; The disco ball at the sakting rink in DeLand spins as AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds" blazes in the background. Ten ladies dressed in ballsy getups are whipping around the makeshift derby track, much narrower than the usual rink and marked with tube lights. Once in a while, one of the Florida Rollergirls spills into the crowd, not so much for effect — though such moves can be a calculated part of the game — but for real. ;

No longer referred to as "queens," competitors in the new wave of roller derby picking up speed around the nation sport a killer identity: real girls, real fights, real bodies, real athletes. Only the names and occasional staged theatrics are fake. After all, tickets must be sold.;

The second period in this bout gets borderline bloody because the refs aren't calling the penalties that they should, and illegal hits are coming from everywhere. Claire Voyant (aka Faith Foster), 21, shoves Sixgun Susie (aka Danielle Best), 24, into the crowd, and Sixgun almost hits a 6-year-old, stirring a little audience interaction. But the move is lost when a derby girl screams, "The refs fucked us," into the microphone, offending some onlookers, who leave the venue. Clearly, DeLand's not ready for this. ;

;When I moved to Florida from Nebraska earlier this year, I left the No Coast Derby Girls and my alter ego, "Cass Traitor," behind. Our team practiced three times a week, and we did anything we could to make money for the league — bake sales at bars, $20 sponsorships — but the effort paid off, and not just with financial success. The kind of camaraderie that we achieved as a result of our aggressive athletic venture has traditionally been reserved for males, but not anymore. The bond we built afforded me some of my favorite memories; they weren't necessarily during competition, but at times like when we sat down together as we tied our skates. For better or worse, those ladies became my sisters. When you strap kneepads on over pink fishnet stockings and apply one more coat of red lipstick before rolling onto the floor in front of 500 people, it's a transformation. You become a character in a seductive show that people get addicted to: Women with worked-out asses kicking the crap out of each other. It was exhilarating.;

;No Coast Derby Girls bouts featured beer kegs, team patches, loud bands and, most importantly, the drinking-age college kids in our downtown Lincoln scene who were eager to buy $5 tickets. (The Florida Rollergirls charge $12.) We made more money than any of us ever dreamed possible in a short period of time. Three hundred dollars was the goal of our first event, and we made six times that. We knew our market and tapped into it. Derby is not family entertainment, and we employed the double-entendres and sensational references to "girl-on-girl action" that are inherent in the sport. Comparisons are often made to championship wrestling, and while most derby girls recoil at the very mention, it's not far off.;

;The Florida Rollergirls started in February as a grass-roots, female-run derby team spanning Central Florida. Vice president Jeannie "Flyin' J" Dowis, 39, says, "I saw a video of the Atlanta Rollergirls and thought, ‘I could do that.' It looked fun and very much like something for me because it combined skating and sport with an alternative aesthetic and do-it-yourself girl-power ethic." (The president has since moved on, so Dowis is heading up the show for now.) ;

;Several teams have attempted to start a derby community in Orlando and Kissimmee, but have not been successful. The Florida Rollergirls are hoping to take these splintered groups of derby girls and make them into teams in their Central Florida league. A league usually consists of two to five teams (of 10-15 girls each) that compete against each other. Interleague bouting means no travel worries and events that can be easily coordinated. (Meet-and-greets to foster recruitment are planned Sept. 17 and 24; find details on

;;Like most derby teams, the Florida Rollergirl ladies are all different, with varying day jobs, united only by the derby desire. There is no particular body type, hair color or body-art minimum, and that's what makes it unpredictable to watch. From beanpole to buxom to bodacious, these derby girls have a desire to interact and compete with an upper echelon of female, womano a womano. ;

;The skating ability of the Florida Rollergirls is similar to other amateur derby leagues. Every team has a couple of former speed skaters, a couple of heavy-hitting broads and some eager newbies who've never been on wheels before. Currently there are two teams in the Florida Rollergirls league. The Recon Rollers have a covert operations theme, according to the website: a "roller derby militia that no doubt leaves you shell-shocked, whether you're enemy or civilian." As for the Furious Felons, they "just broke out of cell block #9," and "the evidence is stacking up against them, just like the body bags piling up in the corner of the rink." ;

