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Rolling Along With Baltimore's Derby Girls

The Charm City All Stars huddle before their bout against the Philly Liberty Belles
The Charm City All Stars huddle before their bout against the Philly Liberty Belles

It's a little after 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, but the summer heat still sizzles at Du Burns Arena in Canton. Packed with a standing room only crowd their devotion to the sport fills the arena. Heavy metal music blares from loud speakers, while fans watch as teams warm up. Each player pairs her sleeveless jersey with a different bottom, from hot pants to electric blue and black tulle skirts. The backs of their neon pink and royal blue uniforms reveal their names: Beth Steel, Jilli Idol, Dolly Rocket, Killer Kitten and so on. With their helmets securely in place, the women circle the rink, sticking together in a unified pack. The MC announces them as they prepare for the battle to come. The fans are pumped. The skaters are focused. It's time to roll.

Roll, Baby, Roll

The two teams, Junkyard Dolls and Night Terrors, along with Mobtown Mods and Speed Regime, make up the Charm City Roller Girls, Baltimore's only all-female roller derby league. Owned and operated by the skaters themselves, the league began in 2005 after a group of women meeting at a Skateland formed the organization.

Today, about 80 women from 18 to 45 years old are members. They come from different backgrounds and embody all shapes and sizes. Off the rink, they are nurses, military service members, stay-at-home moms, tattoo artists and more. But at least three times a week they lace up their skates at practices or bouts to show their passion for roller derby. And these rough gliders are proud to call Charm City their home.

Derby Time

Earlier this Saturday night, Mobtown Mods beat Speed Regime 150-91. Now, Junkyard Dolls and Night Terrors take over the flat track. The referee blows a whistle, and the bout begins.

Within the game, there are a series of jams, lasting up to two minutes. Five skaters from each team are allowed on the rink at once�a jammer, three blockers and a pivot. The jammer scores points by passing opponents. The blockers act as defense, helping the jammer slip through the pack while obstructing the opposing team's jammer. The pivot sets the pace at the front of the pack and is the last defender a jammer passes.

In the first jam of this bout, 45-year-old Minnie Piledriver starts as jammer for Night Terrors. She is the most senior skater in the league and in her other life outside of roller derby her name is Cathy Trani . Her short, dark blonde hair pokes out from underneath her helmet. Her silver sparkle spandex pants shine as she speeds around the track.

She and the jammer from Junkyard Dolls attempt to maneuver through the pack. The blockers stand their ground. They push opposing team members with shoulders, hips and backsides. A skater falls to the ground. The jam is over.

Black and Blue
Roller derby is a full contact sport. Skaters are allowed to move opponents with their bodies, although certain blocks are illegal. The pushing and shoving can be physical, so safety is a priority. Players are required to wear knee and elbow pads, wrist and mouth guards and helmets.

"This is not a professional sport," says 28-year-old Head Coach Reckless Ndangerment, who skates for Speed Regime and whose given name is Laura Jansen. "Nobody should be losing their life and limb or spending time in hospitals having surgery over this if we can help it at all."

Skaters must learn the proper way to play. "We teach people how to take falls," says 30-year-old Cindy Lop-Her, a founding member of the league known as Tara Gebhardt away from Speed Regime teammates. "We teach people how to protect themselves, how to take blocks. So what you might think of as some girl flying into you, you're not unprepared for that."

Still, muscle strains, sprains and broken bones aren't uncommon. Throughout her four year career, Gebhardt has faced numerous knee and shoulder injuries. Lady Quebeaum, 35, a founding member of the league on Mobtown Mods whose real name is Amy Callner, broke her leg two years ago. The fracture left her with a plate, five screws and a scar above her ankle. "I was screwed back together," she jokes.

But players keep returning for the love of the game. "It's such a rush to be zooming around in the rink, sticking and weaving and dodging people and knocking into them," Callner says.

A Name Game

Having a derby nickname is another perk. "If we used given names, we would discover how many Amys and Sarahs and Lisas we have," Jansen says. Players often choose childhood nicknames or names to match their personalities. Others select names opposite of their characters. Women like Federal Kill and A-Killa the Hon opted for names representing Baltimore.

For the Charm City Roller Girls, Charm City is the perfect place to play. "We're definitely a hometown team," Callner says. "And there's a great deal of pride in that." Many skaters live and work in Baltimore. Their home bouts are also in the city. And the fans are unlike any others. "Baltimore has not wavered in its support of us," Gebhardt says. "If anything, it's grown stronger as more and more people find out about us."

At Du Burns Arena, fans cheer for their favorite teams. In this bout, Minnie Piledriver is back on the rink. Jammers like she and Killer Kitten of the Junkyard Dolls continue to rack up points by passing opponents. After almost an hour, the final whistle blows, and the bout ends. This night goes to the Junkyard Dolls. The score�Junkyard Dolls 141, Night Terrors 48.

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