The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

75° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Keep on Rollin’

    Rollergirls glide around the track during a bout between the Furious Truckstop Waitresses and the Iron Curtain held last Saturday at Bladeworld.
    Rollergirls glide around the track during a bout between the Furious Truckstop Waitresses and the Iron Curtain held last Saturday at Bladeworld.

    The deafening honk of a gigantic airhorn forces a stark silence onto the hundreds of people bustling around the sports arena. For a brief moment, it seems as though every single one of the noisy visitors inside Bladeworld has gone completely mute.

    A wave of cheering and screaming erupts from the stillness, and suddenly ten women in colorful red and pink dresses take off in a frenzy of energy. They slide, push and slam into each other, desperate to get in front.

    These roller girls are concentrating strictly on the game, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t encouraged by the intense atmosphere.

    “”We’re very competitive,”” said Zoe O’Rielly, who skates as Whiskey Mick, the drunken Irishman. “”We do consider ourselves the best out there, and we want to prove it to everyone.””

    Unbeknownst to most, the girls are following a strict set of rules. In a roller derby game, there are three main positions that each help to score points and overtake the competition.

    Jammers, designated by a large helmet cover with a big star on both sides, are furiously skating to lap the members of the other team so they can score points.

    How it started

    December 6, 2003 A small group of about 12 women meets in Phoenix and decides to create a Tucson team that would be part of the greater Arizona Roller Derby.
    December 11, 2003 A few days later, the team has its first practice at Skate Country in Tucson.
    April 3, 2004 The Furious Truckstop Waitresses, Tucson’s only team at the time, has their first game against the Bruisers, a Phoenix team. The Waitresses got served.
    May 9, 2004 A new Tucson team called the Iron Curtain forms, and Tucson has its very first game at home.
    December 10, 2004 The Tucson Roller Derby holds its first annual Wheelies Awards Ceremony.
    February 24-26, 2006 The first ever Women’s Flat Track Derby Association national tournament is held in Tucson. The Saddletramps, a Tucson team, take second place.

    Blockers and pivots, who are in charge of controlling the speed of the pack and holding back members of the other team, help the jammers to pass the opposition.

    While all of this is going on, each of the girls has to watch out for several penalties, including but not limited to tripping, kicking, pushing, shoving, swinging with elbows, punching and hitting from behind. Roller derby is a contact sport, but it’s not like going to any old football game.

    “”It’s just really fun,”” said Jimmy Mack, geography sophomore who comes to the games as a spectator. “”You sit on the floor and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll get nailed with flying roller skates.””

    Every girl on each of Tucson’s three five-member skate teams has a skate persona. This includes an elaborate and slightly violent and/or sexual name, a sexy uniform often complete with frills and buttons and a sassy attitude. These girls are tough, and it’s easy to tell just by looking at their tattoos.

    At a practice the week before, Barb Trujillo, also known as Barbicide on the rink, has to sit down for a minute and put a tissue over her bloody nose. She just got hit in the head with another girl’s helmet and if not for her mouth guard, she would be missing some teeth as well.

    “”You can still be pretty and kick butt,”” she said. “”It’s empowering, looking cute and feeling strong. And knocking somebody down. Playing your sport really hard.””

    Barb said that although she has dislocated and even broken her ankle in the past, there aren’t as many injuries here as you might think. Before joining the team, girls go through an extensive three month training period where they learn how to fall, take hits and compete without killing themselves. In fact, many of the team’s injuries come from work and school outside of roller derby.

    “”Oh it’s part of the game,”” O’Rielly said. “”It’s full of contact. I mean you see us out there, we are hitting full force, we’re not pulling any punches. We want to knock each other down.””

    Every member on the Women’s Tucson Roller Derby is doing it for fun. They all have other jobs; many attend school at the UA. They don’t get paid for playing games, and they often have to put in long and hard hours raising money and helping out the team.

    Oftentimes roller derby becomes a family project, when mothers encourage their daughters to get involved. Even though you need to be at least 18 to join one of Tucson’s four teams, girls as young as 12 and 13 consider themselves junior roller girls.

