Tattoos, loud music, toughguy attitudes, wild brawls...
Don’t be mistaken, I’m takin’ about women here.
Obviously, these aren’t the type of ladies that sit home and paint their fingernails on a Saturday night. No. These are chicks with a fondness for punk rock, sisterhood and behaving bawdily. They are the Brewcity Bruisers, Milwaukee’s only all-girl roller derby.
Roller derby is one of the few full-contact sports for women – for tough women. But, only within the last five years has it seen resurgence.
After reaching its prime in the 1950's and 60's, roller derby’s nationwide following wasn’t enough to keep it on all eight wheels. According to news sources, financial woes plagued the derby circuit, eventually leading to bankruptcy and the entire sports’ demise in the 70's. Decades later, however, a new wave of all-girl roller derby has rolled around. Across the country, small, independent leagues made up mostly of women have fueled a massive comeback.
Brewcity Bruisers’ regular season usually beings in November and the rollergirls have scheduled bouts once per month until May. Having never been to a roller derby, my friends Justin and Bob, and Eric and I decided to check out the Brewcity Bruisers’ March Madness smackdown. The boys flocked there to see some girl-on-girl action while I went because I secretly desire to become a Brewcity Bruiser.
The four of us made our way out to Franklin in about 20 minutes, arriving at the Milwaukee County Sports Complex off of Ryan Road by 6 p.m. – exactly one hour before the action started. Upon entering the front doors, we filed into a long line at the Box Office and coughed up $15 for the two-game event – Maiden vs. Shevil, and Crazy 8s vs. Rollettes.
With our tickets in hand, we passed by a couple of makeshift T-shirt vendors and concession stands, catching a whiff of hot dogs and sweat as we entered into the arena. An abundance of beers stands were scattered along the back wall and rows of bleachers lined the flat oval rink that was already swarming with rollerskate-clad women zipping around in circles.
A large crowd of 20-somethings, South Side locals, and plenty of families with kids filled the bleacher seats and carry-in folding chairs. Brave spectators crowded right up to the edge of the track, making sure to keep their toes tucked under their legs and their beers high in the air.
“If you’re sitting in the front row,” announced the emcee just before the skating began, “you’re probably going to get hit.”
Although she wasn’t joking, nobody budged, they just cheered.
The fan’s reaction – or lack thereof – was no surprise considering roller derby is widely known for the in-your-face spectacle, sometimes even more than the sport.
Part of the draw is that every derby girl gets to try on a new persona for the game, picking provocative, pornstar-like alter egos such as Gloria Hole and Milwaukee’s Breast, or badass nicknames like Terror Lapinski and Ivanna Smackdavitch. They also get to sport some rather risqué gear like hot pink mini-dresses that show off their tattoos, über short skirts and hot pants, tight-fitting tops, and punkish fishnets and sassy garter belts, all of which they designed or arranged themselves.
But, the skating and athleticism is just as much a part of the sport as their punk rock ethos, tats, lewdness and DIY costumes.
Maiden Milwaukee took the rink to skirmish the Shevil Knevils first, but it wasn’t until the Crazy 8s and Rushin’ Rollettes began their exciting bout that I finally grasped what was actually going on.
As it turns out, roller derby rules are pretty simple, but as a spectator it took a while for them to sink in due to the fast-paced nature of the game. Each team has a jammer whose job is to score points, a pivot who leads the pack and keeps pace, and three blockers who try to stop the opposing jammers.
The pack of blockers and pivots start out skating together, the jammers begin a few seconds later, and then have two minutes to pass as many members of the opposing team as they can. At the same time, the rolling mêlée tries to block the opposing jammer while clearing the way for their own team’s jammer so she can circle the track and rack up the score. Inevitably, carnage ensues.
While the bacchanalian side of roller derby, the skimpy uniforms and alter egos, were what got the guys excited, it was the camaraderie, athleticism, and, of course, the entertaining beatdowns that drew me in.
Despite the derby’s brutal skate-and-destroy image, not everything goes while in the rink. Penalties mount if skaters throw elbows, push, use their knees or their forearms – basically if it has padding, it can’t be used as a weapon. Of course, the occasional body check is bound to happen, but four penalties will give a skater a place in the penalty box.
While such regulations are an attempt to keep the skate-by assaults under control, injury is part of the infamy. Snapped bones, concussions, scrapes, and bruises are a dime a dozen. But the risk of a broken nail, or worse, doesn’t stop these tough gals from slamming each other around.
Still, the brawls were only part of the derby’s appeal. I admired the rollergirl’s skill; how jammer Rejected Seoul of Maiden Milwaukee easily maneuvered around the track, in and out of the blockers’ path, and how Servin’ Justice, Crazy 8s’ outstanding pivot, could position herself just so to throw a serious hip without even losing her balance.
Besides the unmistakable talent, there’s an obvious sisterhood. High fives and playful spanks were commonplace, as were the occasional teammate sacrifices to score extra points. Everyone played a vital role in the derby, even the emcees, referees and Beerleaders.
In the end, the Maidens were able to hold onto their lead and outskate the Shevils 89 to 61 while the Rollettes – my favorite – trounced the Crazy 8s 92 to 48.
After watching these tough chicks battle it out for about two hours, I’m seriously considering training to become a Bruiser. The guys, on the other hand, are still living their own fantasies.
The Brewcity Bruisers have two more regular season bouts scheduled for April 18 and May 9. For a complete 2008-09 season schedule and scores, head over here. I seriously suggest you check these rollerchicks out!
Brewcity Bruisers: Milwaukee Rollergirls
Milwaukee Sports Complex
6000 W. Ryan Road
Franklin, WI 53132
$12 presale, $15 at the door
Ticket and shuttle information can be found at brewcitybruisers.com