Smile Politely

The ‘Girls are ready to rumble

The first Twin City Derby Girls bout will be held this Friday, May 21st, at 7:30 p.m. at the Savoy Recreation Center.  The roller derby bout will be between two teams in the league, The Boneyard Bombshells and The ‘Paign.  Roller derby can be a confusing sport to spectators new to it, so there will be a slow-motion explanation before the bout of how derby is played.  Approximately 350 peopleincluding athletes and volunteersare expected to be at the event.   

If you don’t have a ticket, but still want to go, good lucktickets sold out four and a half hours after they went on sale on the Internet.  Wait list details are available on Twin City Derby Girls’ website.  There will be an after party at Clark Bar in Champaign between 10:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. that fans can attend.

I spoke with Boneyard Bombshell member Liz Lerner at a league practice at Skateland last Saturday morning about the upcoming bout.  When asked if the girls were ready, she replied, “Absolutely.  We’re ready.  We’ve been working really hard in preparation of this bout.  The number one thing in derby you learn is how to fall properlyif you fall wrong you can break an arm.  But we’re taught the proper way to fall, which is forward and on your knees.”  

Lerner also claimed that falling on your knees on a hard rink surface isn’t as painful as it sounds, due to the protective kneepads that roller derby skaters wear. 

The financial goal of the league is to donate monies earned beyond costs to charity, and some of the money raised through ticket sales to the bout will go to the organization Young Survival Coalitiona group that helps people with breast cancer.  Lerner explained, “It’s really neat.  It’s really special; we have two breast cancer survivors in the league, and actually both are bouting. We went to them and said, ‘Guys, we’d like to honor you, where do you want the money to go?'”

Derby GirlsA lot has changed with Lerner and Twin City Derby Girls since I first met them at one of their practices early in league history last January.  For starters, Lerner now also goes by her “derby name” of Bear Kylls.  Furthermore, at the practice I saw last January, approximately ten girls were practicing drills on the rink, and some of them looked like they hadn’t been on skates all that long.  By contrast, at the practice last Saturday, around 50 athletesas well as a few coacheswere on the rink.  And the drills were much more together; girls practiced falls, rehearsed bout situations, and generally looked organized. 

Membership in the all-female league has grown to between 50 and 60, and currently there are three teams: two teams of 12 that bout and one “farm” team working towards the goal of becoming bout-eligible.

In the future, Twin City Derby Girls hope to compete against teams from outside Champaign County, but this coming bout is strictly local and within the Twin City Derby Girls’ league.   Lerner said, “This is actually a regular occurrence in derby.  You have lots of inter-league bouts.  And then what happens is an all-star travelling team is put together.  We’ll probably do that and go to Springfield or Chicago or wherever.”

Everyone on the two teams competing against each other on Friday knows each other, but Lerner feels that, for her, friendship won’t get in the way of competing: “Hopefully on the rink I’ll just see competitors, but I’ve gotten to know some of the girls on the other team really well and it’s hard to not smile and joke around while you’re bouting, but it’s serious stuff.”

The Twin City Derby Girls organization has been very much visible in the community since practices began last January.  Lerner said, “The most common question we get from people is about when our first bout will be.”  So, the girls are happy the real thing is finally here.  Lerner put it this way: “It’s what we want.  If we never had a bout, it would be like training to be a firefighter and never fighting a fire.  There are going to be nerves for sure; a lot of us have never played in front of this many people.  But we’re ready.” 

Off the rink since January, The girls have participated in events like the WILL Pledge drive and Rod Sickler’s Red Hot Winter.  I asked Lerner about prioritiesis Twin City Derby Girls a community-active social group first, or a group of skaters first?  She replied, “We’re definitely skaters that do community events.  We’re skaters who get involved.  Part of our mission is to help the community, but we really benefit as a league from getting involved. We end up bonding and feeling great from helping out.”

The girls haven’t been shy about promoting themselves in recent months.  Twin City Derby Girls members have been on 94.5 talking about their league.  They’ve cheerfully done press for the Gazette, The Daily Illini, andof courseSmile Politely.  The word has definitely gotten out that roller derby has come to C-U and people are paying attention.  For example, as of Saturday, May 15, there were 1383 people who “like” Twin City Derby Girls on Facebook. 

Why the buzz?  Lerner gave her theory: “It’s something unique, seeing women in this power positionathletic but also feminine.   People are excited about it.”  She also admitted that she was surprised by how much interest has been generated so far and so fast: “I didn’t expect it to get this big this quickly.”

Maybe team sponsor Midnight Graphics has had something to do with it.  The marketing and web development business has been donating their services now for months.  Midnight Graphics, among other things, designed the Twin City Derby Girls logo and created their high quality websitegiving the amateur league a professional image. 

Of course, making Twin City Derby Girls look good makes Midnight Graphics look good as well.  Lerner said, “They have clients telling them exactly what to do all the time, and we certainly give them our feedback, but this is a way for them to showcase their talents in a fun way.”

Another thing Midnight Graphics has done is help Twin City Derby Girls start selling merchandise with their logo on it.  T-shirts, unsurprisingly, are for sale, but also items you might not expect like underwear and pet apparel.  Lerner said, “We didn’t seek out the underwear or the dog shirtit came with the packagebut why not, you know?  I want to get a shirt for my dog.”

On their website, Twin City Derby Girls state that they “provide quality, family-friendly entertainment with an edgy component that captures the imagination of fans and the media.” But underwear bearing the team logo and derby names like “Bitch E. Rich” and “Coach Rice A. Horni” might come across to some as more “edgy” than “family-friendly.” 

Lerner said, “I still think it is family-friendly, to an extent.”  She also warned that there could be swearing on the rink and that, in general, “If you’re planning on coming to a bout, you should look up derby first.”

Derby GirlsRoller derby is often a mix of camp and athleticism, with different leagues around the world veering more towards one side or the other.  So are Twin City Girls more professional wrestling or WNBA?  Lerner said, “I think our goal is to be athletes first, but with some leagues out there the goal may be to be sexy or campy or whatever.  We know that we’re athletes first and we want to be respected for that.”

The camp may be for show, but the injuries that come with roller derby are very real.  Twin City Derby Girls seem unconcerned about the risk so farsome members even post photos on the Internet of their bruises and scrapes. Yet there have been a few severe injuries already and there’s always the threat of something really bad happening on the rink in the future.  Lerner said, “In our first month, we had a long-time player break her wrist.  We had a new woman about a month ago break something in her arm that she had to have surgery for.  So we’ve had some serious stuff, which is unfortunate.”

Having health insurance is a requirement for being a Twin City Derby Girls athlete.  Many of the Twin City Derby Girls are in their twentiesalthough the league also has women as old as 50 who skate. 

As recently as last November, the local roller derby scene was nonexistent.  I asked Lerner if having Twin City Derby Girls progress so fast might be a little frightening.  She replied: “As athletes we definitely had some nerve to get into this, but I don’t think it’s happening too fast, because we’ve spent so many hours on it.  We have a board of directors and we meet once a week.  Everyone is detail-oriented.  I honestly think we’ve thought of everything.  We’ve brainstormed so much.”

As loud and crazy as things may get at the Savoy Rec Center this Friday, Twin City Derby Girls are already thinking about bigger venues.  As far as the future is concerned, Lerner said, “Our dream is Assembly Hall, of course.”


All photos in this article are courtesy of Alex Wild Photography.

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