Walking up the driveway of the Yaarab Shrine on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Midtown, roller derby is not the first thing you would imagine is happening behind its ornate façade. But inside, a big crowd has come to cheer on the Atlanta Rumble Bs as they compete against the Tampa Bay RollerGirls. Spectators fill the stadium seating at either end of the big hall and overflow down onto the floor, many seated mere inches away from the action and separated only by colorful tape on the floor.
Dominated by female teams, the sport is physical, aggressive, and has a huge cult following. Players have pseudonyms that are meant to reflect aspects of their individual personalities. The showmanship and spectacle of the sport have at times overshadowed the athleticism, but the truth is that players must maintain peak physical condition and excellent coordination in order to excel at the game and to avoid injury.
The Atlanta Rollergirls were founded in 2004 by Tanya Hide and a few fellow members of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). “Atlanta Rollergirls is a group of diverse, strong women who get together to play an aggressive sport on roller skates,” said Rosie Derivator of the Rumble Bs, Atlanta’s B Team. “It’s grown from its days of fishnets and tutus, but there are always big hits, fancy spins and amazing jumps; it’s an entire hour of amazing, entertaining athleticism.”
There are several teams that call Atlanta home, including the A Team ‘Dirty South Derby Girls’ and the C Team ‘Jukes of Hazzard.’ In addition to the female leagues, there is also a men’s and junior’s team. “Our league is comprised of women of all ages, race, nationalities, and walks of life. I love that about the sport overall, it’s welcoming of all women regardless of experience,” said Rumble B member Johnnie Knox’em. “You just have to want it and love it.”
The Atlanta Rollergirls are currently rated 14th in the nation out of more than 300 teams total, and they benefit from having a strong base of knowledge and skill within their ranks. “This gives ARG members access to training by some of the best skaters in the world, in a well established league with a dedicated practice space,” said Derivator. While there is a prevailing element of theatrics to the sport akin to televised wrestling bouts, the hits, moves, and points are all taken very seriously.
“It’s a contact sport much like football or rugby, except we do have the room for a bit of dramatic flair while also keeping it professional and real,” Derivator said. “By that I mean all the outcomes, spills, and injuries are organic, natural, and unplanned. We roll with the punches, so to speak, as they come.”
Due to its inherently physical and confrontational nature, players and guests alike must keep their wits about themselves. Injuries are very real and can be serious for players
“There are definitely a lot of injuries, going from simple sprains and black eyes to the more severe broken bones,” Knox’em said. “We love the sport so much that it makes it worth the risk, and learning how to handle ourselves lessens that risk. I most commonly see ankle injuries, from sprains to snapped ankles.”
Despite the potential injuries, Derivator says roller derby is, in a way, a calling.
“There’s a running thought in the roller derby community that most of us find roller derby when we need it most,” said Derivator. “In times of struggle and difficulty, roller derby is a constant and a means of an outlet. It’s a few hours a day, a couple of times a week, when the outside world doesn’t matter and we can focus on bettering ourselves in one specific area. It’s been fantastic for my mental health.”
Knox’em said Atlanta Rollergirls gives young women a view into what they are capable of and how they can channel their energy and competitive spirit. “I also hope the world gets to see how we play and has a better insight on how far the sport of roller derby has come.”
To learn more about the Atlanta Rollergirls and buy tickets for their next event on April 28, visit atlantarollergirls.com.