Tattooed, sassy Roller Derby dames seek 'fresh meat' in Mesa - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Tattooed, sassy Roller Derby dames seek 'fresh meat' in Mesa

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Posted: Thursday, August 2, 2012 6:30 am | Updated: 11:09 pm, Sun Sep 2, 2012.

Rowdy Roulette. Mt. Everett. The Regulators. The Coffin Draggers.

The Coffin Draggers?

These names may evoke images of intimidating men the size of glaciers wearing metal-spiked collars and bracelets, and donned in metal helmets.

Or, they may invoke an image of players on fast and furious teams with members carrying wooden clubs to instill a fear that you wouldn’t want to encounter in a dark alley.

But they are not men. They are women, tattooed and sassy and tougher than nails competing in a full-contact sport while dishing out hits as well as taking them in one-minute “Jams.” They speed around the track on roller skates to see who can score the most points by the number of opposing players they can speed past.

The names you just saw are the names of players and teams of the Arizona Derby Dames Banked and Flat Track Roller Derby League, which is set to begin its eighth season beginning in September — as the players plan to stay true to the league’s mantra, “Live Fast and Die Pretty.”

But in a couple of days, the league is hoping for a fallout frenzy of new faces.

Simply put, league officials say, they are looking for “Fresh Meat.”

On Sunday, the Arizona Derby Dames Banked and Flat Track Roller Derby League is hosting tryouts for players and referees at Mesa Skateland in preparation for its 2012-2013 season.

The number of members in the league is about 125 with about half of them being from the East Valley, mostly ranging in age from the late 20s to their late 30s, according to Kristi Bravo, a.k.a. Rowdy Roulette, president of the league.

There are a number of positions open within the league. In addition to the standard tryouts for the five banked track teams, tryouts are being held for the league’s all-star flat track team, FallOut Frenzy, and for the league’s referee team, The Regulators.

The cost to enter is $10 (skate rental not included) if any dames dare to try and go where angels fear to tread.

Participants for the league must be 18 or older, but there also will be an informational meeting for the juniors league, the Banked Track Brats, which is open to girls ages 7 through 17 — Derby Dames in waiting, so to speak.

The evening of tryouts is projected to be the largest turnout, according to one team representative.

“The league is growing in size and scope, and the Regulators (a team of referees seeking new members) will be growing with it,” said Mt. Everett, captain of The Regulators. “I’m really excited about this season; we have a lot of big things happening with the league. To keep up with all of this, we are looking to grow our officiating crew.”

Currently, the league has six teams — the Bombshells, the Brutal Beauties, Runaway Brides, Schoolyard Scrappers, the AZDD Production Team and who else? The Coffin Draggers.

The league plays its games — all doubleheaders at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, and is set to begin its season at 7 p.m. Sept. 15 with gates opening an hour earlier.

It will be the Coffin Draggers vs. the Bombshells in the opener, and the Brutal Beauties vs. the Schoolyard Scrappers in the nightcap.

Tickets are $20 for VIP and $12 for general admission. Kids 12 and younger get in free.

A rowdy Runaway Bride

Rowdy Roulette is a jack-of-all-trades in the sport she wasn’t so sure about being a part of at first.

Not only is she now the president of the Arizona Derby Dames league, but she also is a coach and blocker for the Runaway Brides.

A veteran in the truest sense, Rowdy joined the league when it formed in 2005. She has been mixing it up in “bouts” since teams formed in 2006.

“One of my friends told me that I should join the league,” said Rowdy, 38, a central Phoenix resident who works in the finance department for Scottsdale-based Starwood Hotels and Resorts. “She told me, ‘Hey, this is you, it really fits your personality.’ I kind of laughed. I had never been on skates. I went out and bought a pair of skates, tried it and fell in love with it. I said, ‘I’m going to do this,’ and never looked back.”

When Rowdy attended that first tryout, she said there were only about five who turned out, but that number has continued to grow over time.

“By continuing to play, it gives me the opportunity to set a foundation to grow the sport,” Rowdy added. “I want this to be something my kids and grandkids can play.”

Gretchen Lehman, 25, of Ahwatukee Foothills, whose Roller Derby name is Emma Grenade, decided to try out for the league after she saw the movie, “Whip It.”

Now in her third season, Emma Grenade, plays jammer, blocker and pivot for the Bombshells, the Hot-Shots and All-Star team.

“I didn’t even know there was a league until I saw the movie “Roller Derby,” Lehman said. “I went to the tryout, and it was awesome. It was interesting, and wasn’t as bad as what I expected. I like the competition of being on a team. It’s like a big family.”

Rowdy and Emma both are mainstays in the league, and Rowdy has been on the comeback trail.

In May 2011, three weeks before the sport’s national tournament, “Battle on the Bank,” she shattered her ankle, requiring surgeries, 10 pins and two metal plates.

After therapy and hard work, she returned to Arizona Derby Dames in 12 weeks.

“We are constantly training for taking hits as well as giving them,” Rowdy said. “I’m competitive. Roller Derby is extremely rough.”

It should come as no surprise that one of the league’s sponsors is the Arizona Back Pain Institute.

But the ladies have a sensitive side, too — they have held fundraisers that have benefitted nonprofit organizations such as St. Vincent de Paul’s Food Bank, the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, the Adopt-A-Family Christmas Program and the Arizona Coalition for Domestic Violence.

Over-the-top entertainment

According to the Arizona Derby Dames’ website, based in Phoenix, Roller Derby has a deep-rooted tradition in the history of sport, especially when it comes to men. But it has been in more recent years that women have entered the sport, paying to play as independent amateurs who buy their own gear, don self-designed suits and attitudes, while often holding girly-girl jobs off the track.

The league’s website boasts Roller Derby as a true classic American pasttime. The sport has a rich history of evolution and adaptation to reflect social currents. An American-invented contact sport — and historically, a form of sports entertainment -- Roller Derby is based on formation roller skating around an oval wooden banked track. In past decades, Roller Derby had been primarily a professional or paid sport for both women and men.

The term roller derby dates at least as far back as 1922, when the Chicago Tribune newspaper used it to describe multi-day, flat-track roller skating races, similar to banked track marathons reported on by the New York Times in 1885 (a six-day race) and 1914 (a 24-hour championship), among others.

Promoter Leo Seltzer and sportswriter Damon Runyon are credited with modifying the endurance competitions of the 1930s by emphasizing the physical contact—and thus the more spectacular aspects of the sport. Seltzer trademarked the name Roller Derby, reserving it for use by his traveling troupe of professional skaters. Roller Derby took root as an icon of popular culture as matches were held in numerous cities throughout the U.S. and sometimes broadcast on radio and, eventually, on television. When mentioned, most people think of the over the top, Wrestlemania-style antics of the televised banked track derby that aired back in the 80’s that turned Roller Derby from a competitive sport into over-the-top entertainment.

There are 18 open officiating positions on The Regulators for each “bout,” but only five of them will require skating ability.

For those interested in skating, the head of the league is looking forward to seeing the quality of talent stepping into the skates.

“The next few days, get your skates on every day,” Rowdy Roulette said.

“I am super excited to see the quality of skater who comes in,” she added. “Tryouts are always a great day within our league because we get to see the future of our league and our sport at its roots. We are looking for the next generation of athletes who will keep pushing AZDD to be better.”

And to be the type of competitors you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley.

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