Arch Rival Roller Girls - Jamming into another season
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 6, 2009 - Mayor Francis Slay appeared to beam with pride as he greeted locals and chatted with skating players at St. Louis' Arch Rival Roller Girls season kickoff party at The City Museum.
"I've been to a few of their bouts," Slay said before the festivities began. "The Arch Rival Roller Girls are a lot of fun."
Aside from attracting attention from the mayor, St. Louis' Arch Rival Roller Girls have been bowling over fans in the region with their fierce and passionate team spirit since 2005. With player names like Joanie Rollmoan, Eli Wallop, Polka Dot Ye Eyeout and Suri O'Killer, St. Louis' official roller derby league is not a sport for the meek and mild.
Since its resurgence from the 1930s sport, which was staged and theatrical in nature, the derby and its team members have worked hard to help the league to be taken seriously in the public eye. Last year, the team muscled its way from No. 44 in the national league, to No. 20, the biggest jump in roller girl history.
This year they hope to make it to nationals.
Yet, what's most surprising about the bold, fishnet-clad sportswomen is that, when they are not knocking rivals off of their skates, they do have day jobs, "normal" ones.
By Day, Mild-Mannered Professionals; By Night...
"At first I thought that it might be frowned upon in a professional environment," says Courtney Brunsfeld, an employee benefits lawyer, also known as "Mayor Francis Slayor." "I think [my coworkers] think it's cool that I can do something very professional during the day and then at night go and play a very physical, aggressive sport."
Bruises and injuries are common in the world of roller derby. Much of the black and blue can be difficult to hide for many of the players working in professional environments, and may even be a hindrance to her work life.
Kelly Hecker, a.k.a. "Chokehold Chanel," who attends cosmetology school and dreams of being a hair color specialist or a theatrical makeup artist, says that injury is part of the sport.
"When I first started, I fractured my jaw. I bruised my knee pretty badly recently and just got the cast off in December," Hecker says.
Coworkers and colleagues have expressed concern to Hecker about the risky nature of the sport, but that doesn't seem to deter her or any of the other roller girls from the action.
"A colleague said to me, 'Aren't you afraid of breaking your hands? That's your livelihood!'" Hecker explains. "I'm not going to quit doing what I love because I'm afraid of hurting myself."
Beyond Team Spirit
Hecker, a jammer for the league, is passionate about her position and the team spirit within the league.
"If I didn't have roller derby, I wouldn't know what to do," she says. "It's a very very tightly packed season."
Aside from instant friendship with team members, Hecker and other players thrive on the constant activities and press events.
Each player is encouraged to participate in the organization in some way.
"People do everything from being committee heads to being on the board of directors to being team captain, to just serving on a committee, or spreading publicity all around town," says Brunsfeld, who just stepped down as head of the board of directors for the league to become team captain of The Stunt Devils.
The league's members offer a treasure trove of skills because of their wide variety of full time professions: from administrative professionals and managers, to photographers and artists, to teachers (such as Emily Smith, who skates as The Educator) and molecular biologists.
"This a great thing that any girl can come out and do, and we have girls of all skill levels," Brunsfeld explains. "You can come out and find 50 new friends automatically, and exercise, and it's a way to do something competitively that's in the public eye."
The league's fan base has steadily increased since 2005. Many roller girls are now used to being stopped on the street and addressed by their roller derby names.
Brunsfeld says that now, probably 70 percent of the girls on the league don't know her real name. She says that having an alter ego can be a bit confusing.
"It's sometimes hard to separate your derby name from your real name. I've been at work at times and I've almost signed an email to a client as 'Mayor Francis Slayor.' So, it's an interesting thing to have two different personalities."
Brunsfeld began skating with the league when it began in 2005, when she was still in law school.
She says that it appealed to her competitive nature right away.
Other members of the league, like Erika Rogers, a.k.a. Bertha Venus, a registrar at the St. Louis Art Museum, weren't so sure initially.
"One of the ladies that I work with was a 'jeer leader,' and invited me to come check it out. And it was a lot of fun. I didn't think that I was really going to skate," Rogers remembers. "Then it became, 'Well, I'm just going to go to some practices, I'm really not going to join'."
But join Rogers did, and now has become a part of The Stunt Devils, which she says she enjoys thoroughly. Rogers says that her colleagues find her participation in the sport, "novel and amusing."
Luckily, she has not yet sustained any major injuries.
"People are always like, 'I don't want to get hurt'," Kelly Hecker says of when she talks to friends and colleagues about joining roller derby. "You have to get them to see what it's about. That it's a real sport."
The Arch Rival Roller Girls have kicked off the season and recently were featured in a music video for The Breeders. In professionalism, sportsmanship and spirit, these women have come a long way from the 1930s.
MARCH 7 - Kansas City All Stars vs. ARRG All Stars, TRAVEL TEAM HOME
MARCH 21 - ARRG All Stars vs. Indianapolis All Stars, TRAVEL TEAM AWAY
MARCH 28 - The Smashinistas vs. The Stunt Devils, LOCAL
APRIL 11 - The Stunt Devils vs. The M-80s, LOCAL
APRIL 25 - ARRG All Stars vs. Chicago All Stars, TRAVEL TEAM AWAY
MAY 9 - The Smashinistas vs. The M80s, LOCAL
MAY 31 - ARRG All Stars vs. Milwaukee All Stars, TRAVEL TEAM AWAY
JUNE 13 - The Stunt Devils vs. The Smashinistas, LOCAL
JUNE 20 - ARRG All Stars vs. Albuquerque All Stars, TRAVEL TEAM AWAY
JUNE 27 - Lincoln All Stars vs. ARRG All Stars, TRAVEL TEAM HOME
JULY 11 - The M-80s VS. The Stunt Devils, LOCAL
JUNE 27 - Ft. Wayne All Stars vs. ARRG All Stars, TRAVEL TEAM HOME
AUGUST 29 - CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, LOCAL
Three teams make up the Arch Rivals Roller Girls: The Smashinistas, The Stunt Devils and the M-80s. A combined team travels.
Home (local) games are played at the All American Sports Mall, 11133 Lindbergh Business Court
Solange Deschatres is a freelance writer.