By Josh Cook
Saturday night I put my life on the line.
At the Manslick Rollerdrome a little before 7 p.m. I plopped down in something called "suicide seating," for the Derby City Rollergirls match against Northeast Ohio.
I was sitting butt-to-floor behind a strip of masking tape a few feet away from where 10 women at a time would be speeding around a giant circle on the track trying to pass each other and get each other out of the way. "You may possibly have a Rollergirl land on top of you," I was told beforehand.
Admittedly I'd never been to a roller derby match, but I vaguely remember seeing it on TV in the late 70's. I recall women flying over the railing and exchanging punches in what was a pre-cursor to today's World Wrestling Entertainment. I'd heard about the DCRG for years, but had never been to a match before Saturday.
It didn't take long to realize that this wasn't my mother's roller derby, and not just because the track was now flat instead of raised. (Go here for a quick explanation of the sport).
"It's not the roller derby of yesterday," Jessica Carpenter (a.k.a. Kimmy Crippler), a blocker and team vice president for DCRG told me after the 141-39 win over their counterparts from Akron, Ohio. "It's not elbows in the face or staged hits and falls. We're strong women and we're out here to kick some ass."
But there's more than meets the eye with the DCRG.
Sure they've got tats and names like Murda Inc., Shellnita Crutch and Carrie A. Glock - who, as it turns out, does carry a glock and met her husband in prison - but don't be fooled. These women, who range in age from their early 20s to 50, have full-time jobs. They are girlfriends and wives and mothers and daughters. And they play the sport for exercise, for camaraderie, for the chaos. And they play something that, as it turns out, is good clean fun.
HOW THEY GOT ROLLING
Melissa Allgeier (a.k.a. Mel O'Drama) is the coach of DCRG. She used to play, but with an infant son and another baby on the way she had to give it up.
"I didn't think I could commit my body to it, but could commit my mind to it," Allgeier, 30, said.
Allgeier, a former dancer and graduate of a performing arts high school in Nashville, moved to Louisville with her husband. One day she was getting her hair done when she overheard her hairdresser talking about the Rollergirls.
"Okay," she said, "sign me up."
Other players on the team have a similar story of how they became involved. Carpenter, who looks anything like a crippler off the track with her curly red hair, overheard some women talking about it at a bar and asked them about it.
"I totally stepped outside my comfort zone to talk to people I didn't know," she said. "I used to play sports when I was younger, but I didn't do anything when I was in college, I wanted to do something that fit my personality...a contact sport."
Carpenter found out just how much contact was involved the first time she attended a match.
"I saw a girl fall and her shin bone exited her shin...it was pretty gnarly," she said. "I said, 'What am I doing? But I like that it's chaotic and exciting, I like that it's really dynamic and intense."
Play is fierce, but not vicious. Jimi Hitrix lives up to her name with some big hits, however there aren't any cheap shots or dirty plays. Bonnie Greer (a.k.a. DCRG co-captain Carrie A. Glock) gets expelled for falling with her right leg fully extended, but for good reason. She later explains that the move wasn't malicious but necessary because she has a partially torn ACL and didn't want to make it a complete tear.
Greer, like Carpenter, was a rink rat when she was younger.
"I kind of grew up roller-skating with my dad, but I quit when I got to high school (in Oldham County) and it wasn't cool anymore," she said.
But she got interested again after attending a DCRG match.
"I came to a game and decided it would be excellent anger management for my day job, and it is," Greer, 29, said. "It turns out I'm a really nice parole officer."
DCRG's "pivot" is a pretty intimidating presence (until her mom gives her a post-game kiss) in roller skates, standing over 6-feet tall. One has to wonder how intimidating she is when she's carrying a gun and keeping tabs on convicted sex offenders in six Kentucky counties.
Greer met her husband Josh in the state's psychiatric prison (don't worry, he was working there too) and they were married on April Fool's Day earlier this year and (surprise!) had their reception at a roller rink.
If that doesn't prove her dedication to staking, then consider that she lives in Henry County and thrice-a-week makes the hour drive to practices. And, like the other women, she pays to play.
"I love the exercise, the women that I play it with," Greer said. "Some of these girls have to find babysitters for their kids, and some breastfeed before they come."
Indeed the team is made up of everything from stay-at-home moms to a research lab tech, hospice worker and nurse, to a box office worker at The Palace who teaches theatre to prison inmates.
"We represent a large chunk of demographics and population throughout the city," said Carpenter, who works in a Substance Abuse Rehab program and calls the sport a "sociological experiment."
You don't have to look far to find that out. Saturday night at Manslick Rollerdrome there were people of all race, shapes and sizes (including several children) at the team's final home match of the 2010 season (there is one road match remaining July 10). The team has some loyal fans, including members of Louisville's LGBT community (see the team's appearance at the recent Pride Parade), who good-naturedly yell things like "Get that bitch!" when Northeast Ohio's jammer gets out in front of the pack. And they had plenty to cheer about as Trick Pony and Cardinal Sin weaved their way through traffic to score a plethora of points.
"The fans that do support it are really great," Carpenter, 27, said. "I think they come out initially because they are intrigued about the novelty of the sport. But the fans that stay, and keep coming back, do it because they love the sport."
The same is true for the players.
"We're not in it to make millions," Carpenter said. "We're in it because we love it."
As for me, I survived the "suicide seating," but much to my dismay didn't end up with a Rollergirl in my lap. However I did leave with a better understanding of the sport, and an appreciation for the women who play it.