Derby Rolls Again

Roller derby's St. Louis roots run deep. Now a new generation of skaters vows to bring this rock-'em sock-'em sport back to life.

Tonight's event, the league's inaugural fundraiser, sold out. The crowd reeks of sweat and liquefying hair gel even before local four-piece Mothra's Mutha's metal anarchy inspires head banging and fist-pumping.

"This is not one of my normal hangouts," laughs Laurie Buckles, who nowadays answers to "Momma Manglin'." "But I'm having fun." Buckles has attended several practices herself and even skated a bit. Moreover, she offers stretching and strength advice to the fifty women now involved with the league, drawing on her eighteen years as a fitness instructor at the YMCA. "I've told them, 'You've got to be strong to do this,'" Buckles says. "There's more to it than just skating. This is a real sport, and there's a big focus on the physical part of it."

Pabst Blue Ribbon is the league's first official sponsor, and the company provided some goodies — including a ten-speed bicycle — for the prize package that will be raffled off between sets from That's My Daughter and headliners the Vultures. The beer company also did up vinyl signs for the ARRG-manned kissing and verbal-assault booths, where civilians can get a peck or appalled for $2 a pop. (A proposed punching booth was nixed because the Way Out's insurance didn't cover it.) For every bottle of PBR purchased tonight, 50 cents goes to ARRG.

Along with three of her fellow skaters, Amy "Joanie 
Rollmoan" Whited logged the high score on the skills 
Jennifer Silverberg
Along with three of her fellow skaters, Amy "Joanie Rollmoan" Whited logged the high score on the skills test.
Buckles says Julie "Eva Lasting Jawbreaker" Gray has 
become one of St. Louis' strongest jammers.
Jennifer Silverberg
Buckles says Julie "Eva Lasting Jawbreaker" Gray has become one of St. Louis' strongest jammers.

The next day Sarah Kate Buckles and ARRG treasurer Susan "Susie Scratch 'n Sniff" Haberer will tote a boxful of cash to the Commerce Bank branch on Grand Boulevard and open a business account with a $4,000 deposit.

At age 50, Ken Watts has been involved in "artistic skating" — think Ice Capades on quad skates — for more than 25 years and a coach for the past 13. He has broken at least two dozen bones in his wrists and ankles and even saw one of his pros get knocked down and killed on the rink. Curious about the females wobbling around him one night at Rollercade, Watts approached the group and found himself offering his services.

From her seat atop the purple wooden benches that skirt the rink, René Reed watches as Coach Ken helps the league break in its new practice space, the Skatium, an indoor hockey arena off Interstate 55 in south St. Louis.

Reed came across the group's profile ( and has driven an hour and a half from Effingham, Illinois, to attend her first practice. Unfortunately, she doesn't have the required gear and can't join the others as they swerve around cones, gently bumping each other into walls and practicing the "Mohawk turn," a three-step maneuver in which a forward-facing skater ends up skating backward (though not, as is the current trend, with one's skate wedged under the neck of the next person over).

Next week, Coach Ken promises, the Arch Rivals will bump into each other without the support of a wall, with the express purpose of sending their partners careening to the floor.

Reed tucks a strand of auburn-dyed hair behind her stylish black-framed glasses and smoothes her blue work shirt. A mother of two, she stands five-foot-ten, her stout frame encompassing wide shoulders and a thick midsection. On the cusp of 40, her temples touched with gray, she's the oldest participant here. Though her physical appearance may be unimposing, her mindset is anything but. "I'm gonna go home and start practicing," she vows. "I want my name to be 'Brass Knuckle Betty,' if it's not already taken."

Back in California, Reed ran a successful home-based business selling custom incense to the stars, but her family relocated to southern Illinois after gang violence drove them out of Orange County.

Her attraction to derby is twofold, the first being self-motivation: "I've gained weight as I've gotten older and this is how I'm going to lose it," she says. "I'm going to eat more vegetables and get on a good day-to-day schedule."

Second, she's after a sense of belonging: "I've always been tough; it's just something that's my style. Now I live in a cornfield and these Midwestern people don't get me. I come out here with these girls and I feel more comfortable. I'm more like me."

Toward the end of tonight's warm-up, pairs of skaters complete a stretching exercise in which one bends at the waist from an upright position while her partner stands immediately behind, applying pressure to the first skater's back, bringing to mind the doggy-style position.

"It's actually not the most vulgar thing we do. There's one where we lay back and put our legs up like this," laughs Beth "Killer Tomato" Rastberger, pointing her index fingers outward and breathing as if she's in labor. "Every time we do it I feel like, 'Hee-hee hooooooo.'"

Casey "Dee Rinkin'" Purtle does not take part in the group stretch. She sits on a bench, pressing a Ziploc of ice to her throbbing left knee.

"You need better knee pads," offers a teammate.

"You need to alternate and put heat on it now," says another.

"I'm going back out now," Purtle decides. She hobbles a few painful steps then thinks better of it.

Purtle's injury, it turns out, is more than an ice pack can fix. Stroking her massive orange cat Waylon in her sparse white south-city living room a week later, she relates how a visit to the doctor revealed a case of torn cartilage. She's scheduled for surgery in mid-March.

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