You see them on the streets, in the grocery store, walking their dogs and playing on the playground. They seem innocent enough, until these women strap their skates on and head to the track…
Forget everything you thought you knew about roller derby. You’ve probably seen films (like Whip It or Rollerball) that give you an idea, but until you’ve seen it with your own two eyes, you’re missing out on the real thing.
Arizona Derby Dames (AZDD) is a women’s amateur roller derby league based in Phoenix. It was established in 2005 by four colorfully named skaters: Suzy Homewrecker, Joan Threat, All the Way Mae and Prima Donna.
Although it was founded as a flat-track league, the founders of AZDD always had their eyes on increasing the competitiveness by switching to a banked track, which the league did in 2010. Banked tracks deliver higher speeds, more daring moves and faster-paced games as compared to flat-track leagues, according to AZDD.
Prior to coming to Arizona, Homewrecker, one of the founders, skated for the Austin-based Lonestar Rollergirls of the Texas Banked Track Roller Derby (TXRD). The league was one of the first established during the resurgence of roller derby in the early 2000s.
The original Arizona Roller Derby (AZRD) league, which uses flat tracks, was founded in 2003. Eventually AZRD split, with half staying and the other half founding AZDD. The league has proved popular, boasting a roster today of more than 100 women and six teams.
“I used to watch roller derby on TV when I was little and when I heard it was a thing you could do in real life, I ran,” said Ginger Mortis, who has been skating with roller derby for 13 years. “In 2005 I heard that they were starting a new roller derby track, so I grabbed my friend (fellow derby girl Dolly De Los Muertos) and we both went down and joined.”
Ginger skates for the Coffin Draggers team, along with her teammate Devotchka DeLarge.
“I’ve been skating for the Derby Dames since 2011. I had attended a roller derby and I was like ‘I would love to join this’ and another skater overheard me and told me to come to the next practice. I was blown away immediately,” DeLarge said.
The AZDD is the only league in Arizona that uses a banked track. Scoring is pretty clear-cut, with “jammers” doing their best to skate past the other team’s “blockers.” Each opposing blocker passed earns the jammer’s team one point. The team with the most points at the end wins. Sounds pretty easy, right? Wrong.
“Sometimes you have really hard days where nothing works, but even so, those are some of the best days because that’s when you grow the most. You leave the track crying but notice a week later that you’ve pushed yourself past that,” said Xanadoom, who skates for the Doomsday Valkyries.
If you take a look at the inside of the venue, you’ll be transported to a world of fierce women and even more fierce skating. The skaters fly around the track, scoring as many points as they can while dodging elbows, knees and skates from other players.
Becoming an official member of an AZDD team requires you to show that you have what it takes through tryouts, which happen twice a year.
If you advance past the initial tryout, you go through several weeks of “Fresh Meat” skating. The first level is basic skills. If you test out, level two is positions, blocking and learning how to play. There are 10 weeks of training, then a test. If you pass, you are drafted to a team.
“I was 12 the last time I skated, not counting roller derby. I had a friend who was in roller derby and I watched a bout and thought ‘wow that looks fun’ and a few years later I tried out. I have been addicted 100 percent, all in, since then,” said Pretty Hurt Machine, co-captain of the Schoolyard Scrappers.
A common theme in the roller derby world is that of community and family.
“There is a whole community that a sport like this supports. When people come in with preconceived notions of what roller derby is and what it’s for – it’s different for everybody and we want you to form your own opinion,” said Al Anilhate’ya, who has been skating with AZDD since 2011.
“All these different groups of women from different walks of life…they were all brought together by this one thing and they are all a family,” DeLarge said.
The AZDD also has a traveling all-star team, the Hot Shots, of which both Al Anilhate’ya and Pretty Hurt Machine are members. It has competed in bouts in Florida, Texas, California and Las Vegas.
The league also includes a team for girls ages 10-17 called the Minor Assaults, which is supported through AZDD Inspire, a nonprofit that uses skating and volunteer opportunities to promote sportsmanship, leadership and healthy habits.
To catch the Dames in action, visit the AZDD Hall of Dames near the I-17 and McDowell Road for the season championships on May 4.
For more: arizonaderbydames.com.