TOS Writer Brette Trost Introduces Herself to the World of Roller Derby (Part I of III)

What do a cognitive neuroscientist, a guitarist in a punk rock band and a pediatric ICU nurse have in common?

Pain.

The Gotham Girls Roller Derby’s Queens of Pain to be exact. Though by day these women are part of worlds that rarely intersect, by night they are skaters in New York’s only all-female amateur roller derby league.  And last Saturday night I had the opportunity to see these ladies in action as I attended my first roller derby bout between the Manhattan Mayhem and the Queens of Pain at Hunter College.

The sold out bout had a line that looped clear around the block by the time doors opened at 6:30. Since the action didn’t start until 8:30, these devoted fans had over two hours to soak in the sheer spectacle that are the Gotham Girls.  Some were novices, attending their first roller derby outing ever. Others could name almost all of the players on both teams. The audience was a hodgepodge of ages and backgrounds. Some were friends of skaters, others avid roller derby fans or just there to celebrate a birthday party (see below for some 14-year-old Queens of Pains fans).

Gotham Girls Roller Derby, a non-profit volunteer organization, is made up of six teams: four home teams representing four boroughs (Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn) and two travelling teams – the more serious and top ranked All Stars which compete competitively all over the U.S. and the Wall St. Traitors who also travel but aren’t as competitive.

For those of you whose only exposure to the world of Roller Derby have been in the movies, Gotham Girls are not exactly what you might be expecting. They play on a flat track, instead of a concave or banked track, so there are no railings to slam into or flip over.

In the 50’s and 60’s, the sport became principally a means of sports entertainment,  somewhat like the WWE. However, since the 2000’s grassroots revival, the league has been adamantly trying to combat this image by focusing instead on athleticism, not theatrics. Though they do maintain much of the histrionics, like the pseudonyms and outlandish uniforms, the matches no longer have pre-determined winners.

This emphasis away from theatrics was initially hard to decipher as the Queens of Pain mascot – a man who they found on Craig’s List dressed in bondage (see headline photo) – escorted the players onto the track. As the announcer excitedly introduced the women with names like “Puss ‘n Glutes”, “Bruzin’ Brody” and “Tip-Her Gore”, I was ready to see a fight. However, I was surprised to see that once the bout started the emphasis was purely on athleticism – no melodramatic jamming, no cat fights – even the falls weren’t prolonged, with the skaters getting up right away to catch up with the group.

There is even an emphasis on strategy. Manhattan and Queens had two distinct ways of playing the game, and as the Mayhem was trailing 80-29 by the end of the first period, the manager wasn’t optimistic, saying that they had “never been a second period team”. When these two teams met last season it was close. The Mayhem squeezed out a 94-84 victory that was determined by the final jam, after a penalty call on Queens’ All-Star Suzy Hotrod helped the Mayhem take the bout. This time, the Queens of Pain were ready for revenge, and crushed the Mayhem in a 184-76 thrashing – but their revenge was purely of the athletic nature, not with their elbows.

The entire TOS team will be returning with me to see Gotham in August. So be prepared for even more pictures and videos and as we continue our look into the world of roller derby.

  • Guest

    Great read!

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