Roller derby gives Lincoln fans unique experience

At any given bout, Lincoln’s No Coast Derby Girls have 1,500 to 2,000 screaming fans in attendance.

Story and Photos by Aaron Keith, NewsNetNebraska

The season opens

The lights fade to black as Lincoln roller derby fans hurry from the snack bar and restrooms to find their seats.  A spotlight shines on a black curtain in the corner the Pershing Center.  The No Coast Derby Girls’ Mad Maxines skate out and form a huddle.

On the other side of the track, the Omaha Rollergirls watch closely.  The crowd gets louder.  The girls break the huddle and skate around the track to the sound of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck.  Each time the song says “thunder” more than 2,000 standing spectators shout “Maxines.”

“When I see the derby girls skate, it gets me so pumped,” said derby fan Michelle Kielian.  “It shows just how tough girls can be.  It makes me want to lace up some skates and hit someone.” At any given bout the No Coast Derby Girls have 1,500 to 2,000 screaming fans in attendance.

The No Coast Derby Girls huddle before their bout with the Omaha Rollergirls.

The derby girls slowly weave around the track while each member is introduced. When the team heads toward the bench there is an explosion of applause.  “It not only pumps of the skaters individually and the crowd just loves it,” Andrea Tarnick Executive Director and skater for the No Coast Derby Girls said about the introduction.  “It really helps us unify before we go out there.”

The whistle blows and the skaters are off.  Fans cheer as both teams begin jostling for position on the narrow track.  Some girls throw their shoulders and hips into their opponents while others whip teammates through the pack.

After a five month hiatus, roller derby is back.  The No Coast Derby Girls opened their 2012 season February 25th against the rival Omaha Rollergirls.  That night, more than 2,000 people came to watch what some people call an obscure sport.  Each year, more people come to see what roller derby is all about according to Tarnick.

Roller derby then and now

The concept of roller derby isn’t new.  In the 70’s and 80’s the sport was at the height of its popularity.  It was large enough that bouts were broadcast so fans could watch on television.  The old version of roller derby was akin to professional wrestling where competitors would be slammed over walls and  tables in choreographed moves.  The fights were scripted.

Tarnick says today’s roller derby is different.  The sport has been stripped choreographed theatrics.  If skaters get into a fight today, both are automatically ejected from the bout.  Modern day roller derby focuses on the sport’s extremely physical nature.  Tarnick compares roller derby’s speed and physicality to hockey.  “There’s nothing else like it in female sports.”

The girls who play the sport put their souls into their skates according to Tarnick.  “We spend a lot of our personal time practicing, training and working out,” Tarnick said.  And they do all this while maintaining a day job.  The No Coast Derby Girls don’t get paid for being on the team.  Each member pays monthly dues, something Tarnick said weed out skaters not fully vested in the sport. “The girls who love the sport have no problem with paying the dues,” she said.  Money from ticket sales and merchandise goes back into the organization to cover travel expenses and to rent practice space.

The rules

If you’re going to be a fan of roller derby, you have to know the basic rules.  Roller derby is a game about position.  Each team has a lead skater called the jammer.  The jammer is the only one who scores points and does so by lapping members of the opposing team.  All the other skaters try to help their jammer through the pack while preventing the other team’s jammer.

Megan Harrington aka Flash Gloria meets with a fan after their bout against the Omaha Rollergirls.

Fan interaction after the bout

Fans love seeing their jammer break through the pack.  Something else fans love about roller derby is the opportunity to meet the derby girls.  After each competition, the No Coast Derby Girls set up tables on the track and invite everyone to come down and meet them.

This is a unique opportunity for derby fans.  In other sports there isn’t a chance to meet the players but the derby girls feel it is important to be available to meet and thank the people for coming to the bout.  “We know them like our friends, not just our fans,” Tarnick said.

After the bouts, Shane Willoughby and other derby fans rush to the track to have programs and other merchandise signed by the skaters.  It’s their last chance to rub shoulders wit the No Coast Derby Girls until the next bout.  “Being a fan of roller derby isn’t like anything else,” Willoughby said.