Until a few years ago, the only exposure I’d had to the roller derby was Jim Croce’s “Roller Derby Queen” off of my mother’s Jim Croce’s Greatest Hits album, a mainstay in her music rotation.
Then in 2009 Drew Barrymore released her directorial debut, Whip It, throwing me into a full-on fascination with the sport. My friend and I planned to attend an event as a fun weekend getaway from DePauw. A little while later a fellow classmate–who had also became enchanted with Ellen Page’s moves in the film–decided to start training for the derby on campus, eventually joining the Circle City Socialites. I tried to attend one of her bouts with my circle of friends, but following a miscommunication I ended up ticketless and they attended without me. (Don’t worry, though, my evening was spent catching up on Say Yes to the Dress with another friend.)
But alas, a few weeks ago my moment finally came. I ventured with a few old friends to the Derby Does Downtown event, a special Naptown Roller Girls event at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, a change of scenery from their normal play at the Pepsi Coliseum.
I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, whether the crowd would be rowdy, indie hipster types that made me feel incredibly out of place, if play would be as rough as the film depicted, if a sleazy version of Jimmy Fallon would be there to announce as in the film (one could hope). What I found was a fun, family-friendly evening that exhibited a lot of love for this off-beat sport.
My father told me he didn’t see me as “the roller derby type,” but one evening as a spectator proved there is no such thing. I sat surrounded by clean-cut young professionals, middle-aged women, grandparents and parents with kids, teenagers on dates, young couples, and yes, some indie hipster types. A pregnant woman sat behind me with a few twenty-something friends. Several sported their favorite Naptown Roller girls gear, showing the true love community members have for the organization. The line for the gear table was always long as people snatched up even more shirts, buttons and miscellaneous souvenirs.
Of course, the offbeat character or two were thrown into the mix, my personal favorite moment being a man dressed as Darth Vader dancing with the Hardee’s star mascot at halftime, something you probably won’t see at your next Pacers or Colts game. Plenty of women saw the event as a good time to pull off adventurous or sexy outfits mimicking the players (I, however, will probably not ever be one of those women). Overall, the diverse crowd was energetic. People jumped up and cheered, they started the wave, they showed every bit of enthusiasm they would show for any other local team. It was like a crazy high school football game but with a much cooler vibe.
Play itself was fast-paced and entertaining, though the atmosphere was relaxed enough to carry on a conversation with my friends while still following along. It is a rough contact sport with a few painful moments to watch. But overall, play wasn’t quite as bloody or intense as Whip It plays it out to be (though I’m sure it has its moments; I’ve seen pictures of the bruises).
Want to give the roller derby a try? DO IT. At least once. It’s just another fun way to cheer on local athletes (and yes, there’s no question they’re athletes). If you know absolutely nothing about the sport, I’d recommend learning some of the rules of general play beforehand, though the program had a great “Derby Basics” section to fill you in on what you were watching.
The last home bout is Saturday, May 5th, at Pepsi Coliseum, though if you’re up for a road trip you can visit their website to learn more about their road bouts.
Think you have what it takes to join this group of tough and awesome women? Better get training.
Tryouts will be held Sunday, July 15th from 5 PM-8 PM.
Pre-tryout workshops will also be held July 8 (10:30 AM-12:30 PM) and July 9, 11, and 12 (7PM-9PM).
Email FreshMeat [at] NaptownRollergirls [dot] com for more information or to RSVP for your tryout by July 2.