By Jared Curtis
sport of roller derby has never
been about the prestige and honor
of competing. It’s been about
the cultural bond over getting
down and dirty on eight wheels.
Roller derby girls are the kind
your mother warned you about:
tough chicks that would rather
be on skates than in heels. They
are the toughest girls this side
of the Mississippi River, the
Mid Iowa Rollers.
“If you love to skate, this
sport is fucking awesome,” says
Stephanie “Lass ERation” Stewart.
“There is nothing better than
getting in the rink and beating
the hell out of each other.”
The Mid Iowa Rollers are a Des
Moines-based roller derby team.
Although the sport has fallen
to the side in recent decades,
a resurgence has been slowly building
throughout the country and Des
Moines has become a part of this
“I was watching TV and I came
across this show,” says founding
member Jamie “Dangerous” Daugharthy.
“It was a show about these girls
playing roller derby and it was
is talking about the TXRD Lonestar
RollerGirls based in Austin, Texas.
The girls were a subject of a
reality show, “RollerGirls,” which
told the stories of the lives
these skaters lived on and off
After watching the show and
conducting some research on the
Internet, Daugharthy found that
there were teams and leagues popping
up all over the Midwest, but there
were no teams based in Iowa.
“My boyfriend suggested I just
start a league,” Daugharthy says.
“So I did.”
In the beginning, the Mid Iowa
Rollers had five girls on the
team. Now it has 17.
“I saw a flyer in a bar bathroom
and wanted to know what it was
all about,” says Tessa “Roxy Knocks”
Wilkinson. “I started going to
practice and, after a few months,
I felt strong on my skates.”
The history of roller
1929, a film publicist named Leo
Seltzer was losing business to
the newest trend, dance marathons.
Seltzer fooled around with the
dance marathon concept and came
up with the idea of two member
teams, skating around the track.
The first event was a race of
3,000 miles, the distance from
Los Angeles to New York City.
The winners of that event skated
for 11 hours a day and out lasted
25 others teams.
Seltzer then took his race on
the road throughout the country.
At some matches, contestants would
fall, which would result in a
massive pile up of skaters. A
sports writer saw this as the
most interesting part and approached
Seltzer about changing the game
to include physical contact. After
some convincing Seltzer agreed
and fans loved the new concept.
Over time the sport developed
into the five on five games that
are played today.
1947, roller derby debuted on
ABC and the National Roller Derby
League was formed. In 1949, the
leagues playoffs sold out Madison
Square Garden for an entire week.
With six teams spread throughout
the country, everyone could root
for a team. But in 1953 Seltzer
moved the home base from New York
to Los Angeles and debuted the
most famous team in roller derby
history, the San Francisco Bombers.
A member of this team included
one of the most famous ladies
to every strap on skates, Ann
“The Demon of the Derby” Calvello.
The TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls
named their championship trophy,
the Calvello Cup in honor of her
roller derby legacy.
Seltzer gave the league to his
son, Jerry, in 1958 and the sport
continued to grow. Jerry Seltzer
syndicated his league to 120 television
stations throughout the country,
which introduced the sport to
new fans and the Bombers went
on coast-to-coast tours, selling
out venues before record crowds.
The highest attendance record
was set in 1972 at Comiskey Park
in Chicago. More than 50,000 fans
attended a match between the Bombers
and the Midwest Pioneers. But
only a year later, financial losses
and other problems led Seltzer
to shut down the roller derby
league. Players went their separate
ways and several small leagues
began popping up all over the
country, but their popularity
was never as wide scale.
1989, roller derby got a face-lift
thanks to Bill Griffith Sr., who
brought the sport to TV once again,
but this time with a little more
theatrics. “Roller Games” featured
a steep banked track, an alligator
pit in the middle of track and
a mix of veteran and new skaters.
The show featured six teams, the
T-Birds, Violators, Bad Attitude,
Rockers, Hot Flash and the Maniacs.
It had a lot of flash and pizzazz,
but not much else and was broadcast
for only one season before the
distributor filed for bankruptcy.
In 1999, Pageboy Entertainment
joined forces with CBS to once
again bring roller derby to the
masses with “Roller Jam.” Once
again, stars from yesteryear,
members of the “Roller Games”
teams and numerous nationally-ranked
speed skaters came together for
the six-team, World Skating League.
Jerry Seltzer returned to the
sport and on camera, becoming
the league commissioner. All the
action took place in the Roller
Jam Arena, located in Orlando,
Fla. The teams were co-ed and
featured elaborate player storylines
and feuds. The show was broadcasted
on TNN, but once again didn’t
last long and the future of roller
derby was looking dim.
The new school
2001, Bad Girl Good Women Productions
was the first league of the new
generation to only allow females
on the team. They held their first
match in the summer of 2002 in
Austin. But the league was divided
about rules and regulations and
eventually split. Some went to
the flat track, while others,
stayed with the banked track.
With the help of the “RollerGirls”
reality show and the love of the
sport, both types of track play,
flat and banked, have helped launch
multiple leagues throughout the
As of July 2007, more than 150
leagues are apart of the Women’s
Flat Track Derby Association.
The WFTDA governs inter-league
play and travel teams to play
against each other in regional
matches. The WFTDA publishes the
team rankings and keeps bout scores.
Their first tournament, the 2006
“Dust Devil,” was held in Tucson,
Ariz. There are also a large number
of independent teams waiting to
be recognized by the WFTDA, like
the Mid Iowa Rollers.
