For those who want to cheer on the hard-core, competitive, professional-level athletes, there’s the Oly Rollers league, whose Cosa Nostra Donnas team won the national championship in 2009.
Want to watch bouts and strap on skates and pads to try it yourself in more of a just-having-fun mode? Look no further than the Underground Derby League.
Centralia-area fans also have the Rainy City Roller Dolls to follow, whose roster is made up of Olympia and Lewis County skaters.
Setting aside for a moment all the rules and strategy involved in all-female, flat-track roller derby, its most simple definition is a race on roller skates coupled with a heavy dose of aggression.
Putting on a show is also part of the experience for some roller derby leagues. But not for Olympia’s Oly Rollers.
“We’re not about the show, we’re all about bringing the professional aspect to the sport,” says Julie Glass, AKA Atomatrix, member of Oly Rollers national championship team Cosa Nostra Donnas and winner of 17 inline world skating titles.
“Our skating does the talking,” she continues. “I think that’s what sets us apart from any other league in the world.”
The spark was ignited.
“I was at that interleague bout and Dani just took it home and said, ‘We’re starting a league here,’” says Glass. “Her parents own the rink here, so it was easy for her to round up old speed and hockey players.”
In fact, key to the Cosa Nostra Donnas’ success is their imposing roster of skaters, many of whom have extensive professional experience, from in-line world speed skating titles and world-level hockey experience to national-level speed skating.
They also stand out for doing things differently.
“Most teams in the country do interleague bouting,” Glass explains. Typically, teams like Seatte’s Rat City Rollergirls and Olympia’s Underground Derby have four teams that bout amongst each other.
The three Oly Rollers teams, made up of about 50 women – the Cosa Nostra Donnas travel team, Dropkick Donnas B-team, and “fresh meat” team the Bella Donnas – don’t bout against one another. Instead, the league specifically focuses on travel teams.
“The girls that don’t want to play at the national level end up going to Underground. And the people that are more professional skate for us. We’re playing the same sport, but it’s definitely two different leagues,” says Glass.
Only 20 skaters can play on the Cosa Nostra Donnas travel team — and only 14 of those players get to play in each bout.
That means high competition for a small number of slots — many of them already snagged by the core of world-class and national champion athletes.
“That’s a battle within itself,” says Julie with a laugh. “But it’s great, because with this level of skaters, I cannot imagine playing them four or six times a year, actually competing against them.”
Oly Rollers skaters go head-to-head at practice, but even that gets so intense that the league brings in male skaters once a week for scrimmages.
“We have three practices a week,” says Glass. “And when it gets closer to tournament time, we squeeze in as many as five to six.”
According to Glass, the Oly Rollers are known for bringing derby to a new level after the team’s remarkable 2009 season.
The same year they were admitted into the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), the Oly Rollers’ Cosa Nostra Donnas toppled all competitors to grab the national championship.
“Our first game as part of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association was in February of 2009,” remembers Glass. Portland was the first ranked team they played. “As soon as we beat them, we were ranked and on the map nationally.”
Ranking is incredibly important; without it, a team has no chance to be invited to regionals.
“That was or first bout,” Glass continues. “Boom, we upset this top ten team. Boom, we’re recognized nationally.”
But because teams in the east had previously dominated the sport, no one gave much thought to this new western lineup that beat another west coast squad.
Even after finishing first in the 2009 WFTDA Western Regional Tournament in September – where they bowled over Albuquerque’s Duke City, Seattle’s Rat City Rollergirls, and Denver’s Rocky Mountain Rollergirls – the Oly Rollers still weren’t on the big competitors’ radars.
Two months later, in their first game of the 2009 National Tournament in Philadelphia, the Cosa Nostra Donnas went up against New York City’s Gotham Girls, the number one ranked team in the nation.
“[Gotahm] were so upset they wouldn’t even shake our hands. I think they were in such shock,” recalls Glass. “They had no idea who they were skating against. They didn’t realize our team was stacked with girls that have been skating their whole lives.”
After that, says Glass, it was smooth sailing to the championship, as the no-longer-unknowns from Oly ran roughshod over the Denver Roller Dolls and, finally, Austin’s Texecutioners, winners of the first WFTDA National Tournament in 2006 and part of the Texas Rollergirls league that started the modern flat track derby movement.
Upon their return to nationals in 2010, the Cosa Nostra Donnas lost in the closest-ever WFTDA Championship bout, by just one point. To date, the team has lost only two bouts since becoming an accredited WFTDA team.
Looking ahead to the next nationals, this fall: “We have most of the crew coming back,” says Glass, “specifically to take back what we thought was ours last year.”
Born out of a division amongst the Oly Rollers, where the high level of athleticism and competition meant fewer opportunities for average or beginning skaters, the Underground Derby is led by head coach Desi Sordahl (sister of Oly Rollers’ Dani Lewis).
Sordahl says women interested in trying roller derby with her Underground Derby League must meet only one requirement.
“I tell my girls, ‘All you need to do this is passion.’ That’s it,” says Desi.
Desi was originally part of the Oly Rollers and doesn’t hesitate to call them a great organization.
“But some of these girls?” she tips her head toward the gaggle of women spinning around the floor. “They wouldn’t have seen the light of day playing roller derby [with the Oly Rollers]. So I broke off and said, ‘This is my model. Everyone gets to play.’ All of a sudden, it filled up and I have four teams.”
She’s quick to say that doesn’t mean the Underground Derby isn’t competitive. “We do have an “A” team,” which fights to win every bout.
The Underground Derby doesn’t charge club dues. Each skater is responsible for buying her own skates and pads. They also must sell bout tickets to stay on the team.
Started in 2009, the Underground Derby is “barely off the ground,” according to Desi. But the league quickly surpassed her initial expectations.
“It’s unheard of for a league just starting out to get an outside bout from anybody within the first couple of years,” she says. “We were there in our first year.”
The Underground Derby already has seven bouts on the calendar for next season.
At a recent Wednesday night senior practice, more than three dozen women skated smoothly in a tight-knit circle around the Skateland rink, getting warm and stirring up a strong breeze for sideline spectators.
All body types sped by, with as many shoulders, arms, chests, and legs adorned with impressive tattoos as those without.
Later, during a scrimmage, coaches yelled out encouragement and constructive criticism.
“More ass, less elbows!”
“Nice, Fresh Meat! You’ve got it! You’ve got it!”
Meghan Reichard – AKA Rainbow Stryke – has been skating with the Underground Derby for six weeks. At a recent practice, she pulled something while hitting the bag, and although in obvious pain and occasionally sitting down to ice the injury, she keeps hopping up to join back in.
“It’s so much fun,” Reichard says. “It doesn’t hurt when you hit people; you just bounce off.”
But it’s far from simple.
“There’s so much going on,” she says. “Every time you’re out there, you’re trying to do 10 things at once. So you just have to work on one thing at a time and start adding in new things to watch out for or try to do. It’s a process.”
A teammate whizzes by: “There’s no torn muscles in derby, Meghan!” she yells, good naturedly.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Reichard responds, determined. “I’m gonna be up.” And a couple minutes later, she is.
Underground Derby League
2725 12th Ave. NE
Olympia WA 98506