The Olympia area’s newest roller derby team M.I.A. Derby Girls played its first bout against Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Bettie Brigade May 5, but it wasn’t the first time many of these women skated against each other. Both teams started new leagues as break-offs from Olympia’s Underground Derby League (UDL).
“That was like the best bout I’ve played in to-date,” said veteran derby player Grace “Dirty Disgrace” Miller. Miller is a blocker for newly formed M.I.A and a South Puget Sound Community College student.
In close competition the whole bout, the Bettie Brigade beat M.I.A. 180-178.
Lindsey “Coop to Kill” Cooper, UDL jammer, SPSCC graduate and teacher’s assistant, said of new derby players, “I like how excited they all are about getting started and wanting to learn.”
“It requires athleticism, and it’s hard,” said Kendra “Little Miss Stuffit” Steadman, Oly Roller, former UDL player, and current SPSCC student. Steadman said she likes the way derby challenges her physically and mentally, and the way it challenges social norms.
“Derby girls are everywhere,” said UDL co-manager Lonnie Sordahl.
Roller derby has made a comeback in the U.S. over the last decade since its earlier hay-day in the mid-20th century. According to The international Women’s Flat Track Derby Association’s (WFTDA) website, WFTDA includes 147 full-member leagues within the United States. Olympia’s own Oly Rollers has consistently ranked number one in WFTDA since 2009, just after joining WFTDA.
Community-based recreation leagues, the Rainy City Roller Dolls and UDL, got their starts splitting off from the Oly Rollers in 2007 and 2009.
Miller saw the birth of the Rainy City Roller Dolls, UDL, the Bettie Brigade, and now M.I.A. Over the past five years, Miller started with the Oly Rollers, joined the Rainy City Roller Dolls when it formed, returned to the Oly Rollers, joined UDL when it formed, stuck with UDL when the Bettie Brigade formed, and she joined M.I.A. when it formed this winter.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that this is just what happens when you get that many women on a team, and not everybody has the same vision,” so a split occurs, said Miller, “You go wherever fits your needs.”
Steadman said UDL is a good place to find training and support, especially for those with no experience like her when she started. But, she decided to move on for a greater challenge. “[When I started] I was very confused because I thought there was a ball involved,” said Steadman. Her team and coaches at UDL supported her development, she said.
“I’m pretty dedicated to UDL,” Cooper said, “I feel comfortable here, and I learned everything I know from them.” UDL is great for newcomers and “a lot about fun,” yet also has a couple of competitive traveling teams, the Death Dealing Dolls and the Back Alley Sallies, she said.
Miller likes M.I.A., a smaller team closed to membership, “because you get to work with the same people every time…you get a lot more done.”
M.I.A.’s recent début bout featured a beer-garden and a b-boy break-dancing competition at intermission. “We want to give people their money’s worth,” said Miller.
Miller was ready to end her derby career when M.I.A. founders Raechel “Kil Karbashian” Kilcup, Jackie “Jackie Onasty” Cole, and Katy “Katality” Starky approached her. “And, then three of my best friends came to me and said, ‘Hey, we’re starting a league, and we need you.’ And, how do you say no to that?” said Miller.
“My daughter’s been in a derby bout,” Miller said referring to the bout she played before knowing she was pregnant. A mother of two, a student, a girlfriend and a hairstylist, Miller finds the sport accommodating to her lifestyle and schedule.
“[Derby] shows your kids good qualities that I would like to pass on to my kids. Like, I want my kids to be strong and independent, and somewhat aggressive,” said Miller. “We all bring our kids to practice, and they get to grow up together and have a whole other set of friends.”
Miller said the contact sport is good for her. “It gets a lot of stress out in my life,” she said. “It’s addicting to be able to hit somebody or be hit, and get up and keep playing. It’s an adrenaline sport for sure.”
When Steadman first responded to a friend’s invitation to come to a derby practice, she found an “empowering” sport that built her confidence and changed the way she saw herself and others.
Derby challenges the idea that “there’s one standard of beauty,” she said. “You see women of all different shapes and sizes out there—old, young, it doesn’t matter,” she said, “you see women out there that are rough, and aggressive, and talented, and athletic [who] can also be sexy, and edgy, and risqué.”
Miller claimed fame for having the most “derby wives” in the nation. “I’m a derblygamist,” she said. Derby women often pair up as “derby wives” with other players they consider their “main-squeeze,” “best friend,” their “partner in crime” Miller said. “I have mistresses and fiancés,” Miller said, “I’ve got derby ex-wives even.”
Cooper likes sharing her knowledge with new players and helping them improve their skills. She urged interested women to contact UDL on Facebook, or to contact a UDL skater.
“Roller derby is rad, and if you don’t know it, you better ask somebody,” said Miller.