A convention, Roller Con, is held
in August in Las Vegas. It offers
skill training workshops, equipment
vendors, skate repair, cheerleading
camp and referee classes throughout
How they play
basics of roller derby breaks
down likes this. Five members
for each team are on the track
at once, consisting of a “jammer”
and four “blockers” including
a “bumper,” who is last in the
pack and the first to block the
jammer and the “pivot,” which
is the first person in the pack,
controlling the speed of the group
and providing the last line of
The jammers start at the end
of the pack and race to the front
of the group. On their second
lap, they try to get past as many
of the other team’s players as
possible scoring points for each
person they pass. The blockers
try to stop the jammer by any
means necessary. The first jammer
that gets to the front of the
pack is considered the “lead jammer”
and once they score or think there
are no more scoring opportunities,
they can call off the jam by placing
their hands on their hips. This
concludes the match and fresh
legs are brought onto the track.
Teams battle for three 20-minute
periods, with each jam lasting
two minutes. There is also a 20-minute
break between periods.
Back to the Midwest
“What we are lacking is girls,”
says Lindsay “Fanny Firestarter”
Leimbacher. “We hope to have inter-league
bouts someday. I would like to
see us keep growing and spreading
around like butter on toast.”
As of now, the Mid Iowa Rollers
have 15 players. They practice
three times a week and work hard
at what they love.
“It’s great exercise and it
keeps a bad girl out of trouble,”
practice sessions are run like
a fine-tuned machine, as players
cover drills and techniques as
well as build endurance and speed
on their skates. Co-founder Ella
“Knock Around Suzie” McLandsborough,
yells out commands and keeps her
“sisters” in the best possible
“We have all worked together
to get this league started,” McLandsborough
says. “We have fought tooth and
nail to recruit and get girls,
amongst other things.”
Each week, the girls practice
at Skate North and Skate South,
both in Des Moines and at Spinnin’
Wheels in Oskaloosa, where the
players work on fundamentals and
have fun. Most of the girls live
and work in Des Moines, but some,
like Anna “D-Killa Amazon” DeVilder,
who lives in Grinnell, travel
“I drive here every week because
I love the sport,” DeVilder says.
“It’s a long distance, week after
week, but I’m addicted.”
DeVilder’s daughter Zoe, 8,
comes to practice and hopes one
day she will be a Mid Iowa Roller,
like her mom.
“I want to be on the team, but
I have to wait 10 more years,”
The girls get rink time before
and after regular operating hours,
so they can get the most out of
have a friend in Missouri who
is a roller derby coach,” says
Skate North manager Dante Muse.
“So when the girls came to me
about practicing here, I was more
than happy to offer them the space.
I try to help them anyway I can,
and I’m anxious to see them play.”
The team traveled to Omaha in
June to take on the Omaha Roller
Girls. They have two teams, the
Victoria Secret Service and the
Low Down Lucy’s. The Mid Iowa
Rollers ventured into Nebraska
and battled the “fresh meat squad,”
a team comprised of the younger
members of Omaha’s two teams.
Even though the Mid Iowa Rollers
lost 120-90, they gained some
“We lost, but it was by far
the best learning experience for
the team,” Leimbacher says. “Many
thanks goes out to Sharon Misery
and Bruiseberry Muffin for stepping
out of their Omaha Roller Girls
uniforms and slapping on a MIR
This wasn’t the first time the
Mid Iowa Rollers have been involved
with Sharon Misery. She saw a
post on a message board by Knock
Around Suzie, about getting some
help with drills. Misery contacted
the girls and offered to come
“Derby is a huge sisterhood
and Lincoln’s No Coast Derby Team
came and helped us get started
and I wanted to return the favor,”
came to Des Moines on five different
occasions to help get the girls
rolling. When the season was about
to start, Misery wanted to give
the Mid Iowa Rollers a shot and
invited them to town during their
“They played and lost, but they
did a great job and really made
me proud,” says Misery, who was
their manager for the bout. “They
did amazing for their first bout
and really held their own, kept
up their endurance and pushed
themselves to the next level.”
Misery loves her company.
“Roller Derby has grown a phenomenal
amount over the last couple years
and every roller girl is just
as passionate as I am about the
sport,” she says. “I think
the more leagues in the Midwest,
Not just for the ladies
though the team consists of women,
it doesn’t mean the guys can’t
be involved. Each team needs referees,
managers and scorekeepers. One
of the Mid Iowa Rollers refs,
Patrick “Paddi Cake” Schutte,
enjoys his time in the rink, even
though he can’t get physical.
“It’s an awesome time,” Schutte
says. “I get to hang out with
the ladies and have some fun.”
Schutte attends most of the
practices and was introduced to
the sport through friends.
“When I heard about the team
and what they were doing, I wanted
in,” Schutte says.
If your interested in helping
out, stop by at practices or future
bouts, but what the Mid Iowa Rollers
really need is more skaters and
“It’s a great work out and it
keeps you out of trouble,” says
Daugharthy. “If you love to skate,
there is nothing better than flying
around and knocking people down.”
The team is always looking for
new members. If you are over 18,
can skate, like to get physical
and have a little bit of attitude,
this team is for you.
“Roller derby is for all types
of girls no matter how short or
tall, big or small, it’s for all
types of personalities,” says
Danielle “D’Shiznit” McDowell.
The team is also looking for
sponsors and offers sponsorship
packages for businesses and individuals.
So far they have a few sponsors,
but are always looking for more.
The season runs from March until
October, so there is still time
to get involved and strap on some
skates, players say.
“Ladies, leave the babies at
home with the men and come hang
out with us,” says Wilkinson.
“If you try it once, you won’t
regret it. You’ll be hooked.”
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