a few spills outside the track.


Little Ref Riding Hood and the giant board of shame.

Richard Retyi | Contributor

There are some hits in the middle and a few traffic jams with blockers tangled up, but it’s controlled violence, not the compound-fracture stuff I thought I might see. It’s not until the first half is over that I get a chance to ask referee Little Ref Riding Hood (Misty Mills) for some quick pointers.

She’s one of the referees in the middle of the track who constantly circle the field of play keeping score and watching for fouls. Dominating the center of the track is a giant white board with each participant’s number on a grid. On the outside, referees patrol the edges to maintain fair play and report fouls.

All fouls are relayed to volunteers manning the giant white board who tally them up during play. Four minors equal a major which equals a one-minute penalty. Seven majors and you’re out.

Other volunteers dot the arena. An announcer keeps everyone informed of the action. A DJ plays music during the bout. A volunteer on a laptop keeps time and the score. It’s a full production and the Derby Dimes organization even has a marketing, fundraising and PR arm. This isn’t a ragtag operation — this is like a minor league baseball team.

With the rules mostly figured out, I meet some of the crazy individuals who actually do roller derby. Siouxsie Doozy (Kayleigh Cyrus) is a 23-year-old student and mom who also works as a stylist at a local haircuttery.

She “liked” the Derby Dimes on Facebook and, after attending an informational meeting, was hooked. She was part of Wave Two of the Derby Dimes recruiting class (which is currently in Wave Three) and worked herself up to an alternate spot on the Brawlstars roster while playing regularly for the Huron River Rollers.


The Brawlstars keep Flint City jammer at bay.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Cantley

Cyrus made it through the 12-week boot camp, passed the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) skills test and now goes through two-hour practices three to four times a week, all for the love of the sport and her teammates.

“My first thought about joining roller derby was to lose the baby weight,” Cyrus says, “but it’s an addiction. These are my friends and my babysitters and my clients, my crafting buddies and my drinking pals. I’m also getting pretty good at it, so I don’t want to stop now.”

The Brawlstars take a 67-57 halftime lead over Flint thanks to some nifty work from Brawlstars jammer Hermione Gank-Ya who has this Harry Potter schtick going with a Hogwarts tie wrapped around her waist. With names like Lethal Bo Peep, Michelle O’She’ll Bomb Ya, Charm School Reject and perhaps my favorite Moxy Moron, roller derby is nothing if not creative.

The pink-clad Flint City girls respond in the second half with bruising play and quick jamming, staking themselves to a comeback win with bruiser Bebe Kaboom (Brenna Cavanaugh) a major factor in the middle. Flint City wins 131-96, but for a program nearly five years older than the Brawlstars, the result is heartening for the future of Ann Arbor derby.

Cavanaugh, a U-M Flint graduate and social worker, gives a lot of the standard postgame athlete answers to questions about the team’s comeback while throwing in strategy and lingo that go way over my head. Leading Flint City in major fouls with four, I ask her about the physical play of roller derby.

“I try to stay legal. but sometimes it’s hard,” Cavanaugh says. “I play clean, but sometimes the refs don’t see it that way.”


The Ann Arbor BrawlStars with bench coach Nixie Knoxxx and head coach J.T. Slyde.

photo courtesy of Farzin Montazersadgh (

My favorite Derby girl is Brawlstars blocker Perfect Upzette, better know to me as Mrs. Madej or Suzette. She’s also the Derby girl I’ve known the longest — we first met when I was hired at the University of Michigan eight years ago. She’s the wife of my former boss, Bruce, and the only derby girl on the floor with sons aged 30, 27 and 22.

She also throws the best holiday and pre-football season parties — just as an FYI. At 53 years old (she doesn’t look it), Madej battled it out with the Flint City youngsters in the pack and landed some good shots on girls half her age.

Asked why she does derby, Madej is quick to hug the nearest teammate.

“These women are fabulous,” she says. “They’re doctors, scientists, moms and students. I have so much fun with them .”


PaciFIST, Perfect Upzette and Lethal Bo Peep of the Tree Town Thrashers.

Richard Retyi | Contributor

When asked about her favorite part of roller derby, Madej gets a devlish grin and says, “I really like to make people really upset.” She straps on her helmet and knocks her elbow pad with one hand and she gives me a big hug before skating out for warm-ups.

The next Derby Dimes home event is double-header on Oct. 29 with the Brawlstars hosting Floral City followed by an exhibition between the Tree Town Thrashers and the Huron River Rollers. For more information about the Derby Dimes check them out on their website or on Facebook and Twitter.

Richard Retyi writes the infrequent column Lie to Your Cats About Santa when he’s not trying to keep his own blog InBedByEleven afloat. Email him at with any story ideas or if you have a better roller derby name than Moxy Moron.



Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 9:14 p.m.

This is all fine and dandy but I wish someone would start up a banked track league. Now that it is fun to watch.

Kymmburleigh Clark

Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 10:25 p.m.

The Ann Arbor Derby Dimes are actually fundraising for their banked track, so they will be the first in Michigan. They're hoping this will be their last flat track season! You can donate to their cause on the front page of their website at <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>.


Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 4:04 p.m.

You'll get the best information if you follow them on facebook. Derby Dimes post all their bout information there. Don't count on Ann

Kymmburleigh Clark

Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 10:27 p.m.

<a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Wolf's Bane

Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 2:24 p.m.

Great to see all the local support and crowds. Wish I'd known when and where it was hosted before the event.


Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 1:29 p.m.

Why doesn't write stories about events like this BEFORE they occur and then do a follow up story with photos of the event?

Jeff Gaynor

Tue, Sep 20, 2011 : 10:54 a.m.

I did see mention of roller derby in an poll last week, so it was highlighted somewhere besides the event page.


Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 3:44 p.m.

Jen, perhaps a good rule of thumb you could use is: If the event is important enough for you to cover in your river of news after the fact, then perhaps it is important enough to highlight the event outside of your calendar BEFORE the event occurs. In other words, I don't care about every mundane activity that occurs at the library or the Y over the weekend. If I did, I would actively seek that info out by going to your events calendar. And I wouldn't expect to see an article on on Monday morning covering those activities either. It seems to me one of your roles as the local paper should be to do everything you can to encourage the community to come together at larger unique events like this.

Jen Eyer

Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 1:48 p.m.

Although we did not write a preview story, this event was listed on our Events Calendar: <a href=""></a>.