    Two middle school students, Molly Corbett and Arlee Thwing, are attempting to form their own junior league, but have run into some obstacles along the way. Aside from the difficulties of getting dozens of pre-teen girls together and also a lack of a coach, Molly has had trouble spending time with the person who got her involved with derby in the first place.

    Molly’s mother, Ziviana Onatopp, is finishing up a bachelor’s degree in science and business management at the University of Phoenix. For over a month, Onatopp had a class every night and every morning, while Corbett became occupied in dramatic arts and playing the violin at her school.

    “”It was very hard for us,”” Corbett said. “”Some nights I wouldn’t even get to see her.””

    Nevertheless, the two put their heads together and figured out a schedule they could both work on. The hard times passed, and now Onatopp is going to graduate in the next week.

    Terri McGill, a UA student majoring in special education and sign language interpretation, also does roller derby on the side. She wants to be a sign language interpreter someday, and currently works two jobs at Centennial Hall and as a stagehand at the UA School of Music.

    Sometimes, it gets hard to juggle everything together. When the Broadway shows are in town, McGill has to miss out on practices.

    “”You sort of figure out when you join whether or not you can make the commitment,”” she said. “”When someone’s in trouble, there’s always someone there to help because everyone has so many connections.””

    Last February, the Tucson Roller Derby hosted a national championship tournament. Two hundred and sixty girls from 26 teams all over the nation attended, and Tucson was in charge of putting it all together.

    As the host, they had to verify that every single skater had insurance coverage, collect their information and verify it with the riders, make sure there were solid lineups for everyone, deal name tags, check-ins and schedules and deal with a variety of frustrating tasks.

    “”It’s very empowering for us in a lot of ways because you’re not just pushing yourself physically, but you’re learning a lot about working with other people and taking leadership roles and projects,”” O’Rielly said.

    But when there’s hard work, Tucson girls are up for the challenge. In addition to placing second nationally in the tournament, the women bring an average of eight to nine hundred people to every game. From downtown rockers and bikers to grandparents and sports addicts, the monthly games at Bladeworld draw an extremely diverse crowd.

    It’s easy to dismiss women’s roller derby as sexist and outdated, but the young women have an entirely different take on it.

    “”You can still be pretty and be strong, and you can be sexy and it’s not in a demeaning way whatsoever,”” McGill said.

    What to know

    Objective: Score as many points as you can, and kick some sweet sexy ass while you’re doing it.
    Positions: Jammer – The jammer on each five-girl team starts out behind the other skaters and has to lap the entire pack before she can start scoring. Once she does this, she gets a point for each opposing team’s player she passes. The jammer is identified by a big star on each side of her helmet.
    Blocker Three girls on each team serve as blockers. Their job is to stop the other team’s jammer from getting in front of their girls and to help their jammer through the pack.
    Pivot Designated by a striped helmet cover, this girl leads the pack and acts as the last line of defense for their team. She kicks booty as well.
    Other stuff: While punching and hitting isn’t allowed, that doesn’t mean it never happens … especially if the referee isn’t watching. If someone commits a penalty and gets caught, she may have to sit out. Either that or spin the penalty wheel, which can include pillow fights and chariot races on the rink.

    “”You decide to do that. You decide if you want to wear a short skirt or if you’d just rather wear shorts if you’re not comfortable with it. There are girls who never wear fishnets even though that’s one of the things that we’re known for. It’s so in your control that it’s empowering.””

    Although some men have brought up the idea of starting male leagues in the past, none have taken the initiative to create their own. But, they do help out by refereeing, announcing and lending a hand on the sidelines. Right now, roller derby remains one of the only all-female sports out there; something especially unique to the “”fairer”” sex.

    “”I don’t know if they’d be able to keep the lighthearted campy aspect of it,”” O’Rielly said about men. “”And the short skirts, I don’t think they’d go as well with the hairy legs.””

    “”We’re playing hard, but we’re still big girls about it. Cause there’s nothing saying you can’t wear a short skirt and beat the hell out of someone.””

    More to Discover
    Activate Search