Andrea Hayes doesn’t mind loading up her roller skates, protective padding, helmet and other gear and driving at least three times a week from her home in Phoenix to Mesa. In fact, she planned it this way.
“There are no other roller derbies on the east side,” she says. “The complaints I’ve heard from the beginning, doing roller derby over the years in the Valley, are from girls in Queen Creek and Gilbert and Chandler, saying they have to slap their leg all the way home from practice or a bout just to stay awake driving back from Peoria or Phoenix.”
So Hayes, 40, founded the Arizona Rollergirls, an all-girl, flat-track roller derby league based in the East Valley. She and about 30 other women are suited up for practice at Mesa’s Broadway Recreation Center, stretching or skating laps around a gym floor in “slow and low” derby stance, their noses, knees and toes pointed in line.
Roller derby is a fast-paced contact team sport played on roller skates. Often, players dress in outlandish, macabre or flirty costumes and take on “derby names,” or stage personas, to match.
At just over a year old, the Mesa-based Arizona Rollergirls aren’t as well known as Phoenix’s Arizona Derby Dames, but the fledgling league is attracting a dedicated group of skaters — about 60 so far.
“I hadn’t put on a pair of skates since I was a teenager,” says Jennifer Buckner, a day care provider from Gilbert who tried out for the league last fall after realizing she had fewer demands on her time as her sons grew older.
“I looked around and realized, it’s just me and the dog at home. I thought, ‘What am I doing, sitting here knitting like an old lady?’ ” says Buckner, 39, who goes by the derby name Cali Burn Ya.
She’s now good enough to skate on one of the league’s three teams, the Cadaver Crue.
“I still have a lot to learn, but I made a team, and I scored some gold points with my teenagers. They had a band, and I was always the band mom, supporting them, and now they’re here, rooting for me.”
The Rollergirls hold one bout — or match — each month and play a championship in December. They’ll have enough girls for a fourth team in a few months, says Hayes, and later they hope to introduce a team of all-stars that will travel to play against other roller derby leagues. They also have plans to introduce the Arizona Rollerdollies, a league for girls ages 8-17.
“As our league grows, our skating — what we require from girls starting out — will get stricter,” says Hayes, who goes by the name Hedy Le’Morgue while in derby character. The Rollergirls are working to gain accreditation by WFTDA, the governing body of women’s flat track roller derby. The designation will give the league credibility and allow them to face off against other WFTDA-sanctioned teams.
For now, skaters are required to try out to make the league, and they must pass skills assessments before they’re selected to skate for a team. But, says Hayes, women don’t have to be experts right out of the gate. The league works with skaters to develop their skills and talents over time.
Mary Devine, a 29-year-old Phoenix bank manager, had been on skates only twice in her life before taking up roller derby in 2007. Now, she’s captain of the Lolitas de los Muertos team. She’s known as Ed Ible on the track.
“It’s intimidating,” says the mom of two, but she says there are payoffs worth an occasional bruised rib or fat lip.
“It’s a lot of freedom. Often you don’t see that women can work together as a cohesive unit. In general, there’s a lot of cattiness among women. It’s nice to all be here for the same thing,” she says.
The Arizona Rollergirls next bout is July 9 at the Broadway Recreation Center, 59 E. Broadway Road, Mesa. In addition to the action on the track, spectators will find music from a deejay, face-painting, a snack bar, vendors, roller derby merchandise and a prize raffle. Tickets are available for $10 at www.brownpaperticket.com or at the door for $13 cash.
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