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.

Casey Purtle's surgery was successful, but thanks to a set of neat stitches on each side of her knee, she must sit out. "The doctors said I might be able to skate again in May, but I'm pretty sure it'll be longer," she laments. "I can't even straighten my leg out yet."

René Reed isn't here at all. "I haven't been back to any of the practices," she relates via e-mail, explaining that the long commute has proven too big a stumbling block. "I'm not sure if I'll be able to stay with the league. Which kind of bums me out, but I'll figure something out — like maybe start my own central Illinois league."

Other once gung-ho participants have dropped out because of time constraints or doubts about their athletic ability, bringing February's 108-strong roster down to 83 in March and then to the current 65, says Buckles, whose own injured back will keep her off the rink tonight. Clad in red elbow-length superhero gloves and purple tights, she shouts encouragement to proficient skaters and wobblers alike, not to mention the teary-eyed who already know they're not going to make the cut this time around.

Laurie "Momma Manglin'" Buckles says her daughter 
Sarah Kate "always had a flair for the unusual."
Jennifer Silverberg
Laurie "Momma Manglin'" Buckles says her daughter Sarah Kate "always had a flair for the unusual."

In the end, 54 out of 65 pass the test.

Coach Ken warns that the work they've put in so far doesn't begin to compare to what they're in for now.

"We've only learned skill sequences so far," he barked just last week. "We are going to learn how to play roller derby, and that means the training is going to get tougher. There are going to be more falls, there are going to be more bruises, there are going to be more fingers getting rolled over. But that's what you wanted!

"Right now everybody's going through the motions. It's about to get real! I don't want bouts! I want national championships!"

The rescheduled Hoosierweight demo was canceled after Steve Smith was unable to procure a liquor license, but the top scorers from last month's test appeared in a public demonstration April 29 at the Empire Roller Rink in Columbia.

One hundred sixty-six "really into it" fans packed the rink, reports a still-recuperating Purtle, swigging a Schlafly outside the Skatium rink as four teams battle inside. "People ended up sitting on the concession stand, and all the PBR ran out. The girls just looked so tough; everybody played 200 percent. Everyone was seriously kicking the shit out of each other." From $10 tickets and sales of their new merchandise — pink T's, kids' shirts, belt buckles, shot glasses — the league pocketed $666.

But it will take more than that to bankroll a rink. "I don't want to jinx it, but we've got a very solid lead," Buckles says cryptically. "But I will say that we officially have public bouts scheduled for September, October and November."

Raising her eyes from her knitting, she nods to Purtle. "All my fears about the Columbia bout were unfounded. It went so well, I even cried a little. The Pink Angels won and the Black Angels lost, but we were all victorious, you know what I mean? We are all very proud of ourselves."

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