By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
By Jeff Balke
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
Only two more rounds to go.
It's early October. After nine months of laps and drills and laps and drills, the women of Houston Roller Derby are weeks away from their first exhibition bout. The knee-slide exercise complete, they're all sitting along the wall of Dairy Ashford Roller Rink, listening to their coach while taking deep breaths of the Frito- and feet-tinged air.
"I know y'all are tired," says Patsy Crime, a former Texas Rollergirl who's been training the Houston women since the beginning (and who, like several other skaters, wants only her derby name used). "And I know y'all are stressed. But you've all come so far. I can remember when a lot of you were wall-walking."
Back in January and February, many of them looked like newborn foals on wheels, their knees buckling and their butts bruising. Some hadn't skated since middle school, when rolling around the rink was secondary to holding hands and having your first kiss. But by the end of the summer things had started to click: Most had mastered turnaround stops and almost all had learned to take a hit without falling over.
Just about every revival derby league in the nation has seen a democratic revolt, and Houston is no different. This league was originally called Space City Roller Girls, but the two women who created it wouldn't cede control to the skaters, resulting in a coup when the duo tried to fire the coed training team. A vote was held, the league sided with the trainers, and Houston Roller Derby, a skater-run enterprise, was born.
"It was a dumb thing for them to be so bold as to kick the trainers off, because it was their death," says Red. "And we were like, 'Fuck it. We're moving on without you.' "
Some of the skaters quit immediately after the revolt -- "They didn't want to be in the mixture of that chaos," she says -- and others dropped out when they realized how much work this new democracy required.
"It seemed like for a long time all they would do is create committees, but nobody would ever do anything," says a skater who left mid-summer. "Some girls quit because it's too hard, and some girls quit because it's too hard to deal with the politics. I realized why I don't have a lot of girlfriends."
Other women quit for work and family -- driving out to Dairy Ashford three times a week can be a real time-sucker -- but their skates have been filled by newcomers, keeping the league at about 50 members. There are four teams: the Machete Betties, the Bayou City Bosses, the Psych Ward Sirens and the Burlesque Brawlers, whose rosters are filled with teachers, bartenders, homemakers, graphic designers and lawyers. The oldest skater is 49, the youngest 21.
Along the way they've picked up some sponsors (including the Houston Press) and had some fund-raising concerts and bikini car washes.
They've also picked up some serious injuries: broken arms, legs, ankles and elbows, not to mention countless bruises, scratches and strains. Some of the scrapes happened during the push-and-shove of regular practices, but others were the result of skating drunk at night, a guilty pleasure for many of the women.
Amy Dinn, an attorney who skates as the Prosecutor, went down hard on her leg at the end of April, breaking it in two places. Doctors inserted a metal rod and four screws, but she stayed off the rink for only two months. Come July, she was skating extra laps with the rod still intact.
Back when Houston Roller Derby's first exhibition bout was scheduled, no one would've predicted the Astros were going to make the World Series -- no one save for the most die-hard of hometown masochists. But the "miracle" happened, and Game One of the World Series un-miraculously fell on the same day as the women's first bout.
The 600 or so friends, family members and random World Wrestling Entertainment fans who showed up at the Pasadena Convention Center weren't sure what they were there to see, except that it wasn't the 'Stros. Handheld radios, tuned to the game, were in full effect, as were hand-made signs, showing support for this Bettie or that Brawler. After an opening set by psychobilly band Zipperneck, the spectators took their seats, many of them on the floor right by the track. Occasional chatter from the announcers was all that rose above the din of anticipation.
Showtime. The opening chords of Carl Orff's "Oh Fortuna" exploded from the loudspeakers as the Bayou City Bosses took the rink. The tune soon changed to the Dean Martin version of "That's Amore," and each skater clobbered a Machete Bettie doll as she was introduced. Up next were the Betties, who rolled out to the Mission: Impossibletheme and lined up facing each other, crossing machetes (after a bit of confusion) and skating underneath. The Betties then presented a gift to the Bosses: a fake severed horse head on a pillow.
Five women from each team lined up against each other. The eight-woman pack took off after the first whistle. Seconds later two more whistles sent Cady Crasher and Cindi Slaughter, the two jammers, sprinting after the pack. Slaughter made it through first, gaining the lead role, but the jam ended when Crasher shoved her off the track.