Minnesota Rollergirls

Given the names of the players and the history of the “sport” of Roller Derby, one might expect a lot of theater and staged action at bouts put on by the Minnesota RollerGirls at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul. However, the claim in the program that the bouts are not staged nor the outcome predetermined turns out to be true.

The action on the flat track is entertaining, and it may take a while to realize what is missing: the elbowing, kneeing, gouging, and fighting that was a staple of the Roller Derby shown on Saturday morning television in the 1960s.

The RollerGirls, who started their third season in the fall of 2004, engage in interleague bouts, using their top players, against teams and leagues leagues from other states. The first four bouts of the 2006-07 season were interleague bouts; the last four bouts are for the “home” season, in which intraleague bouts take place among the four teams the league is divided into: the Atomic Bombshells, Garda Belts, Dagger Dolls, and Rockits.

The players pick their stage names, which range from routine to risqué. The players include Harmony Killerbruise, Frau Scientits, and Soylent Mean for the Rockits; Sayonara Pussy and Dixxxie Wrect for the Dagger Dolls; Mitzi Massacre, Cleosplatra, and Flora Flipabitch for the Atomic Bombshells; and Suzie Smashbox, Desi Cration, and Ann E. Briated of the Garda Belts.

The officials—with names like Rat Bastard, Rocky Whorer, and Seamonster—are actually the team’s coaches, and another significant performer is the janitor, Wet Spot, who is in almost constant motion, wiping up spills and fixing track lights.

The names, along with the information in each player’s web-site profile, have a healthy dose of in-your-face attitude, a manifestation of the indie-punk feminist movement characterized by the “riot grrl” movement that is prominent in the league.

“It’s okay to be sexy and it’s okay to flaunt that, but that doesn’t mean that you’re doing it for the attention of men,” says Jennifer Plum, a neuroscience student at the University of Minnesota who performs for the Garda Belts under the name Hanna Belle Lector. “The other reasons that women sort of flaunt themselves: we’re powerful, we can do this, we’re kicking butt. And we get to be sexy while doing it because we choose to be. It’s not for your benefit, it’s for ours. It’s ends up being for other people’s benefit, but that’s not where the heart of it is.”

As for the Hanna Belle Lector name, Plum is a fan of Silence of the Lambs. “I like the idea of a mind game rather than just being a physical brute. I thought the name was clever. When I was trying to pick out names, it was one that stood out and I liked what it would potentially represent.”

Minnesota RollerGirls
Above: The Atomic Bombshells take on the Garda Belts at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium on January 27, 2007. Below: Hanna Belle Lector of the Garda Belts.
Hanna Belle Lector of the Garda Belts

Regarding the persona she and the others have adopted, Plum says she never had an avenue to let that side of herself out before. “Once I did, it was such a relief and so fun to have that alternate personality and to be able to show other sides of yourself that you really don’t get to in day-to-day life.”

Plum’s web-site profile for Hanna Belle Lector suggests that she was a terror for her teachers while growing up: “As a child I found myself separating from the other children and plotting ways to take over the classroom. When my kindergarten teacher disappeared my father decided to home school me.”

However, Plum says she really was a good student, “pretty quiet and pretty nerdy.” She does admit to being “kind of a flirt,” which fits with another entry on her profile, for her most distinguishing feature, which she lists as “an ass worthy of eating sushi off of.”

“Actually, the ‘ass worthy of eating sushi off of’ was a quote from somebody’s live journal [personal blog],” Plum explains. “It was about me. It was somebody who went to one of our first bouts. I was bent over fixing the lights in front of this person for a while, and that’s what they wrote. It was the friend of a friend, and I thought it was quite funny.”

Plum is not the only member of the RollerGirls to claim a quiet side that contrasts with her persona. Mary Donnelly, who goes by the name of Head Trauma, was the instigator of the league.

A native of Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, Donnelly played hockey in the 1990s at St. Mary’s University in Winona and then went to Los Angeles, where she also played hockey. In 2000, she read about the Texas Rollergirls, then the only roller derby league in existence, in Jane magazine. She was intrigued because she looking for a team sport that was physical, different, and fun that had a social aspect to it and thought it sounded like the “coolest thing.”

It wasn’t until Donnelly returned to Minnesota a few years later that she followed up with the Texas Rollergirls. Along with her two sisters, they drove to Texas to meet with the players there and then started a league in Minnesota. They distributed flyers about the sport at block parties and then held recruiting parties at local bars. Many of the recruits had played hockey, but Donnelly said there were some who hadn’t played any team sports.

One of those recruits was Plum, whose background is in dance and martial arts. Plum said she had rollerskated only twice since sixth grade. “When I went to practice, I totally got my butt kicked. I was on the floor most of the time.” However, combined her boxing and jiu jitsu skills, along with general athleticism, she found the sport “fun and interesting.”

As for skating, Plum said, “I learned really quickly. Being in dance, I was able to communicate with my feet. I knew how to move my body and how to position my body. I had good communication with my muscles. A lot of people, if they haven’t had dance or any martial arts background, they don’t necessarily feel coordinated to their feet. It takes time to build that relationship with your muscles to make them really go where you want them to go, so I had an advantage there. Though I didn’t know how to skate, I was able to watch what other people were doing and make my feet do the same as soon as I got comfortable rolling.”

The RollerGirls became one of the first 10 leagues in the country. There are now approximately 150 leagues in the United States, 6 in Canada, 2 in England, as well as in Germany and Australia, according to Donnelly. It is an all-volunteer endeavor. No one in the league gets paid, including Donnelly, who is the marketing director as well as one of the players.

Frau Scientits
Frau Scientits of the Rockits hands out programs to incoming fans prior to the March 16, 2007 bout.

 

Tom the Leprechaun Garda Belts vs. Dagger Dolls
Tom the Leprechaun cheers on the Garda Belts in their April 28, 2007 bout against the Dagger Dolls. Bottom right: Desi Cration of the Garda Belts and Candi Pain of the Dagger Dolls carry their feud into the penalty box. The Garda Belts won the bout, 123-57. Photos by Brenda Himrich.
Garda Belts vs. Dagger Dolls
Desi Cration and Candi Pain in the penalty box

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