Women's hack 'n' slash

Calgary roller derby girls out for each other’s blood

Since the late 1930s, women have been putting on roller skates and short skirts and beating the hell out of each other. It started in California, and over the last 80 years, has found its way into iceless hockey rinks and empty warehouses across North America. Now, finally, roller derby has found its way to Calgary.
    The Calgary Roller Derby Association (CRDA) will officially be introduced to the city during the Labour Day long weekend’s Calgary Tattoo and Arts Festival, followed by league play starting in October. This isn’t the roller derby you saw on TV shows like Roller Games and Roller Jam in the ’80s and ’90s. For one thing, the sport is now girls-only, and unlike some of the hokey roller derby shows of the past, this is 100 per cent real sport.
    Thrashin’ Lassies captain Scarla Maim says that the three-team league will provide all of the toughness and showmanship that people have come to expect from roller derby, but at the heart of it will be a legitimate athletic association. She says that it is much more of a sport than people give it credit for. “There are actually a lot of skills involved to be able to play effectively,” says Maim. “It’s a pretty interesting game because you play offence and defence at the same time and there’s a lot of thinking involved. It just looks like it’s pell-mell.”
    A roller derby team has five players — four blockers and a jammer. The jammer of each team --has to break through the blockers to score points. The first jammer to make it through the pack of blockers without a penalty becomes the lead jammer and has the power to call off the jam at anytime within the two-minute limit. Both jammers gain points for each blocker they pass, so the lead jammer usually won’t call off play until she has built a sizable lead.
    From its beginnings as the Sandstone City Roller Girls league more than a year ago, the CRDA has grown into a not-for-profit league with a roster of close to 40 players. In the many hours of skates and scrimmages that have passed since then, the three teams have had time to build both team identities and rivalries.
    Crimson Shivers, captain of the Girl Grinders of Canada, says that it has been interesting to see how quickly the teams have developed personalities and started to butt heads. “The Thrashin’ Lassies are the party team, the Cut Throat Car Hops are sort of the divas and then my team are really quiet, bookish kinds of girls,” says Shivers. “There is already that ‘we’re going to kick your ass’ kind of rivalry, ‘we’re the best team and we have better uniforms’ — all of that stuff that’s kind of girly and catty.”
    Mama Ro, co-captain of the Cut Throat Car Hops, says that rivalries are bound to be created in such an aggressive sport. Though elbows and other dirty play is disallowed, things happen in the pack, and some of the girls can hit extremely hard without breaking the rules. “The Cut Throat Car Hops have a bit of a rivalry with the Thrashin’ Lassies, because they’ve got quite a few goons on their team. They’ve got quite a few of the tough, aggressive girls,” says Ro.
    Maim readily admits that her team is more Thrashin’ than Lassie. She says that she can see why the other captains might see her squad as the bad girls of the league. “We like to have fun, we have some pretty big personalities, in-your-face kinds of people, which is cool,” says Maim.
    Anyone who has seen flat-track roller derby knows that the hits are big and the pads are almost as small as the skirts. Practice sessions have already seen broken bones, a pair of ambulance trips and a steady diet of cuts and bruises. Ro says that the contact is a big part of roller derby’s draw for both players and fans. “Everyone loves watching hot chicks battle. I mean, that’s why people enjoy watching it, because it’s a cool sport and it has a lot of attitude. It’s not your traditional sport where people are just competing — it’s competing with aggression,” says Ro.
    Shivers says that playing roller derby is liberating — you can be yourself without worrying about being judged, no matter what your size or style. Roller derby is one of very few sports that not only accepts but encourages women of all shapes, sizes and ages to join. Shivers says that such acceptance, along with the feeling of being part of something with the mystique of roller derby, greatly increases the confidence of all the players.
    “You can see, over the year, the evolution of the girls that maybe didn’t have as much confidence, and now they’re just kicking ass and it’s cool to watch,” says Shivers. “You have this very aggressive name and you play this very aggressive sport and it makes you fearless in a lot of ways. It translates into other areas of your life.”
    Maim says that while there is certainly a contingent of the stereotypical rock-loving, tattooed players, there are also moms, teachers, business women and women of all walks of life. “I think it pulls stuff out of women that they didn’t know they had,” says Maim. “There are people that are very shy, very reserved, then you get them on the rink and they surprise the hell out of you because they come out of nowhere and knock you on your ass.”
    Along with three 23-minute periods of roller derby, CRDA games feature commentary by Newsboy of X-92.9 FM and intermission shows by local bands. For many, the intermission highlight is the Penalty Box Mistress, who spins her wheel of misfortune and demands an embarrassing penance from the most penalized player of the game, sometimes involving crowd participation.
    For the Calgary Tattoo and Arts Festival, the league will be splitting into two all-star teams for daily bouts at 2 p.m., 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Monday. Information on season dates and locations will be posted on www.calgaryrollerderby.com as they become available.

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