One hot summer evening last year, I found myself skating in the parking lot across from the San Antonio Museum of Art. I focused on the series of plastic orange cones lined up in front of me. My task was to weave through them with one skate following the other, nice and easy. Pleasure2BeatYa, a veteran skater, looked on and was ready to give me tips. As I began to weave through, she said, "We used to have another Mel, too."
My eyes widened. "What happened to her?"
Pleasure laughs, "I don't mean she disappeared or we killed her or something." But, in the world of roller derby, mine is a fair question. Injuries happen, and roller derby is the most fun getting hurt anyone can have. That is the first thing I learned when I joined the Alamo City Roller Girls (ACRG) last August.
San Antonio’s Roller Derby
If you have heard of roller derby, your mind likely jumps to the 2009 flick, "Whip It," or the '70s televised roller derby when women on skates doled out punches and drop kicked their opponents. The Alamo City Roller Girls (ACRG) will tell you neither image describes what fans will see when they attend the double header bout on May 30 at Mission Concepcion Sports Park. Tickets are only $10 for adults, $5 for children.
Since 2005, ACRG has spread roller derby love to fans across San Antonio. As a native San Antonian, I am an avid supporter of the many things that highlight why San Antonio is just as desirable a home as our neighbors up I-35 North. Admittedly, Austin's Texas Rollergirls are owed for the modern roller derby that moved the sport from theatrics to athletics. For our part, ACRG helps keep roller derby alive in San Antonio, and the league is another example of what makes the city great.
The skaters, coaches, volunteers, and non-skating officials form a dedicated bunch from diverse backgrounds. Psychologists, military wives, college students, veterans, and educators attend two-hour practices three times a week where they practice drills, do endurance training, and scrimmage against each other. Many of the skaters are also moms, so each practice also includes children at play with each other or on iPods. Joining ACRG means skaters commit to practice, but also to a job that helps keep the league rolling. From travel schedules to partnering with sponsors or building training plans for new recruits, ACRG is a well-oiled machine.
Between the rigorous practice schedules, the league also dedicates their time and talents to investing in the sport they love and volunteering together. On May 30, the bout will benefit Haven for Hope, and fans are asked to bring items from the organization’s Wish List.
ACRG includes two teams – the A Team is Las Tejanas, the B Team is Las Pistoleras. Las Tejanas are the travel team for ACRG, and they compete for rankings in the international Women’s Flat Derby Association (WFTDA). ACRG is one of more than 300 WFTDA leagues, which span the globe from San Antonio to Belgium to Australia. WFTDA sets the rules for how games are played and is responsible for vanquishing the days of derby when the bouts were staged or storied. As members of the WFTDA, ACRG plays a highly competitive, full contact version of roller derby.
Asphalt Assault to Pistolera
The first step to landing a spot on an ACRG roster is making it through Asphalt Assault (AA), the eight-week training program. Weaving through cones, falling correctly, a rules test, and skating 27 laps in five minutes all fall under the Minimum Skills Requirements set by WFTDA.
"Mel," Coach Carsten pulled me aside after a practice early in my Asphalt Assault program, "you have wheels on the bottom of your feet because you like to go fast, right? It's time to go faster. Go faster." So I did. Ultimately fast enough skate the 27 laps and start scrimmaging.
A flat track roller derby bout is played in two 30 minute periods comprised of two-minute jams. Each team has five players – three blockers, one pivot, and one jammer. The blockers and pivots line up with one team's line in front of the other. This is called the pack. Behind the pack is each team’s jammer. In a nut shell, the jammers must break through the pack once before they can begin scoring points. A jammer earns one point by passing each opposing blocker’s hips. The blockers’ goal is to prevent the opposing jammer from passing.
The first scrimmage was just as terrifying as it was thrilling. Finally, everything my AA pals and I learned during the previous two months made sense – like keeping our skates offset so as not to fall down immediately when an opponent hit us. Initially, I had very little idea of what to actually do during a game, so my strategy was to be on Skullyvera’s team as often as possible. "Skully," as she is affectionately called, is a Las Tejanas power house and longtime ACRG skater. (And, yes, everyone gets a derby name.) Her expertise is only rivaled by her willingness to share all she knows with the incoming skaters. When the whistle blew to start the first scrimmage jam, I fell promptly. Then, I caught up to Skully in time to help stop the opposing jammer.
Derby in application is a strange concept at first because you use your body to stop another skater’s body from moving. I have gotten used to this, but the bruises derby leaves are harder to get used to, especially in the professional world. With help from Skully, other veteran skaters, and the coaches, I felt ready to try out for the 2015 Las Pistoleras.
By the time try outs rolled around, only three out of the thirteen skaters in my AA group remained. Tragically, one of the remaining injured her ankle the week before try outs, which left Darla and me. Darla, who is now "Sin Kitty Brawler" and Las Pistoleras team captain, and I made the team.
Derby for Everyone
Last month, ACRG welcomed a new group of AA skaters. As Pleasure2BeatYa described drills for the new “fresh meat,” I demonstrated. When we were finished, the new skaters gathered in a circle around Pleasure, so she could answer their questions. They were hesitant, and I recognized their wide-eyed anxious stares as Pleasure offered words of encouragement.
“The great thing about derby is that it is for everyone," she said. "If you want derby you can have it. Even if you can’t skate now, you will learn. You will learn, and you will get better. Derby is for everyone.”
Nine months after skating in the parking lot with Pleasure, I have learned how right she is. If you ask a roller derby skater if her sport is fake, her favorite response is: “Come here, and I’ll show you.” On May 30, we will again show San Antonio why roller derby is one of the fastest growing sports in the country but will always have a home in the Alamo City.
*Featured/top image: Alamo City Roller Girls group together during a practice. Photo by Scott Ball.