WCR's Yvette Yermaker booty-blocks a Kansas City jammer at the 2011 Derby National Championships. (Gapers Block/Steve Stearns)
In contrast to broken men spinning sob stories to the likes of Oprah and Katie Couric, tough-as-nails women have been dominating the news lately. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held her own against a room full of men during her Benghazi testimony, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg took a fiery stance on gender stereotypes at the World Economic Forum, and female soldiers in the U.S. Military finally received permission to fight on the front lines. And on January 26, the Windy City Rollers kicked off their home season at the UIC Pavilion with a bout for charity that spared no mercy on the track.
All four of the Chicago home teams (The Fury, Double Crossers, Hell's Belles and Manic Attackers) played the Round Robin tournament in support of their respective charities on Saturday night, but The Fury emerged victorious. Will they be able to take their early momentum to the home season beginning February 9? Or will they literally collapse under the pressure? From what I've observed of these hard-hitting dynamos on wheels, the latter scenario is highly unlikely.
As shown in the 2006 A&E reality show Rollergirls and the 2009 feature film Whip It, roller derby has made an explosive comeback in recent years. Although the sport originated in Chicago in the 1930s, a transition to televised events (i.e. scripted fights) in the 1960s caused attendance to decline. The scene was basically dead from 1980 until the new millenium, when amatuer female flat track became an exciting new phenomenon.
Roller derby began its modern revival in Austin, Texas during the the early 2000s, and renewed interest in the sport quickly spread to other major cities across the United States. In 2004, Elizabeth "Juanna Rumbel" Gomez and Kelly "Sister Sledgehammer" Simmons formed The Windy City Rollers: Chicago's premiere all-female flat track derby league. Now the organization consists of four competing home teams, two travel teams (Second Wind and the #1 ranking WCR All Stars) and a farm team of up-and-coming skaters called the Haymarket Rioters.
I've never been a rough-and-tumble kind of girl, and I'm fairly certain that one bump from a "Smash-ley Simpson" would snap me in two. Luckily for my delicate bird bones, just watching roller derby live makes me feel like I'm part of the team. The rules can be a bit confusing at first (handy guide to pivots, jammers and blockers available here) but the combination of quirky nicknames, stadium theatrics and high-octane girl power always provides plenty of thrills from start to finish.
I love the Bulls and the Blackhawks as much as the next Chicagoan, but somehow, nothing beats watching female athletes duke it out with the power of men twice their size. Win or lose, every bout is a guaranteed good time—especially when there's an afterparty involved!
Interested in joining the league? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Want to know more about roller derby in general? Visit the official website of the WRC, "like" them on Facebook and Netflix this little gem when you get the chance: