Roller Derby Mania: The No Coast Derby Girls Sweep Lincoln
Posted Wednesday, July 11, 2012 7:24 PM
Lincoln, Neb. -- May 5, 2012, the Pershing Center in Lincoln, Nebraska gushes with fans. They have eagerly gathered to support Lincoln’s No Coast Derby Girls – the local flat-track roller derby league. Parents attempt to control their rowdy children; sallow-skinned teenagers hold hands and kiss beneath fluorescent lights; burly men sip Budweiser from plastic cups, chuckling softly. Though rapt with curiosity, I am lamentably lost within this subculture and outright ashamed that my only exposure to the feminist sport remains “Whip It”—the 2009 indie flick directed by Drew Barrymore, which highlights banked track derby in Austin, Texas.
Like Nascar drivers, derby girls only turn left; unlike Nascar, however, this sport requires teamwork and contact. Women on quads (as opposed to in-line) rocket around the Pershing Center’s freshly swept flat track. This May evening in Lincoln, No Coast defeats the Sioux City Roller Dames: 227 - 152.
Void of campy “boutfits” popularized in Texas—like risqué schoolgirl uniforms complete with fishnet stockings—the No Coast Derby Girls skate comfortably in fitted black jerseys and shorts with black tights. Offering serious athletic entertainment of a higher caliber, No Coast women embody the mentality that strong is sexy. But sex appeal isn’t what these women want to sell. No Coast team member, Kilda Messenger #10 explains, “It doesn’t occur to [the public] that these women who play derby set your bones in the ER or teach your kids math during the day – derby is a sport, not a show.”
Lanky, thick, tall, spritely, tough and strong, graceful and nimble, oftentimes tattooed. Soft-spoken. Loud. Always opinionated and articulate. Some women in their20s, some in their 30s. By day, they are students, artists, animal lovers, and mothers. Derby is their binding force.
With few exceptions, these women do not get paid to skate and tumble. The speedy full-contact sport can be dangerous—broken bones or teeth, torn ligaments and sprains—but each woman volunteers her time and body for the love of derby. Stated best on the website, “The No Coast Derby Girls is a skater-owned and operated nonprofit organization built on the foundation that through hard work, determination, and dedication anything is possible…even the resurrection of roller derby!”
Current executive director and team captain, Kelly Ripa-Nipalov #00, discovered derby during the summer of 2005 while managing a motorcycle dealership in town. Friendly with a female mechanic, Ripa noticed that her coworker was limping one day and asked, “What happened?”
“Roller Derby,” was the response. “You should play.”
Spurred into action, and undeterred by probable injury, Ripa skated that summer for the first time since elementary school. Derby hooked her instantaneously, providing new direction and focus for her life. But this newborn team still needed skaters and serious structure. Rising to the challenge, Ripa began to strategize. Road trips to fellow flat track facilities, such as the Excel Center in St. Paul, Minn., offered inspirational models for derby pioneers in Lincoln. In just a few weeks, the No Coast Derby Girls emerged as a unified league. Ripa illuminates, “It’s a group of women, with no outside help, who have created this thing called roller derby… we literally created something from nothing and are still finding success [in Lincoln] seven years later.”
2012 is a rookie season for some, like Chanel No. Die #5, blocker for the Road Warriors. Chanel admits her favorite derby moment was, “Telling my boyfriend in the middle of a fast food restaurant that I had passed my assessment.” She, like so many women, went to the first practice because she “wanted to see what all the fuss was about.”
Now an official member of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), No Coast currently recruits and trains two full rosters of powerhouse derby girls – seasoned athletes like Brooke N Hearts #37 skate in the top division, the No Coast Mad Maxines, whereas newbies like Ivanna PoundHer #2time begin their No Coast career as Road Warriors.
When asked what brought her to the first recruitment, Road Warrior, Stella Riot #901 clearly states, “A whole lot of nerves.” Stella brings her “two young future derby girls” to practices or bouts—with signs boasting “RIOT CREW”—and finds that skating has become a fun group activity. She too believes costume skating does the sport a disservice and prefers to keep the game athletic and family friendly.
Since their debut bout (game) in March 2006, which drew approximately 2,300 spectators, the No Coast Derby Girls are now recognized amongst the top 40 derby teams worldwide. No small feat, considering there are over 150 active flat track leagues and most, like New York’s Gotham Girls, originate in cities with larger populations and more financial support. But roller derby thrives, even in one of the smallest cities in the league like Lincoln (population just fewer than 260,000). Ripa reflects upon the sport’s revival and local success, “[O]lder generations come because they remember the original roller derby. [N]ewer generations are drawn to the fast-paced, physical action.”
And the fans—their interest, investment, and eventual participation—are what make this sport possible. “We have a TON of families and kids that come out and stay to the very end to cheer us on,” Stella Riot explains. “Kids freakin’ love derby and they are the future of this sport – both girls and boys. I have a feeling I will be skating with some of these young fans and it will be a very empowering experience on both sides. Love derby.”
Anna Elizabeth Mazzariello is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.