Tattoos weren't an unusual sight the night I visited Kate's Skating Rink in Gastonia; in fact, tattoos adorned the upper arms of many patrons, despite the fact it was Christian Music Night. Purple and black must have been the signature colors of the evening because every woman there could be seen wearing the dark, lusty shades. It wasn't out of place either to see a hint of cleavage or bloomers peeking out from underneath short skirts. And when about 25 girls fell to their knees, knee pads playing a screeching violin of plastic skidding across the hard floor, there was no doubt we were at a Charlotte Roller Girls practice.
The Charlotte Roller Girls was formed back in October 2006 when an ex Carolina girl (that's Raleigh's roller derby team) brought the idea to Charlotte. After forming a committee, designating some duties and finding a place to practice (one woman wouldn't let them practice at her rink because she felt they were "a disgrace to rollerskating") the Charlotte Roller Girls have become Charlotte's very own all-female derby league, with at least 28 women signed up for practices and 40 people on the roster.
"One of the big misconceptions about derby is that it's violent, that we're here to beat each other up," says Kimberly Connelly-Willner, director of marketing/advertising. "That's generally how most leagues aren't. A lot of them look down upon fighting and things like that. Obviously if you've got someone running their big mouth, you're gonna want to take them out."
The game's simple enough: There are five girls on each team -- a pivot, three blockers and a jammer. The pivot and the blockers start skating around the track, the pivot setting the pace. The jammer from the opposing team tries to pass them. Each opposing member she passes brings her team a point. The blockers and the pivot have to do all they can to keep the jammer from passing, as well as help prevent the other team's blockers from stopping their own jammer.
"It's definitely comparable to hockey, you know, as far as the contact. It's a contact sport. There's a lot of toughness that the girls have to have, just like hockey -- instigating, you know, not being afraid of each other," says Joey Emanuel, director of training. "What really decides the game is endurance, speed and strategy. It's definitely not about who's the meanest but who's going to be able to get up the quickest."
While the game may not be about who's the meanest, attitude seems to have its way with the players. During the practice session, one girl from the sidelines shouted out, "We don't say sorry, we say fuck you!"
Pain is also a regular visitor to the practices: broken tailbones, fractured wrists, sprained ankles, bruises, floor burns -- they've seen it all. "Lots of groin pulls -- that seems to be the most famous injury for all of us," says Cress Barnes, director of new recruits/training.
What makes the Charlotte Roller Girls unique, however, is that the 21- to 40-something-year-olds you see at night during practice may look different during the day -- another identity, if you will. The same women wearing the short skirts and knee pads are mothers, teachers, bankers, waitresses and business owners.
"It's funny for me because I work in marketing/advertising and I have to wear suits when I go places. A lot of [coworkers] don't know I have tattoos," says Connelly-Willner.
Emanuel adds: "Just like [the movie] Fight Club, during the day we all have this aggression and frustration. And yeah, we're not going out there punching each other, but we can skate it out on the floor.".
Although the regular bouting season (games against other leagues) isn't expected to begin until 2008, there's already a lot of support in the area. "We've sold tons of T-shirts, stickers are everywhere. We'll probably be at Cricket Arena when we start bouting," says Connelly-Willner. "People are so proud of the weirdness of Charlotte, especially those in the eclectic areas. Half of us live in those areas, so we've definitely got those people backing us."
The Roller Girls are always recruiting new members, ages 21 and up, especially at local events. During the holidays, the group held a toy drive and will also be in this year's St. Patrick's Day parade.
"As long as you have a vagina," says Connelly-Willner, "you can skate."
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