First played in Chicago in the 1930s, the full-contact sport of roller derby has since been adopted by countries around the world and recognized by the International Olympic Committee.
As of this year, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) had 397 full member leagues and 48 apprentice leagues. Hot Springs is home to one of those leagues — the Downtown Derby Dolls.
According to team captain Jacilyn “Blitz Ventura” Pierce, the group discussed forming a league in May, and by July the state of Arkansas had accepted its articles of incorporation. The team is now working on being accepted as a charitable nonprofit group.
Pierce said her immediate goal is to spread the word that Hot Springs now has a roller derby league and to continue training current members and recruiting new members, along with learning about the needs of the community and finding ways that the Downtown Derby Dolls can assist. She said her long-term goal is to “develop and maintain all the goals stated in my short-term goals,” adding that she hopes to continue to build relationships with members and organizations in the community.
“I would love for us to also host at least four home games a year so that we play what we love while raising money for local nonprofits,” Pierce added.
The team’s first match is scheduled for Oct. 9, 2018, in Longview, Texas. They are looking at scheduling three other games for the 2018 season, but that has not yet been confirmed.
The team has nine skaters, one referee and one non-skating member, and is now recruiting new skaters.
Pierce attributed her initial interest in roller derby to the film “Whip It,” featuring a rebellious teen who trades in her small town beauty pageant crown for the world of roller derby.
She moved to Hot Springs in August 2016 and played roller derby in Little Rock for over a year.
“There was several reasons, family and financial, that ultimately made me decide to retire from my former league, but I felt like I wasn’t ready. So I heard that there used to be a little team that practiced (in Hot Springs) back in the day, reached out to a few of them to see if they wanted to get derby going again, and now here we are,” she said. “We’re back and more serious about it, more than ever. I’ve got four years of experience laced up in my skates so I feel pretty confident that we will succeed as a league.”
Pierce said she has been involved in sports her entire life and has been skating since the age of 4.
“It was like the clouds parted, the trumpets sounded and I finally knew what it meant to see the heavens, except it’s this beautiful sport we call roller derby,” she said. “I love the comradeship. We’re not paid athletes and since this is a recreational activity we choose to use our skill and talent to empower and support one another in and out of the derby community. I also love that our purpose, the whole reason we practice and play hard, is to one day host games so that we can raise money for other local nonprofit organizations in Hot Springs.”
New to roller derby is team member Karrie “Reckless Texas” Carter, who also attributed her initial interest in the sport to “Whip It.”
After seeing the film, Carter said she immediately wanted to join a roller derby team, but there wasn’t one in Hot Springs at the time.
“Then, one day, a close friend of mine, who knew playing roller derby was a dream of mine, told me about the Downtown Derby Dolls Fresh Meat Boot Camp. I could not believe it, that it could be a reality. I went to the meet-and-great and the rest is history,” she said, adding, “Before I joined the Downtown Derby Dolls, I had not put on a pair of skates since the ’90s … this is the first league I have been lucky enough to be a part of.”
Carter has always been involved in sports and grew up in Houston, where she said roller derby has been around for years.
“The sport of roller derby is a combination of endurance, strategy and teamwork. In addition to the game you also gain a second family of sisters that will always have your back. We are always encouraging each other to work harder, both personally and in practices. We empower each other and support one another. I love that we are from different backgrounds, age groups, and are able to come together as a team. It’s really something special to be a part of,” she added.
The current group consists of women ages 22-54, and one male, a soon to be referee-in-training.
Men can participate by acting as a referee or working behind the scenes, but will not actually skate in a bout unless they are a referee.
Skaters can either pick or earn their derby name, and many women develop an alter ego attached to derby.
“I always had ‘Reckless Texas’ in my back pocket but I wasn’t sold on it,” Carter said. “I definitely live up to the ‘reckless’ part of the name. I also hail from Texas and I’m obnoxiously proud of it. I threw the name in the ring one practice night and the girls said, ‘That’s the one.’”
In addition to Reckless Texas and Blitz Ventura, other Downtown Derby Dolls’ names include Toast Malone, Smashmouth Barbie, Stylee Wylee, DeciBelle, Colt 45, and Rainbro-Brite.
Carter said team practice consists of working on basic skating skills such as skating posture, speed and endurance. They also practice their stops, falling and recover tactics, blocking, and taking hits, which she said is the “fun part.” Because roller derby is extremely physically demanding and has a high potential for injury, the team captain teaches them exercises to do outside of practice to condition their bodies for the sport.
Individuals interested in joining the team must pass a minimal skating requirement test and a written exam. Carter said the skating requirements are taught in the team practices twice per week, and while they do go over rules and regulations, it’s up to each individual to put in the extra time studying the rule book.
Visit the Downtown Derby Dolls Facebook page for more information.