Female Leagues Lead Roller Derby Revival Hundreds of women are taking part in a revival of one of America's most violent sports: roller derby. Alex Cohen of NPR station KQED, and a member of the L.A. Derby Dolls league, reports.
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Female Leagues Lead Roller Derby Revival

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Female Leagues Lead Roller Derby Revival

Female Leagues Lead Roller Derby Revival

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Across America, hundreds of women are leading double lives. By day, they're teachers, mothers, waitresses, even public radio reporters. By night they're performance athletes, taking part in a revival of one of America's most violent sports, roller derby. This weekend Las Vegas will play host to a convention of more than 30 women's roller derby leagues. Good girls go to heaven, they say; derby girls go to Vegas. From member station KQED, reporter and derby girl Alex Cohen introduces us to her sport.

(Soundbite of music)

ALEX COHEN reporting:

It's Saturday night in downtown LA, and a large crowd is gathered to see a roller derby bout between the Tru$t Fund Terror$, a team with a rich girl motif, and my very own Girl Scout themed team.

Unidentified Announcer #1: Say hello to the Tough Cookies.

COHEN: I'm wearing a helmet, mouth guard, wrist guards, elbow guards, knee pads and a tank top, short skirt, fishnets and a pair of black leather roller skates with bright green wheels. In the outside world I'm a relatively mild-mannered public radio reporter, but here I am nothing of the sort.

(Soundbite of roller derby match)

COHEN: Check that out, the nice blocking work of the little Axles of Evil.

Yup, that's me, Axles of Evil, proud member of the Tough Cookies team on the roller derby league known as the LA Derby Dolls. There are more than 80 Derby Dolls. Each of us has taken on an alter ego and a nom de guerre like Juana Beat'n, Tara Armov and Venus de Maul'r.

The game of roller derby isn't exactly easy to follow, which is why two announcers explain the rules before each bout. Two teams of skaters form a pack. Each team has a player referred to as the jammer.

Unidentified Announcer #2: The goal is for the jammer on each team to skate through the pack, around the track and back through the track. Every time they pass a person on the opposite team they get a point.

COHEN: When the game is on, skaters known as blockers do everything they can to make sure the jammer from the opposite team doesn't pass them to score. As they fly around the track, skaters throw hips into each other, knock each other into the railing or smack down onto the track.

Unidentified Announcer #1: Here she comes into the pack. Can Razor block out--Razor blocks out Kitty Scratch for Crybaby. Crybaby flies past the Tough Cookies.

COHEN: Versions of this sport have been played for seven decades. Roller derby was in its heyday in the 1960s and '70s when it found its way onto television and became a pop culture hit. The first modern day all-girl roller derby league popped up four years ago in Austin, Texas. There are now nearly 40 leagues scattered throughout the country, from the Rat City Rollergirls of Seattle to the Windy City Rollers of Chicago. Some say nostalgia plays a key role in the comeback of this sport, now that the girls who grew up watching derby on TV are old enough to start their own leagues.

Outside of the rink, skater Megan Mon(ph) is an event planner. But once she straps on her skates, she's Kitty Scratch, and on this night she's working on some of her blocking maneuvers.

(Soundbite of skaters practicing)

COHEN: As she takes a break to catch her breath, Mon explains that, for her, roller derby provides a great opportunity for sanctioned violence.

Ms. MEGAN MON (Kitty Scratch): I was one of those people who was brought up to be a good girl and not to get angry, and that's definitely the antithesis of what is necessary for roller derby.

COHEN: It's no surprise that all anger on wheels often leads to injuries. Broken tailbones, bruised ribs, fractured bones are all common occurrences. Fashion designer Rachel Piplika(ph), aka Iron Maiven, once flew off of the track and smack onto a concrete floor.

Ms. RACHEL PIPLIKA (Iron Maiven): Knocked my tooth out and split my lip open. I didn't even shed a tear. I mean, it was just--to me it was part of the sport.

COHEN: Injuries have always been a part of this sport, but there is something distinctly different about the modern version. Skaters in the games of old wore feathered hair and spandex. Plays were carefully choreographed and preplanned, much like pro wrestling. Skaters today are more likely to have tattoos and piercings, and the game they play is real and spontaneous.

Unidentified Announcer #2: Ladies and gentlemen, there are five seconds left on the game clock.

COHEN: Back to that Derby Dolls game, the one where my team took on the Tru$t Fund Terror$. After two periods of brutal play, with just 60 seconds left in the game, we give it our best shot, but get trounced.

Unidentified Announcer #2: Ladies and gentlemen, the final score of the game, your winners the Tru$t Fund Terror$, 60-37.

COHEN: By the end of the game I have bruises on my knees, both my shoulders are scraped and bloody, but there's no doubt I'll be back. After all, now I have a score to settle, soon as I get back from the roller derby convention in Vegas. For NPR News, I'm Axles of Evil, aka Alex Cohen, in Los Angeles.

BLOCK: You can see Axles of Evil and other LA Derby Dolls in action at our Web site, npr.org.

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