;Obviously the Roller-girls take advantage of sensational wordplay, but not to the heightened sexual level that many teams do. And that may need to happen, as promotion is critical. Rock Solid 49 (Kirstin Stapleton), who stands 4 feet, 9 inches, says, "The stereotype that I always think of [in derby] is ‘sex appeal' and ‘girl-on-girl bashing.' I think our league has some work to do on both ends. Right now we are all so nervous we haven't had time to develop our ‘derby persona.'" Says Sixgun Susie, "Whatever they want to say is fine with me. Twelve dollars in our pocket is always gonna be 12 dollars in our pocket." For sure, the lure of money is part of the appeal for potential Florida Rollergirls. ;

;The business model for most teams on the amateur level is to create an LLC; a membership fee is required and all proceeds go back to the league. The Florida Rollergirls use a pyramid-type system, in which a league member's level of involvement is proportionate to the level of financial reimbursement. The league and the individual teams within the league make a certain percentage of sales, depending on how often the logo is used. Then the girls make a percentage based on, for instance, whether or not they designed a shirt or coordinated an event. Whether or not this personal-gain structure will work is unclear, because no money has been made and they're still in the hole. ;

;"I'd like us to launch a strong team in Orlando at Semoran Skateway in September, get some commitments from sponsors and make enough money at the door so that no one has to pay for practice time," says Flying J. The girls are currently sponsored by Monster Energy drink and the DeLand Skating Center. But while roller-skating rinks in cities like Lincoln are dying out, the rinks down here still make money off family events, school skates and speed teams. While it's my feeling that if you're not offending someone, it's not derby, that ;doesn't do you any good if you don't have a place to skate. The sex, skates and rock & roll of derby are a scary prospect in these parts.;

;There has been an influx of amateur derby teams around the country since the early 2000s, started by the Texas Rollergirls, who remain one of the best. Derby fever worked its way through Texas to both coasts, growing into 30 currently recognized flat-track amateur roller derby teams, with another 100 up-and-comers gathering members and resources. Already established in Florida are the Tallahassee Roller Girls, the Space Coast Flashers and the Tampa Bay Derby Darlin's.;

;Born out of the Great Depression, roller derby was a way to draw people into theaters for a low-price ticket and the added chance to win cash prizes, but it has evolved many times over. In the 1940s, roller derby involved a 3,000-lap race in Chicago that equaled the distance between Los Angeles and New York City. People would race for days, and the final laps were filled with crowd-pleasing drama. Realizing this, the founder of roller derby, Leo Seltzer, created a game designed to more efficiently shock and involve the audience. That concept evolved into two teams trying to score points by having a selected team member, the jammer, and her four blockers pass through the opposing team's jammer and blockers. If you haven't seen a modern derby bout, forget Raquel Welch in Kansas City Bomber (1972) and think more about TNT's RollerJam (1999-2000, filmed at Universal Orlando). Though it was scripted and the players wore glamorous costumes that glittered as they rounded the spectacularly lighted multilevel track, RollerJam kindled a burning desire to watch beautiful women skate tough that had been dormant in the American psyche. ;

;Today, the object of flat-track roller derby is for skaters to shove the opposing team's blockers out of their jammer's way, so she can get through the whole pack of blockers without skating out of bounds or incurring any penalties. (Penalties include pushing a blocker out of the way, tripping, using your hands to grab, push or pull, or swinging elbows upward.) When the lead jammer safely gets through the blockers, she earns a point. Derby bouts are always high-scoring events; the action is fast. The advantage of being the lead jammer is that she can decide to end the jam (a unit of game play) before the prerequisite jam time is over. So a lead jammer can call off a jam before the other team has the opportunity to score points, and this can retain a lead or ensure a comeback. ;

