Derby is not making a comeback. It's already back — and this time with a vengeance.
No, we're not talking about your mother's 1970s roller derby. Yes, some teams still sport costume makeup, fishnet tights and sassy derby names — that is part of the fun. But for Fort Wayne Derby Girls, it's about much more: athleticism, the sport and the community.
Want to see for yourself? Then stop out to the team's next bout against the Lansing Derby Vixens at 6 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Coliseum.
You also can visit www.fwderbygirls.com or mark your calendar for the 2014 Spring Roll, a three-day, two-track roller derby expo May 16-18 at the coliseum.
If you drive by Bell's Skating Rink in New Haven on a Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday night, the sign outside won't be on for patrons. But inside, about 50 women are strapping on protective pads, lacing up four-wheeled skates and getting ready to train.
At a typical two-hour training session, head coach Ben Wills begins with conditioning, starting with a quick run around the track followed by a series of grueling squats, push-ups and sit-ups. By the end of the conditioning circuit, it almost looks like Wills may have a mutiny on his hands. But that's why these ladies are here — they are ready to work hard and train hard.
Now sweating and ready to get on their skates, the team begins practicing blocking and skating techniques.
“We were at a crossroads in the league last year,” Wills said. “Some people wanted to be a beer league or rec league and have fun playing derby, then have fun at the after-party. Other people were itching to become more competitive and be one of those teams that gets into the top of the division.
“That's now our goal,” he said. “Our goal is to get into a Divison 2 tournament, then Divison 1 tournament,” Wills said. “That is the one thing I tried to bring into the league — if we are going to do this, we are going to do this the right way and work hard.”
With any sport, there are certain safety measures put in place to protect the athletes, and derby is no different. While the days of the clothesline and skate-tripping are over due to the huge risk of injuries, today's derby women block with shoulder checks, hip checks and positional blocking.
Legal target and blocking zones include arms, chest, front and side torso, hips and thigh above the knee. If a skater is targeting or blocking with any other body parts, such as above the shoulders, back or elbows, Wills quickly corrects them. Using illegal body parts for targeting and blocking is the easiest way to get injured.
Common injuries vary from broken bones to strains on ankles, arms and wrists. Some leagues, including the Fort Wayne Derby Girl's league, provide supplemental insurance to women in case of injury in practices or games. There is also a health professional at practices and games to ensure skaters are treated properly if injured.
Kellie Adkins, marketing manager and skater for the Fort Wayne Derby Girls, said people are always surprised by the change in roller derby.
“People always ask, 'Do you fight or intentionally try to hurt other people?” she said. “The thing with that is we all are so passionate about this sport, just the thought of trying to physically hurt someone and stop them from playing the sport is not very common.
“Yes, I want to go out and put someone on the floor, but I don't want to put them on the floor because I broke an ankle by tripping them,” Adkins said.
As the popularity of derby continues to grow throughout the United States and now worldwide, the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) continues to add teams. Fort Wayne Derby Girls was added to the league around 2006, and since both the team and league have grown.
Derby can be played on two different tracks: a flat track or a banked track. The Fort Wayne Derby Girls play on the flat track because it's more common, the league is bigger, it's much cheaper and it's more efficient when trying to find a venue for a bout.
A regular derby match, or bout, is played with five players on the track. One player, a pivot, sets the pace for the pack and is the last line of defense. The next player, the jammer, begins at the back of the pack and hopes to score points by passing members of the opposing team. The last three players are blockers, who try to stop the opponent's jammer and make life difficult for the other team's blockers.
When the whistle blows, the pack takes off. On a second whistle, the jammers blast off and fight their way through the pack in an attempt to become “lead jammer.” The jammers lap the pack and when they re-enter the pack, they receive one point for each member of the opposing team they pass.
A jam lasts a maximum of 2 minutes, but the lead jammer has the right to call off the jam at her discretion. The bout is played in two periods of 30 minutes, with multiple jams during a bout.
Over the years, the Fort Wayne Derby Girls have played teams from all over the country, including The Windy City Rollers, The Chi-Town Sirens, Grand Raggidy Rollergirls, Rocky Mountain Rollergirls, CT Rollergirls, Madison's Dairyland Dolls, Nashville Rollergirls, and many others in the North Central Region.
WFTDA teams are assigned to three divisions based on their Nov. 30 ranking. Any team unranked at this time will be assigned to Division 3. A league may move up or down in rankings over the course of the competitive season, but their division designation will not change until divisions are re-set for the following year.
Currently, the Fort Wayne Derby Girls are ranked No. 105 out of 234 league teams in the WFTDA. The goal this year is to work their way up to the top of their division (Division 3) and then ultimately continue to move up the rankings ladder.
“The coaching staff can only take a small percentage of the credit for the team's success because we gave the vehicle for everyone to get into, and the skaters are driving it at this point,” Wills said. “They have taken the steps to show they want to be considered athletes, and they want to be considered legitimate.
“Of course, when you come to a bout, there is an entertainment and spectacle aspect — that will get people in the door,” he said. “But the athleticism and sport will keep them coming back.”
WFTDA rankings aren't all that matters to the team, though. A huge amount of their effort also goes to giving back the community.
“The Fort Wayne and surrounding community support us all the time,” Adkins said. “It's only fair for us to give back to the community that supports us so well. We have women's and children's charities as a part of our mission to empower women and help the community.”
The signature event for the team, the Bust A Move art auction, has been such a huge success over the years the team ultimately had to let the event's beneficiary, Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana, help organize the event.
In its sixth year last fall, the event raised more than $20,000 to help area people diagnosed with breast cancer. Adkins estimates the event has raised about $110,000 through the years.
The team also selects a different charity for each home bout, and money raised at that bout goes to that charity.
The derby team also reaches out to local girls interested in learning more about derby or wanting to play the sport.
“Derby is one sport that truly does embrace the idea of all body sizes,” Adkins said. “Every girl can skate as well as the other — it's not as body dependent. It's a great opportunity for women to play a contact sport.”
Through the Fort Wayne Derby Brats team, the women hope to promote fun, self-expression, self-confidence and stewardship for girls ages 9-17. Girls learn about teamwork, discipline, interaction and competition.
Adkins wishes such a program existed when she was a teen. But now, after years on the Fort Wayne Derby Girls, she's happy with where the team is and even more excited for where the team is going.
Women's flat-track roller derby growth:
*Women's flat track roller derby leagues in 2001: 1
*Women's flat track roller derby leagues in 2005: 50
*Women's flat track roller derby leagues in 2012: 1,100 and counting
*WFTDA Member Leagues: 160, in the United States., Canada, United Kingdom and Australia
*WFTDA-affiliated Apprentice Leagues: 87 in North America, South America, Europe, Asia and
Who plays roller derby?
*59 percent of skaters are 25-to-34-years-old
*84 percent have at least some post-secondary education; 24 percent have graduate degrees
*30 percent of responding skaters have children under 18-years-old
*37 percent of skaters are married
Who watches roller derby?
*61 percent of fans are female
*38 percent of fans are ages 25-to-34-years-old; 41 percent are 35-to-54-years-old
*84 percent of fans have at least some college education; 22 percent have graduate degrees
*27 percent have children under 18-years-old in their household
(Information based fan responses to the 2012 WFTDA demographic survey)