It ain't your grandmother's roller derby. Yeah, the girls are still tough, the skates are still fast and the object of the game is still to block the "jammer" from scoring. But today's roller derby has a flatter track, a flashier style and a more fundamental set-up.
And women's flat-track roller derby is, um, rolling into the Metro East this month. The newly formed Confluence Crush Roller Derby League is playing its first competitive bout against the Quincy-based Dark River Derby Coalition at the Gateway Center in Collinsville on May 20.
Confluence Crush founding member Amy Whited said the league, which formed in September, has about 60 members from both the Metro East and St. Louis. The new league is one of many that are a result of a resurgence of the sport in the past 10 years. Whited, who lives in St. Louis, said many of today's women's roller derby leagues are organized and financed by the members themselves.
"In the old days, you relied on owners and sponsors to bankroll things," Whited said. "The whole thing in modern derby came about by accident. It's much more DIY (do it yourself) and grassroots."
Whited said that's one reason for the move to a flat track. Old-style angled and elevated tracks, which are called bank tracks, are expensive to store and to set up in different venues. Flat-track roller derby can be played in any roller rink, gymnasium or auditorium.
Whited said modern roller derby also gives skaters a chance to be more expressive in both their names and attire. "Derby names" include the science teacher who goes by Splat'em Curie and the registered nurse who uses ICU RN Pain. Other derby names are Bloody Gaga, Jamheiser Bush, Rollover Skatehoven and Bled Zepplin. And along with helmets and knee and elbow pads, the Confluence Crush's red-and-blue uniform uniforms might include mini skirts, glitter, sequins and even fishnet stockings.
"They've spent nine months getting into shape, so some girls who wouldn't normally feel comfortable in fishnets are ready to wear them," said Whited, who goes by the derby name Joanie Rollmoan. "(The league) is a desire for community and building a culture that's your own. We all have day jobs. Nobody is getting paid to do this. They're moms and lawyers during the day. This is a whole sub-culture."
Whited said that's why she and the other founding members, who include her partner Jennifer Hylton, formed the league. Their main goals were to teach women how to skate and give them a chance to play the sport in both a competitive and non-competitive way. Confluence Crush skaters do not have to try out to be on the league. Whited said skaters range from a 20-year-old student to grandmothers, and many have never even skated before.
"Our oldest (skater) is 50 — she couldn't skate nine months ago," Whited said. "She's not the best skater in the league but she's not the worst skater in the league."
Whited, who has played competitively in other leagues, serves as the team coach. She said skaters can choose to either play competitively against other leagues or play in teams against each other within the Confluence Crush league. She said about 23 of the 60 skaters have signed up to be on the 14-member competitive team roster.
Competitive play is governed by the rules of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association. Because Confluence Crush is new and this month's bout will be their first public competition, they are not yet members of the association and cannot vie for trophies or ranking within the group.
But Whited said most of the skaters undergo the two-hour, three-times-a-week practice sessions at Funtown USA in Granite City for self-fulfillment.
"I always ask people when they join, what brought you here? And they always same the same things: I raised my kids and now I want to do something for myself or I want to get in better shape. Some say I have a lot of aggression and some that they want to meet new people and make new friends," Whited said. "We're just happy to have as many people get the opportunity to play this really cool sport."
Contact reporter Ramona C. Sanders at 618-344-0264, ext. 136