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Ruff n’ tumble action as the Fort Wayne Derby Girls host Indiana’s first women’s roller derby tournament
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
The Saturday after Thanksgiving, a small army of women decked out in skirts and kneepads and boasting names like Whiskey Soured, Malice Cooper, and Chainsaw Mary will converge on the Memorial Coliseum for a day of no holds-barred, knee bruisin’, lip bustin’, roller derby action.
The aptly named Fall Brawl on November 24 brings together five roller derby leagues from all over the upper midwest for a round robin tournament at the Memorial Coliseum. Leagues include the Detroit Derby Girls, Grand Raggidy Roller Girls, the Rockford Rage, the Cincinnati Rollergirls, the Chicago Outfit, and the Hammer City Roller Girls.
Your host for the Fall Brawl is, of course, the Fort Wayne Derby Girls, who have two teams in the tournament — the Bomb Squad, their regular travel team, and the Flyin’ Squirrels.
“You can expect some hard-core derby competition,” says Tracy Peckham, aka Bang Bang LaDesh, the captain of the FWDG Bomb Squad. “We will be having leagues from all over coming into our city on their holiday weekend, people from Chicago, Cincinnati, Grand Rapids and Detroit, Ontario, and Rockford, all making the trek to little 'ol Fort. Wayne. There are some highly respected names in the derby world that will be here that weekend.”
Peckham, a professional firefighter when she’s not leading the Bomb Squad, adds that the Fall Brawl tournament has grown way beyond what the FWDGs expected. The same thing might be said of girls roller derby in general and the FWDGs in particular. Today’s roller derby borrows the “bad girl” shtick from the 70s, but it’s a little more respectable these days. “Roller Derby from the 70s was more just a show,” says Bob Bever, a ref who works with Chicago’s The Outfit. “It wasn’t much for rules, there were fake fights, like wrestling. Today's roller derby is much more of a sport. You still get some show-type stuff like fake names, etc. but the girls take the game totally serious.”
The Fort Wayne Derby Girls started about two years ago (we covered them in FWR #50), and played their first bout in 2006. Since then, they’ve grown into a “proper” girls roller derby league, with three teams — the Smoking Guns, the Alpha Dolls, and the Little Arsenic Annies — plus the Bomb Squad, the all star travel team. More importantly, the FWDGs are now officially sanctioned by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (www.wftda.org), the national governing body of the sport.
It took a lot of work; the WFTDA has a whole mess of rules and regulations that leagues are expected to meet — corporate sponsors aren’t allowed; the league has to be owned by a skater; and there are even media coverage and bout quotas to meet, just to name a few of the requirements.
But the Fort Wayne Derby Girls knuckled down and met the WFTDA’s requirements. “We are officially ranked 29th in the nation now,” says Tonya Vojtkofsky, co-founder and president of the Fort Wayne Derby Girls.
Off the track, they’ve raised over $21,000 for local charity, something Vojtkofsky (who skates under the name “Minx”) says has brought the FWDGs a lot of goodwill and respect from the community. “We actually give more than what we see a lot of other leagues giving,” she says. “It’s been a huge factor in moving forward with this league. It’s really helped us along, so that people realize we’re more than just the skirts.”
But acquiring that respect, and the WFTDA’s approval, meant a lot of commitment. That’s part of the reason the FWDGs organized the Fall Brawl: to give other leagues in the region — some of whom are fairly new, others who are just a little short of WFTDA status — a chance to get out there and play other teams, raise their profile, and just have fun.
“The thing I really like about what they’re doing in Fort Wayne is that they’re playing a very regional type of tournament, much more regional than our playoff system,” says “Bob Noxious,” a roller derby announcer affiliated with Madison, WI’s Mad Rollin’ Dolls. Noxious, who is calling the Fall Brawl, says that “regional” in roller derby playoffs means west of the Mississippi is one region, east of the Mississippi is another, etc. “Fort Wayne is working with teams that are pretty much within driving distance. There’s not been nearly as much of this type of thing as there should be.”
Of course, raising the profile of the sport and encouraging other regional teams is only a small part of the Fall Brawl. Basically, it all comes down to the action, and there will be plenty of it. What else would you expect from a sport with names that sound like characters from a 50s b-movie set at a women’s prison?
With a couple seasons worth of bouts under their belts, the leagues really know what they’re doing out on the track. “Bob Noxious” used to describe his job as half sports caster and half stand-up comic. Not anymore. “As we’ve grown, it’s become much more serious,” he says. “Madison is going to be starting its 4th season, and I’m sure Fort Wayne can attest to the same thing: when we have open try-outs, the girls that are coming in are at a much higher level than the girls we saw two or three years ago. We’re starting to become an outlet for women out of high school and college with a sports background that are looking for team experience.”
Tonya Vojtkofsky and Tracy Peckham agree. Peckham says she’s inspired by the skaters who put their heart and soul into playing a competitive sport. “They continually go out on the track and try their best,” she adds. “I have been amazed by some of these ladies and how much they have improved.”
And you can see the result of that dedication with the Fall Brawl. “It’s just going to be a blast,” Vojtkofsky says. “People are going to see some great derby.”
Saturday, November 24
Bouts begin at 9 am. Championship round starts at 7 pm
Tickets are $12 and are available at www.ticketmaster.com and the Fort Wayne Memorial Coliseum.