Karen Davis of east Cobb has been on the team since December 2011. She grew up playing sports and said a Facebook post about roller derby caught her attention.
“Wow! Let me check that out,” she recalled thinking. “I took the bull by the horns.”
When Acworth resident Shanna Thompson saw a poster advertising the Marietta team in Panera Bread two years ago, she was able to breathe a sigh of relief. She used to rollerblade at Clemson University until it was banned on campus, and the only team she was aware of practiced in Stone Mountain. She and nearly six other women began practicing at Sparkles in Kennesaw.
“I think the fun side is being part of a team again,” she said. “There are not that many opportunities for ladies to play a contact sport. Roller derby was a perfect fit to be able to get back some of that activity.”
The team is open to women 18 and older. Davis said the sport is not for everybody, but “if you are willing to have a bump and a bruise and play an aggressive sport, there are ways to stay safe.”
As with any sport, roller derby has its risks. Both ladies have had minor injuries, and Thompson said broken ankles are the most common. However, all players go through a series of assessments, ranging from tests on rules to physical skills, to ensure proper form and movements. They sign waivers of liability and also have an opportunity to get for supplemental insurance from USA Roller Sports.
They are assigned ranks as they go through the assessment process. “Newbie” players learn different stops, weaving on skates and must pass an endurance test of 25 laps around the rink in five minutes.
“It’s not a real fast pace, but you’ve got to get a good steady pace,” Davis said, “They have to build up to that. You get three chances for each skill to demonstrate that you have a mastery of that skill to pass on to the next level.”
Another part of this assessment is learning how to fall. Thompson said there are five to six different falls. For example, the “Rockstar” involves sliding on two knees, and the “Egg” is when a player tries to make herself as small as possible.
“If you fall in a messy way, you could trip other people and put everybody in danger,” she said.
The next level, “fresh meat,” involves more advanced skills such as leaning and working in a pack and learning whips and pushes. Next, players learn more about actual hitting in a pack. Davis said, “You need to be able to take that.”
An “active league skater” is then able to participate in a scrimmage. Ten players from each team take the floor — four blockers with a jammer from each team. Points are accrued when the jammer passes the hips of opposing blockers.
The players wear quad skates (no roller blades), elbow and kneepads, wrist guards, helmets and mouth guards. With warm-ups, introductions, entertainment and pauses for injuries, Davis said bouts can last up to two hours. Strategy, as well as penalty boxes, is also part of the competition.
Although some look at points to determine a victory, Davis said she classifies a win by being able to return to the rink and do it all over again.
“It’s real intense and very fast-paced,” Davis said. “It’s a really great spectator sport. It’s a lot of fun to play, but it’s a lot of fun to watch, too.”
In addition to the physical part of the game, Davis said roller derby also serves as an opportunity for bonding. She said the people they meet, both team members and fans alike, come from all walks of life. If it wasn’t for roller derby, their paths might not have ever crossed.
“It’s a female-empowering sport that is so supportive and unlike any other sport I have been involved in,” Davis said. “Our inner-league relations are very good. As soon as that whistle blows, there is no more competition.”
The women also take on unique monikers that not only showcase their individuality but also reduce confusion on the rink. Davis said with multiple Sarahs and Rachels on teams, for example, the nicknames make it easier to communicate during bouts. All are listed in a roller derby name registry.
Davis goes by TuTu Intense, based on her fervor when she plays sports and her claim of being a “girly girl.” Thompson combined her love of an ’80s rock band, her middle name and her memories of legal drag racing for her name: Motleigh Cruiser.
Davis said although the Marietta Derby Darlins is a nonprofit organization, it is still run like a business. She said today’s leagues are more organized and advanced than those of the 1970s. Today, players must be on a committee, such as promotions or fundraising, to participate. The group also has bylaws, pays dues, votes and has a board of directors. Some of the organizations they support include the Etowah Valley Humane Society and MUST Ministries.
For those wanting to check out the action, Bombshell Brawl is Saturday at the Cobb Civic Center, 548 South Marietta Parkway. Doors open at 3:30 p.m., and the first bout between North Carolina teams Balsam Mountain Rollergirls and the Kannapolis Rollergirls will begin at 4 p.m. The Marietta Derby Darlins will face the Torpedo Bay, a team from Mobile, Ala., Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
An announcer will walk everyone through the bouts, and there will be a rockabilly theme for the night. Fans are encouraged to dress the part.
A dance team and band will also entertain the crowd. An after party will take place at Hemingways at the Marietta Square.
“Old-school roller derby fans will enjoy what we do,” Thompson said. “There are big hits with lots of action. They can come out and respect it for the sport that it is and still expect some spectacle in the form of physical action.”
For more information on ticket prices and getting involved, visit www.