The Quincy Herald-Whig
QUINCY, Ill. — J.J. Magliocco says she is a lifer.
“Once roller derby is in your blood, you will never be able to get rid of it,” she said. “In some way, I will always be connected with roller derby. It’s very important to me.”
Magliocco is one of the founding members of the Dark River Derby Coalition, Quincy’s flat-track women’s roller derby team that is gearing up for its third season. The Dark River girls raise funds for local charitable organizations while helping reinvent the image of roller derby, which in the 1970s was considered more spectacle than sport — kind of like pro wrestling on wheels.
But this is not your father’s roller derby.
“Throw away all of those preconceived notions you might have about roller derby,” Magliocco said. “Take away everything you think you know and just throw it out. ... It’s not true.”
New-age roller derby is legit and combines full-contact athleticism with “campy whimsy,” according to the official Dark River mantra, to create a world of alter egos and family-friendly fun. Teams win, teams lose, and statistics are kept.
“It’s not a fake sport. It is not orchestrated. The hits, injuries, plays and penalties are all real,” Jessica Patel said.
Patel is another of the team’s founders and the Dark River Derby Coalition president. When she’s not on skates, Patel is a licensed clinical psychologist.
“The bumps and bruises are the fun part,” she said. “The hardest thing is balancing time, work, family, derby and practice.”
Part of the attraction of the new millennium version of roller derby is the girls’ aliases and fake personas, which are a throwback to the old days of late-night television matches featuring the L.A. T-Birds. For example, Magliocco is known as Scarlet Slamurai when she puts her skates on. Patel is Patella Crusher.
Regular followers of the Dark River girls are probably familiar with the likes of Tarra Lip-Off, Ram Skillet, Misty Mount ‘N Stop, Suzannthrax, Pryor Offense, Megarotta the Wicked and many others who make up the Quincy roster.
One of the interesting “resumes” belongs to zombie wannabe Kate Gnash: “Half dead, all awesome.”
“Our resident flesh-eating member of the walking dead doesn’t let the side effects of zombie-ism slow her down,” Magliocco said, tongue firmly in cheek.
The Dark River girls have their own theme songs, once again much like pro wrestlers. La Frostina’s anthem is “Heads Will Roll” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, an American indie rock group. Little Miss Vicious prefers “Brand New Key” by Melanie, a 1970s folk-rock performer.
Roller derby is as much fun for the participants as the spectators.
“Part of the ID and the culture of roller derby are the alter egos,” Magliocco said. “It’s not fake (other than the names, of course), and it’s not any sort of sexual exploitation. These are dedicated athletes who train and (are concerned with) proper nutrition. A great thing about roller derby is, you don’t have to have been a star athlete before. Roller derby is for everyone.”
Quincy’s roster is predominantly women from the immediate area, plus Macomb and Hannibal, Mo. The age range is 21 to 40, with most in their early 30s.
The model for modern-day roller derby teams is to be community-minded nonprofit organizations. The Dark River Derby Coalition has raised more than $5,000 for local charities, including Camp Callahan, Madonna House, Quanada, the Advocacy Network for Children and Great River Honor Flight. The money comes from a portion of the gate receipts from its home bouts at Scotties Fun Spot, 8000 Broadway.
The Dark River girls will play a 10- to 15-bout schedule this season, starting May 11, when the Confluence Crush visits their home floor. A week later, they hit the road for a bout with the Des Moines (Iowa) Derby Dames.
The coalition is completely member-funded, and roller derby is not a cheap sport.
“Each (participant) is responsible for the cost of skates, pads, uniforms and travel,” Patel said. “In addition, the members pay for practice space, training expenses and other promotions. They do it for the love of the sport.”
Patel believes that Quincy will field a second women’s roller derby team, possibly in 2014.
“All of the teams support one another and learn from each other,” Patel said.
St. Louis is rich with roller derby teams in many age brackets. The sport’s growth there has been borderline phenomenal, resulting in a cover story in a St. Louis magazine a year ago. Some of the St. Louis girls, especially those from the Arch Rivals, helped the Dark River Derby Coalition get started in Quincy.
The Quincy team finished 1-7 in its first season, then improved to 7-4 last season. Patel admitted that the inaugural season was more of a leaning experience than anything else. Now, it’s about building a tradition and spreading the team’s name.
“We all felt more comfortable after that first season,” Patel said
Magliocco, whose works as a prevention educator for a rape crisis center in her day job, said the most gratifying part of roller derby is seeing the girls involved grow in self-esteem and self-respect.
“I have been surprised by the dedication of the people who make it happen,” she said.
Make no mistake about it, Magliocco is proud to be one of those people.
“I’ll never leave roller derby,” she said.