If you’re looking for something to spruce up your weekend activities, Iowa City’s very own roller derby is something to see. The Old Capitol City Roller Girls will be playing Saturday, October 19 at the Coralville Marriott. As an added bonus, this event marks the team’s fifth anniversary, so there has never been a better time to join in on the action.
So, what should you expect? Last month, I watched the OCCRG’s ‘b-team’ (the “Ped Maulers”) take on The Mississippi Massacre in a less-than-brutal bout. The arena itself had the look of an empty warehouse. Upholstered dining table chairs were lined four rows deep around an oval of red tape which served as the rink. Injured derby girls were selling merchandise at the back of the room from a table full of t-shirts, hats, and various gear emblazoned with the Roller Girl’s logo.
“It’s a full contact sport,” said Ima Golddiggah, a player for the Old Capitol City Roller Girls. She sat out this bout because of a knee injury. “We always have an ambulance on hand,” she said, gesturing to the medical vehicle parked in the corner of the room. Luckily the ambulance was not needed Friday, but pain is a part of the game in roller derby. Last April a girl on the OCCRG broke her tibia and fibula during a bout. “It was pretty bad, but that is a common injury,” Golddigah said.
Along with the ambulance, the space also featured various stations of entertainment for children (or the child in all of us). A plywood cartoon of a scantily clad derby girl with the face cut-out stood for people to pose behind, and next to that, a table of roller-skate coloring pages and broken crayons. The concessions stand offered popcorn, pizza, and other sugary supplies. There was also a full bar where drinks could be purchased for two dollars more than what you would pay anywhere else. Regardless, many people were drinking.
After an off-key National Anthem, an announcer in a far off corner of the room began by explaining the rules. The rules are basically that you have one girl on each team who tries to lap the other team, the lapper is called the “jammer”. Four members of the opposing team try to block her.
It seemed like costumes were as much a part of the sport as physical prowess. The players wore bright leggings, fishnet and tights with underpants. One jammer had superman socks replete with red capes that chased her calves around the rink.
The bout was sponsored by local businesses such as IC Ugly’s and John’s Grocery. The announcer also presented an invitation to join the fun as a referee saying, “ team zebra always wins.”
Though the rules seemed simple enough, the action is difficult to follow. The girls skated in circles. Sometimes a girl fell. Their made-up names flashed on the scoreboard.
Roller derby has a history that can be traced back to roller-skating marathons in the 1930s. By the ’50s derby had become a theatrical television event. Today the sport is getting back to its more athletic roots, though it still boasts plenty of embellishment.
“The names of the players are usually pop-culture references skewed toward murder or sex or both,” says derby regular Jared Harvey, 27, of Iowa City. This fact speaks to derby’s do-it-yourself camp style. Choosing a name can be one of the hardest parts of derby, especially considering that the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association has 212 leagues according to their website, so “many of the good names are taken,” said Harvey. The girls skating around the arena on Friday sported names like Jenna JAMisON (a play on “jammer”, a derby position), Amelia No Heart, Nancy Skrew, and Ambernin Rubber.
In the center of the rink, six referees skated in a smaller oval inside the player’s oval. A group of water and Gatorade bottles huddled in the very middle. The hands of the referees and players flew around in cryptic gesture. A song by Pink played over the stereo system but wasn’t quite loud enough in the expansive space to have the desired effect.
Grade school girls stomp skated around the perimeter of the room throughout the match their faces painted with convincing bruises.
“It’s pretty much what I expected,” said first timer Matt Munchie, who rode his bike to the event from Iowa City. “My derby name would be ‘Mortum Mango Muchie’. It’s Latin for ‘death dealer,’” he said.
While Matt says he will probably be back, others weren’t so impressed. In front of Matt sat four gentlemen, all holding plastic cups of martini and in front of them, their wives, who expressed displeasure at the event. They left at the half, muttering about how roller derby was much more violent on television when they were kids.
“What a beast!” said the announcer as a jammer pushed through a blockade. The Mississippi Massacre could not be stopped. Their jammer kept breaking through the Ped Mauler’s defense like an adult in a grade-school game of red rover. The crowd joined in a collective “ooooh,” as a player skidded outside of the rink on her knees. The score at the half was 63-113. “We’re totally f—ked,” said fan, Jared Harvey.
Behind Matt sat two women who could’ve easily been at a soccer game cheering on their middle schoolers. They were wildly enthusiastic and decked out in full Iowa gear. Also among the crowd were members of the Iowa City Kings (a drag king group that performs regularly at Studio 13). They watched the game solemnly sipping from their red solo cups. Sitting all along the edges of the rink tape were the avid fans. They reacted to every play called, though there seemed to be only one, which looked like the World Wrestling Federation’s sign for “suck it.”
In the last minutes of the bout the players were visibly tired. All of them were red faced except for one, whose face was painted as a green dinosaur. The crowd resisted the announcers plea to stand, but was finally convinced when the front row blocked their view. They watched as The Ped Maulers accepted their defeat.
“Sometimes,” said Jared Harvey, as the fans stood around the rink to receive skate-by high fives, “The crowd is more interesting than the game.”
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