By William J. Emerson III
Detroit Derby League
When the Detroit Derby League launched, Bettie Page bangs and tattoos were a virtual prerequisite for playing. These days, far more incoming players are sports-oriented, with backgrounds in field hockey and swimming. While skill and strategy still play a major role, a decidedly competitive edge is generated by speed skaters who have joined the league.
“You have to be strong-willed to play in the derby,” says team manager KillaKimZilla (Kim Essiambre). “It takes a certain kind of person. … The nice thing about it is that the derby provides a sense of family.”
Apparently, a family of “women who belch and fart,” quips her girlfriend and team captain Lady MacDeath (Laura Osentoski), laughing. “They’re laid-back and not terribly girly. Where else do you find that?”
Roller derby, a race between two players (jammers) who fight their way through a pack of score-stopping blockers, sports a variety of players on the Detroit league: teachers, artists, school bus drivers and soldiers. This unique assortment of personalities and professions extends to the officiators such as referee Tootie Tinwhistle (Joshua Donow), a former disc jockey at the Heidelberg’s She-Bang night, who digs refereeing the Detroit league because “we’re DIY’ing a brand-new version of an old, deceased sport which has a great combination of shtick and raw adrenaline. Plus, I’m a part of a whoop-ass sub-culture of awesome people.”
The Detroit league has four teams: The D-Funk Allstars, Devil’s Night Dames, The Pistol Whippers and The Detroit Pistoffs, which will all compete in the July 21 season finale. Aside from playing each other, the league also has a travel team that has battled teams in Las Vegas, Philadelphia and Grand Rapids. At the onset of 2007, it was thought that the Detroit Pistoffs and Pistol Whippers would reiterate the 2006 season by competing for the league’s number one slot; now the comeback-team Devil’s Night Dames are shaking things up.
The Detroit Derby League embodies the national resurgence of interest in roller derby. “I started the league for selfish reasons,” says Devil Kitty (Linda Riker), one of the Detroit league’s founders. “I wanted to have fun and meet people.”
The management team of Lady MacDeath and KillaKimZilla – coupled with the wildly aggressive jamming of Rock Candy (Valerie Weiss), Summers Eve-L (Tracy Toepher) and rookie player Racer McChaseHer (Amy Ruby) – has made a phenomenal difference in the Devil’s Night Dames performance. As a result, The Detroit Derby’s season finale on July 21 will decide if the last shall be first and the first shall be last.
Initially, few roller rinks in the metro Detroit area were willing to allow the league to practice, due to the liability inherent to the sport. As a result, they used the dilapidated Bohemian Social Club where, prior to its restoration, plaster chips littered the warped, hardwood floor.
Now the league plays in Detroit’s gothic-revisionist Masonic Temple before hundreds of people.
On game days, the players arrive in a yet-to-be-revitalized area of Detroit across the street from Cass Park. Long before the bout begins, the derby support crew assembles, carrying bins of T-shirts, tape and Vitamin Water into this monument to Freemasonry. Soon, Detroit Derby will wrap up a second season of jamming, but the league is far from dying as it heads into its third.
The Dames’ injured jammer, Crash Baby (Jody O’Neil), says, “No matter what, the derby keeps growing.”