;The Aug. 20 Florida Rollergirl bout I saw in DeLand, billed "A Mid-Summer Night's Scream," showcased the athleticism of the ladies, and they skated to the point of exhaustion. But the fan involvement just ;wasn't where it needed to be, for several reasons. The audience was made up mostly of family members and friends, many with young children. The breaks showcased young men doing figure-skating dance routines that involved fancy footwork but were repetitive. And though a DJ friend from a local radio station announced play-by-play coverage, he tended to mock the girls instead of pumping them and the crowd up. ;

;The game was only the second outing for the Florida Rollergirls — the Recon Rollers, in camo colors, versus the Furious Felons, in cellblock orange — so they are still working out the kinks. Both of the teams were given T-shirts to deconstruct as they chose. Most were torn or stitched together in a rough/sexy way and worn with fishnets, knee-highs, combat pants, booty shorts or whatever suited each athlete's fancy. Deadly Pace (Melissa Huguely), 24, sported a GWAR sticker on her helmet; Scarlitt Switchblade (Ann Frank), 25, wore some sort of garter around hers, and all the girls started by throwing inflatable "No. 1" fingers into the crowd. ;

;The competitors seemed to notice that the refs weren't calling them on all of their penalties in the first period, and the second period heated up incredibly fast. A note on the volunteer, no-experience-required refs: They are in a precarious situation. Off the rink they are the boyfriends and husbands of the girls; on the rink they are targets for abuse. Some can take it, like Burke Breneman, who is a consultant for the state of Florida on motorcycle safety, while others have a harder time. But at a practice earlier in the week, one ref quietly confessed to me, "These bitches is mean." ;

;Back in the rink during the second period, girls started flying everywhere. Deadly Pace was thrown in the penalty box and pulled a John McEnroe. Napalm (Katie Osburn) ended up getting thrown out of the rink into a wall, and the bout was stopped for a moment while her knee was wrapped in Saran Wrap and cardboard. She was escorted off the floor to applause. In the third and final period, the derby girls relied less on violence and more on skill, weaving in and out of each other so quickly it was hard to see how they were getting through the pack. When the dust cleared, the Felons were declared the winners. ;

;Overall, I was impressed by how determined these ladies are to make this work on their own terms. They appear to have all the numbers in the equation, though they haven't quite put them together yet: Derby needs drama. Derby needs booze and bra straps and 1980s glam-rock, not a G-rated atmosphere. Luckily, the Rollergirls realize this and that DeLand might not be the powder keg of derby fans that they need as they grow. ;

;Admittedly, the Florida Rollergirls roll a bit rougher than the team I left in Lincoln. While sport was our No. 1 concern, we deliberately mixed it up on the track and put on more of a show, so that people kept buying tickets and telling their friends. Several times, we had to move venues to accommodate increased ticket sales, and the rink owners loved our success. We proved sexualized sensationalism brings bodies in. Perhaps this fledgling league needs to harness that popular energy.;

;After the bout, the Felons invited the Recons to share their victory lap, and then the girls — at least the ones who can go out at 10 p.m. on a Sunday — departed for O.B.'s on Highway 17. The plan was to sing some karaoke and get a little sauced, but they found that a three-man cover band had taken the stage for the evening. Some ladies were still in skates, and Sgt. Slaughter (Emily Clementson), 21 — the girl responsible for the amplified, "The refs fucked us!" during the bout — asked the gentlemen if she could crash the microphone for a moment, then regaled us with a bass-heavy version of "Give Me One Reason to Stay Here.";

;At the end of the day, derby is about late nights in small bars with the kind of friends you can hit in the face, but they'll still buy you a shot of Turkey and slap you on the ass after the bout. Whether it's the nice girl who drives the ice cream truck on the beach or the dominating animal control officer, these competitors drop their everyday selves when they show up on the track to push themselves to the limits — for their enjoyment and ours. And though a cheering fan base may not have found them this year, the derby season is nonetheless in full swing — in DeLand.;

More by Aya Kawamoto


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