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The women of roller derby hit hard, play rough and wear mouth guards. When there's a big hit the crowd reacts, like in football.

But unlike football, or most women's sports, roller derby comes with sex appeal.

Many combatants wear fishnet stockings or have a revealing way of customizing their tights.

They all have nicknames, too. Some witty. Some filled with sexual innuendo.

Bobbi Slamher, Zo D. Ax, Loose E. Morals, 34DD, and my favorite, Munchausen by Foxy.

I witnessed my first roller derby bout Saturday at the Midwest Sports Complex in Queeny Park, near Town and Country. The upstart St. Chux Derby Chix of St. Charles County took on the more experienced Saint Lunachix of St. Louis.

The women are fit. They bash each other about and skate for two 30-minute halves.

They range in age from about 20 to the mid-40s. Some are mothers. Some are students. Some have played competitive sports since high school. One wrestled in college.

For others, this is their first foray into athletic competition.

"You can let some aggression out," says Kim Dillon, 36, of St. Louis, who plays for St. Chux. The team practices three times a week at SK8 Galaxy in St. Peters.

"This is the only selfish thing I do," says Darci McAfee, 32, of St. Peters. "I'm also a mother, a wife, a caregiver, an employee."

No one gets paid. In fact, some must pay dues to the Women's Flat Track Derby Association.

To try to avoid injuries, one of the first things they learn is how to fall.

Aimee Deguire, 32, of South St. Louis, removes her mouth guard to tell me she once broke her hand in roller derby. She's been with the Arch Rival Roller Girls since 2006. (Her club played in the under card bout Saturday night.)

Why No. 43? I ask.

"Forty-three is a prime number," she says. "I'm a math nerd."

In the rink, Deguire is a jammer — like a running back in football.

Jammers typically are smaller and usually are fast skaters. They score points when they battle through the pack to lap the field.

"You can be real skinny and be an effective player or be 6 feet tall and weigh 200 pounds and be an effective player," she says.

Deguire grew up playing sports.

Not so for Jamielee Conner, 25, of St. Charles, aka. G.I. Jamie. She is a jammer with St. Chux and works in a chiropractor's office by day.

"My parents never had me play anything," she says. "They made me be a ballerina."

At the door taking tickets is Tricia Frank, 34, of Berkeley. She plays on a team not competing tonight called the M80's.

No, she corrects me. It's the M80s. No apostrophe!

Frank's nickname is "The Punctuator." She teaches at Parkway North High School.

"I care about apostrophes," she explains. "I teach English and I'm anal."

St. Louis is crushing St. Charles and leads 90-22 at halftime. More than a few St. Chux skaters have been rudely deposited on their derrieres by Emily Rinehart, 27, of St. Louis. Or Rhino-Might.

"It's a lot of fun," Rhino-Might tells me during halftime.

Rinehart, of the Lunachix, wrestled in college at Missouri Valley. Yes, the school had a women's wrestling team.

Dana O'Brien, of Maryland Heights, is "Grey Goose" on the St. Chux team. Her number is "40%ABV" — a reference to the alcohol by volume of Grey Goose vodka.

O'Brien has four children, three in college. Some of her teammates, she says, are younger than her daughter.

"I feel really cool at 42 years old that I'm playing roller derby," O'Brien says.

The action is fast-paced. Not only are there 10 team skaters — five from each squad — there are also six officials circling the track on skates. They blow whistles, make hand gestures and maintain order via major and minor penalties.

The building echoes with the amped up play-by-play of two announcers. Whether you can actually understand what they're saying depends on where you happen to be sitting.

The approximately 430 people who paid $15 a ticket are into it. They "oooh!" when Rhino-Might puts somebody down.

St. Chux rallies, but in the end falls short, 138-98.

I ask St. Chux coach Kyle Stark, "Sweet Tooth," 31, to assess his team's performance. I suspect it has something to do with blocking and possibly jamming.

"If the team that had showed up in the second half had shown up in the first half it might have been a different outcome," he says.

In the corner of the makeshift St. Chux locker room sits Ivy Ginsburg, 36, of Hazelwood. She takes off her skates. She is a CPA and a 1993 graduate of Duchesne High School.

Win or lose, she says, there's something gratifying about being part of a team.

For Carli Cavanaugh, 24, of Washington, there will be only one more bout. She's moving to Ohio.

"These girls are like family," she says. "You work together day in and day out for a year."

Cavanaugh is Sonic Crush. She's a roller-skating car hop at the Sonic in Union.

Ashley Keene, 25, of Maryland Heights, removes knee pads that carry the brand name Gladiator. Despite the hard hits, she says, the teams will meet later for food and drinks.

I ask how she's feeling and if she got knocked down.

"Getting knocked down is not the issue," Keene says. "It's getting back up. That's Derby Rule No. 1."

Steve Pokin is a columnist for the Suburban Journals. He can be reached at spokin@yourjournal.com or by phone at 314-821-1110, ext. 704. His column is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PokinAround.