The Library of Congress Veterans History Project liaison specialist signed up for training camp in fall 2009 and was drafted to the DemonCats in June. She realized she had found the challenge she was looking for during training camp.
“After my very first practice I felt like I’d been hit by a bus,” Chason said. “Playing derby is the most challenging thing I’ve done in my life, but also the most rewarding.”
Being Taken Seriously
Of course, there are plenty of skeptics who think roller derby is still the staged event it was in the 1970s and ’80s.
The fact that the sport still has a misbehaving, roughhousing connotation makes many skaters take comfort in the anonymity of costumes and assumed names, McGovern said. But as the sport grows, some Women’s Flat Track Derby leagues are trading in the costumes for more standard athletic uniforms and ditching the aliases in an effort to legitimize roller derby as a sport.
“I think it has a little ways to go,” McGovern said. “For every person we interact with, we’re closer to making it seem like less of a fad.”
And what about the outfits and names? Just how far a skater takes them is up to her. Some keep their uniforms basic, makeup minimal and names tame. For others, McGovern said, going all-out is a personal pre-bout ritual.
“It’s fun,” McGovern said. “I like the anonymity of it. We’ve had teachers in our league who can’t share their real name because they’re afraid of the connotation. It’s nice to get away from our real lives and have this.”
On the Rise
Though roller derby is still uncommon, it’s one of the fastest-growing sports around, in terms of both skaters and fans, and the DCRG league is no exception.
Interest in becoming a DC Rollergirl was so high this year that the league had to hold basic skill tryouts just to whittle down numbers for its 12-week “Fresh Meat” training camp.
When the league was founded in 2006, anyone could sign up for “Meat” camp to learn basic roller derby skills. But in July, only about half of the 43 skaters who went out for spots in camp made the cut. They were expected to learn techniques for skating, falling and stopping in advance.
Once they pass the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association’s skill and rule tests, Fresh Meat enter the Meat Locker until they are drafted by a team.
The league’s season opening bout on Oct. 2 drew more than 1,200 spectators to the D.C. Armory, which McGovern said is a record for a season debut. That number will probably rise as the season goes on. Brown said her first bout two years ago had only 300 spectators.
Part of the increase is brought on by skater dedication. Skaters pass out fliers at public events, sponsor happy hours and reach out with social media. All of the rollergirls put time into the league in some capacity beyond practice and games, sometimes up to 20 hours per week.
“We love the fans,” Brown said. “We always want to try to get more people to come.”