POSTED ON MARCH 21, 2007:
Defined by their name and their game, these roller girls lay it all down on the rink
The Green Country Roller Girls!
They're fierce, aggressive, cool as hell, and they've got the best legs in town. They're the Green Country Roller Girls, a group of about 12 full-time roller skaters, dedicated to the indie sport, roller derby.
Since the group's inception two years ago, a few girls have come and gone, but a core group has remained committed to the team, serving not only as skaters, but also as owners, board members and committee chairwomen. Their sport takes a tremendous amount of dedication, commitment, time, energy and plain 'ol guts, but they'll tell you it's the most rewarding thing they've ever done.
"It's in my blood now," is what a lot of the girls will say when asked about the sacrifices they've made for roller derby. And it's because of their passion and sacrifice that the organization even exists.
And they all have derby names like "Rosie the Wrecker," "Torch Her," "Dirty Dame" and "Whiskey Birmingham." There's a national group roster where more than 800 individual girls register their derby names, so no girl on any league in the U.S. has the same name.
The girls say their derby names describe who they are, but with so many names registered on the national roster, it's getting harder and harder to be creative with them.
The girls will tell you the best thing about being in a roller derby league is that they can be themselves, 100 percent, while enjoying a camaraderie and kinship with one another unlike any other friendship they've ever experienced.
"You kick each other's ass, but the girls still love you afterwards. You make friends you never would have made otherwise," said Elektra Violette, also known as Nancy Galloway.
"There aren't a lot of sports out there women can just go do. Here, you can look any way you want and be any way you want," she said.
The "girls" of GCRG range in age from 18 to 40. They are single, married, childless and have children. The work all sorts of jobs, they lead all sorts of lives. Their bodies, attitudes, styles, even hair colors, are all different. But together, they are a team.
"The adrenaline rush you get is comparative to race car driving or bungee jumping," Violette said. "It's all about female empowerment. It gives us a sense we can do anything. Don't push me around because I'll push back."
And though some girls on the team have been skating all their lives, others had never even put on a pair of skates until they joined the league.
Roller derby got its start in 1929, at the beginning of the Great Depression. At the same time that dance marathons were a wildly popular form of escapism -- people would turn out in droves to watch as couples subjected themselves to days and days of non-stop dancing in hopes of winning a $2,000 prize.
Entrepreneur Leo Selter, a film publicist at the time, felt the dance marathons were undermining his Oregon cinema chain, so he started his own sort of marathon, but his was a "walkathon" and roller derby.
By 1935, the popularity of dance marathons was waning, but a new roller skating fad was quickly mounting. Seltzer developed the Transcontinental Roller Derby, which lasted more than a month long and involved 25, two-person teams racing around a circular track 11 and a half hours a day, covering nearly 3,000 miles. Teams were disqualified if both members were off the track during the designated skating time, and most of those who weren't disqualified dropped out due to exhaustion or injury.
The sport remained popular until the beginning of World War II in 1941 and was reprised again in 1945, after the war's conclusion. The sport waned again in 1951, and though revivals were attempted in the late 1950s, '60s, '70s and 80s, none were exceedingly successful.
Between 1999 and 2001, Ross K. Bagwell and Stephen Land staged a televised revival called RollerJam, airing roller derby games from an arena at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.
Though the teams competing in RollerJam were mixed-gender, the majority of modern-day roller derby squads are all-female, women-owned and women-operated, and their popularity is widely attributed to another, more recent television series, called Rollergirls, a reality show based on a league in Austin, Texas. Though the show only lasted one season before it was canceled due to poor ratings, it helped ignite newfound interest in roller derby.
The Modern Game
Modern-day derby goes something like this: two teams of five skaters line up in the rink or on the track in a pack formation. (Though, in the past, roller derby was played on a banked tracked, most modern-day leagues play on a regular flat rink.) Each pack consists of four blockers and one jammer.
The blocker leading the pack is called the pivot, and at the referee's signal, the pivot leads the other blockers in a lap around the rink, setting the pace by which the other skaters follow. At the second signal, each team's jammer begins skating around the rink, making her way to the front of the pack. Then they make their way around the track again, and the first to make her way through the pack again legally (without going out of bounds, cutting the track or earning any penalties) is named lead jammer and may call off the jam at any time.
Points are earned when members of the opposing teams are passed by the inbound jammer, but the blockers can defend themselves and attempt to stop the jammer from passing, while also protecting and helping their own jammer. The jam continues for about two minutes or until the lead jammer calls it off, which is done to prevent the opposing jammer from scoring. Penalties are given to girls who block illegally, trip, punch, fight or behave in other "unsportsmanlike" manners.
