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The Fort Wayne Derby Girls: Looking for a few good women

Try-outs happen on June 24

By Gloria Diaz

Fort Wayne Reader

2008-06-10


Empowerment. Entertainment. Exercise. Celebrity. Computer experience.

These aren’t words you would normally associate with roller derby, but they came to mind after speaking with Tonya Vojtkofsky, co-founder of Fort Wayne Derby Girls, and Val Vance, a Derby Girl also known as 2-Bit. The Derby Girls are looking for a few good women. They will be holding tryouts June 24 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at The Plex, 1807 E. California Road. You don’t have to bring skates, but you MUST have a helmet. Pads are optional.

Probably the first thing Vojtkofsky and Vance want you to know is despite the public’s perception of roller derby being mayhem on wheels, the Derby Girls emphasize “safety first.” They admit there’s a risk of injury, but probably no more or less than from any other sport. Newcomers to the team won’t be thrown to the wolves (or wolvettes, as is the case in this all-female league) as soon as they make the team, but instead will attend practices and learn how to fall, as well as skate. You don’t have to be an expert, but with these particular tryouts, the ladies would appreciate if you can stand up on skates before coming out. Approximately 10 to 15 new recruits are needed for the league, which has a couple of home teams and one travel squad.

The league, which is now in its third season, is “Hard Hittin’, Charity Driven.” Groups the ladies support include SCAN, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Charis House, Cystic Fibrosis, Great Lakes Burn Camp, Crossroad, Hoosier Burn Camp, Turnstone, and Easter Seals, for starters.

Vojtkofsky is also looking for more than just skaters. “We’re all DIYs (do it yourselfers), she says. “Within the 60 girls (in the league) we require them to work on a committee.” Vance works on a marketing, public relations and events group. So if you work as a paralegal, or have had some experience in marketing, fund raising, writing, computer skills or working in the non-profit sector, your expertise is needed. “Running these committees are half the battle of keeping this league abreast,” says Vojtkofsky.

Plus, there’s a chance to help local charities and become a celebrity in the process—but I’ll get to that later.

So what should Derby Girl wannabes expect at the tryouts? Drills—you’ll have to weave around some pylons, do some sprints, skate backwards, jump a little (no double axels needed in this sport) submit to a core balancing assessment, and perform starts and stops. You’ll also be interviewed, but if you’re shy and retiring, that won’t necessarily hurt your chances.

Vance says she’s had female Harley Davidson bikers say they would be too scared to participate in roller derby. However Vance, or 2-Bit, tries to put it in perspective. She points out to the bikers that they ride Harleys—they are dealing with heavy traffic, crazy drivers and other road hazards. In contrast, league rules require safety equipment and proper practice and training. When I asked about the injury rate, Vojtkofsky says, “No one’s broken anything this season,” but added, “enter at your own risk.”
Due to some changes and restructuring, Vojtkofsky says, “this tryout, we want them (new members) to come in at ground level.” This means learning the game, learning safety tips, coming to practice with current members and getting to know all 60 women. Those who make the team won’t bout until the 2009 season, leaving them a few months to learn the ropes. You have to be at least 18, and female, and want to handle some of the off-track tasks of running a league.

2-Bit, who tried out in January earlier this year, did so because her roommate was a member of the all-star team. As a recent graduate of Manchester College, she had experience volunteering and getting involved with the community.
She admits she was leery at first, but realized that it wasn’t all that bad.

“I was scared of being knocked around, but that didn’t happen,” she says, adding, “letting it (fear of injuries) rule you is something people should stay away from.”

Plus there were benefits. She’s known shy women who are Derby Girls that if you met them, “you wouldn’t know they were shy.” The alter egos adopted by the team members allow them to live out a Superman-style fantasy. Stay at home moms and firefighters become instant celebrities at the bouts. It’s not uncommon to have little kids hold out programs to the Derby Girls and ask for autographs. When it happened to 2-Bit, she was taken aback to realize that she attained rock star status, just by donning a pair of skates and a uniform.

As for the phenomenon of roller derby, it looks like women will dominate it for a long time. There isn’t a major men’s roller derby league (the ladies belong to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, or WFTDA) and with the future release of “Whip It” produced by Drew Barrymore, Vojtkofsky predicts the association will be overwhelmed by new members. A videogame is also in the works.

2-Bit feels the sport is “very empowering to women,” and the nature of the sport can inspire women to “stand up for themselves” in a sport that is as full contact as football is.
An upcoming event is the Fall Brawl, featuring 16 leagues with teams coming to Fort Wayne September 20 from as far away as Canada, Florida and South Dakota. The team also put in a bid to host the 2009 Midwest Regionals, but as of this writing, the winning city hasn’t been chosen.

For more information, email Lahapa721@yahoo.com, or go to www.fwderbygirls.com.

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