Challenging the norm- Gender noncomformity: Roller derby draws a crowd at John S. Knight Center

Decked out in fishnet stockings, skull crossed bandanas and as much padding as an NFL player, the Rubber City Rollergirls prep for another Sunday practice at Akron Sports Center.

Arriving, the Rollergirls look as much like a stage show as they do an athletic team, but anyone would be quick to notice the forty plus women of this organization are much more than just a spectacle.


Decked out in fishnet stockings, skull crossed bandanas and as much padding as an NFL player, the Rubber City Rollergirls prep for another Sunday practice at Akron Sports Center.

Arriving, the Rollergirls look as much like a stage show as they do an athletic team, but anyone would be quick to notice the forty plus women of this organization are much more than just a spectacle.

The names range from Ref Boyardee to Shady Gaga to Damsel of Destruction, showing the true creativity outside the rink, but the names hardly reï¬ect how serious the women are inside the rink. The roller names are reï¬ections of the past, but the Rubber City Rollergirls are more about the sport than the show.

I think it is important for people to understand that this is actually a sport. I think there is this idea in a lot of peoples’ minds that roller derby is not a sport, said team member Tracy Eighty-SixHer Soulsby. This isn’t just something we show up to once a week and play around.

In a world where women’s sports gets far less respect than men’s, Soulsby and her teammates are out to prove that roller derby is well-deserving of that respect.

I’ve been told that women shouldn’t be a part of something like this, said Soulsby, who is part of a sport that is often misperceived.

Roller derby is often compared to pro wrestling on skates, but the sport has changed from its heyday over 40 years ago. Today’s derby does not allow elbowing or tripping, but the sport remains very physical. The women not only sport every color in the spectrum in their outfits, but equip themselves with helmets, knee pads, elbow pads and take every safety measure possible to prevent injury.

In a sport where an award is given for the best outfit, one would think it is far from physical, but that is not the case in roller derby. The sport pairs theatrics outside the rink with contact inside of it. The two contrasting aspects of the sport provide for great entertainment and the physical rawness that sports fans want to see.

I think one of the things that makes roller derby so neat is that it’s a women’s contact sport, said Soulsby. I don’t know if there are any other sports out there that are primarily women’s contact sports. I know there are women’s football and basketball leagues, but roller derby is primarily a women’s sport.

Women in fact dominate roller derby, with men’s teams cropping up only recently. The Rollergirls are part of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. Over 750 leagues are active worldwide (each team is its own league), as the sport looks to regain its spotlight from the 60?s and 70?s. With no women’s sport dominating in popularity, roller derby may be ready to fill that void.

I honestly think that in five years, roller derby will be more mainstream. I think you’ll start seeing it on TV, and the sports world will start to take notice more, said Soulsy. The world is already starting to take notice, and I hope it continues.

Those who have not noticed the reemergence of the sport may be surprised when they do see a bout. The image many people have of a typical female athlete is not all what is found on the Rollergirls. Women of all sizes, shapes and skill levels are part of the team.

I have seen all different types of girls coming through here over the last few years. Short, tall, fat, skinny, older, younger; I feel like if someone can skate and they have the right attitude, they can do this, said Soulsby. You have to have a certain mentality about this. Anybody that wants to do it can do it.

The physical side of the sport does play a role in the team’s success, but the most consistent trait of the Rollergirls is not a physical one. Every player shows the interest, drive and attitude in order to be a successful team.

I was never into sports. I had never played a team sport before. It was my first experience doing that, and I really enjoyed the team atmosphere and camaraderie, said Soulsby.

The Rollergirls have built their camaraderie over years of practicing three to four times a week. Despite having a bout only once a month, the team travels to local roller rinks and school gymnasiums to practice the sport they love.

It’s a personal challenge, but above all it’s fun, said Soulsby, who initially joined the team to get back into roller skating.

The women come for different reasons and from different backgrounds, ranging from students to accountants, but together they are truly a team. Their love for skating brings the women together despite their differences outside the rink.

The Rollergirls remain a nonprofit organization, as well as a pay-to-play program that continues to develop a Skate for Kids Program that allows underprivileged kids the chance to skate.

The Fourth Annual Holiday Skate for the Kids event will take place in November of this Year. The Rollergirls look to host over 200 children again this year, providing free pizza and skates for a day.

The team?s next bout is set for Saturday, April 23, an away match against the Grand Raggidy Roller Girls in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Rollergirls return home on Saturday, May 7, where they will host the Ohio Rollergirls and the Gem City Roller Girls in a doubleheader at John S. Knight Center in Downtown Akron.


” #1.2185835:1969204513.jpg:Roller Girls:Kerri Sturgeon (Georgia Rollmero – Black shirt and blue pants) participates in a practive for rubber city Rollergirls. The women are decked out with ample amounts of equipment to protect themselved during the high impact sport.:Mahala J Bloom”