Those rules don't keep the bouts from getting ugly -- even violent -- and nearly every woman on the GCRG league has been injured or caused another's injury.
The GCRG practice twice a week at the Rollery City roller rink in Broken Arrow, 551 W. Oakland St., and on Wednesday nights they meet at Skateland, 1150 S. Sheridan, for adult skate and an opportunity to have fun together.
Violette says girls who want to join the league don't need to know how to skate to get started; that can be taught in about three months. What you need, what can't be taught, is heart. Passion.
"I didn't get here without a lot of hard work, aches, pains, bruises and blisters," she said.
Violette, along with Malicious Mabel (a.k.a. Lora Gambino), are the only two GCRG founders still skating with the league. Others joined at various times and have stayed because of love of the sport.
Violette is engaged, and is raising a 13-year-old son, while serving as the media and public relations committee chair. She said her favorite thing about roller derby is "knockin' bitches down."
"But they get up, they laugh, and then it's cool," she added. "I've hurt some people, but I don't think anybody's broken anything."
Torch Her, a.k.a. Liz Lord, is a scarlet-haired skater from Ada. She's been addicted to roller derby ever since she joined the league four months ago. When she's not skating, she does documentation at a local office and paints as a hobby.
Crankee Yankee, Stephanie Parker, first learned about the GCRG by reading a June 2006 article about the league in a local paper.
"I came, I saw, I conquered," she laughed.
As a single mom, she said being in the league helps her relieve stress.
"I love it, and I love to hit people," she said. "Hard."
She already has a derby name for her 21-month-old daughter -- "The Mangler." She'll be a GCRG mascot when she gets older, Yankee said.
Dirty Dame, a.k.a. Amy Flaming, is an office assistant who was referred to the league by Rosie the Wrecker. Her five-year-old daughter is also a derby fan. Dirty Dame said the best thing about the GCRG is the sisterhood between the girls, not only on the team, but also between them and other teams.
Rosie the Wrecker is also known as Miranda Rivera, who first started skating with the GCRG a year ago. She said roller derby is great exercise, and "it's nice to be around girls I actually like."
"And if you don't like them, you can take your aggression out on the rink and feel better about it afterwards," she said.
She said no other sport provides her with the same adrenaline rush and the same feeling of sisterhood with her teammates.
Rector Kilder, Skye O'keefe, is a homemaker who enjoys making jewelry in her spare time. When she started thinking about joining the roller derby league, she said, "It seemed sort of daring and really exciting."
Her husband is an announcer for the league, and he loves derby almost as much as she does. In fact, Kilder said all of the players' husbands and boyfriends hang out together in a self-dubbed gang called "Old Dirty Bastards." They call themselves roller derby widowers, because derby takes up so much of their wives' and girlfriends' time and consumes so much of their lives.
Lady Lithium, or Shannon Notz, is married with two children, ages 10 and seven, and her oldest can't wait until she's old enough to be on the league, too.
"I heard about the Roller Girls a year ago, but I didn't get the courage to join until a little over a month ago," she said. "I've been watching derby on TV since I was a little kid. I love to skate. I really like the hip check."
Whiskey Birmingham, a.k.a. Miranda Neff, saw the GCRG site on the internet when the group was in its earliest stages of formation. She's been skating since she was young, and she still comes to Skateland at least once a week.
"The sisterhood here is awesome," she said. "I think of it as the roller skating version of the Illuminati, like the free masons, you know?
"And I like kicking girls' asses."
Short Circuit, Amanda Swinney, is the smallest member of the GCRG, married and works at her family's business, Swinney's Hardware. She's been with the GCRG almost since the beginning, she said, and she's always had a passion for skating.
"I was never able to get anyone to skate with me as an adult," she said, "but now I have a whole new group of friends.
"I'm still very childlike. I don't want to grow up. And I definitely don't want to just sit around and watch TV."
Support Your Team
The girls face their next bout this Saturday, March 24, in New Orleans against the Big Easy Roller Girls. Other bouts will be scheduled as their season continues. Keep your eyes peeled to Urban Tulsa Weekly to find out when you can see the girls jam here in Tulsa. (They haven't hosted any bouts at Roller City yet, due to a recent change of ownership. The girls says Roller City's new owner is very supportive of the squad and is helping them schedule some home bouts as we speak.)
And they're always looking for new GCRG members and volunteers. Wanna take out a little aggression? Go to www.greencountryrollergirls.com to find out how.
URL for this story: http://www.urbantulsa.comhttp://www.urbantulsa.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A16546