Her name is Kelly Kinder, but good luck finding a woman in Fultondale’s Fun Time Skate Center who knows Kelly. Her name here at the three-night-a-week practice for derby is Assault E. Señorita, or “Salty” to teammates on Birmingham’s all-women roller derby team, the Tragic City Rollers (TCR).
TCR competes in monthly bouts across the Southeast. Their season kicked off Saturday, February 17, at the Zamora Temple in Irondale with a victory over Huntsville’s Rolling Arsenal of Derby.
Here’s a basic rundown of the sport: In a bout, each team has three blockers, one pivot and one jammer. The jammer scores the points by lapping blockers from the other team. She gets a point for each player on the other team passed in a jam (a segment of the bout). The blockers, then, play offense and defense, protecting their team’s jammer and preventing the opposing team’s jammer from scoring. The pivot is also a blocker, sets the pace of the pack, and can become a jammer if the jammer passes the star to her. The star is a removable “panty” cap that fits over the jammer’s helmet.
Got it? Kinder says she got into the sport watching the A&E show Rollergirls and coming out to TCR events, but she’d always been an avid skater.
“When I was little, I skated everywhere. I loved to skate,” Kinder says, transitioning into derby mode, putting on pads, guards, and a sparkling purple helmet. “It wasn’t weird for me to get on skates.”
To watch Kinder skate the track is to witness the necessary attributes of good derby — agility, speed, and grace marked with distinct femininity and serious ruggedness. Kinder, a small-framed blonde with piercings tracing one earlobe, is at times a shadow of the little girl who skated everywhere as she playfully skirts the track with teammates. At other times, she’s a brutal force as she knocks opponents off their wheels.
“Some girls have never been on skates before [TCR],” Kinder says. “We’ve worked with people who loved the idea of being on a team and having an extracurricular activity — something beyond the regular, everyday life.” Kinder points out that roller derby is empowering, a method to constructively release aggression, which helps in that other, everyday life.
In Kinder’s regular, everyday life, she’s a student at the University of Alabama, an assistant to the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and a wife and mother.
Like Kinder, roller derby is rookie Amber Livesay’s first team sport. Livesay (alias Izzy Insane) is an anime buff who writes the blog Inside the Insane. For Livesay, derby is “a real life fantasy, bringing my anime more to reality.”
Some derby-ers admit movies like 2009’s Whip It drew them to the sport. Tonya Attaway (Motley Kruel T.) found derby when she quit teaching ballet. “I needed something athletic-y to do with girls,” she explains. Attaway is long-limbed with a self-described loud mouth. By day, she’s a pharmacy technician in Hoover; by night, a blocker for TCR. At 41, she’s the second oldest on the team.
Punkin Disorderly (who preferred not to give her real name) has been with TCR since the team’s inception seven years ago. With clipped vermilion hair and skin colorfully mapped with tattoos, Punkin’s “look” fits with the preconceived notions of derby. A mother and social worker for a drug and alcohol clinic, Punkin says she joined derby to be around strong women.
“Roller derby,” Punkin says, “has changed [since its 1930s inception and popularity in the 1970s]. Initially, there was focus on the campiness (fishnets, skirts, alter egos), the showiness. Now the focus is on strategy and athleticism.”
Punkin says she can’t think of another activity that empowers women in such a way, and she’s happy her 14-year-old daughter now competes — as Tornado Alley — in a junior league.
TCR pivot Halley Power agrees with Punkin. Once a missionary and now known as TCR’s HalleyLoseYa, Power loves being part of a team of strong women who come from all walks of life.
Power says people are surprised to hear she competes. “Everyone says, ‘You’re too sweet to play roller derby.’” She enjoys proving them wrong.
Power appreciates the skill set learned from roller derby. “Patience is a very vital attribute to have as a derby girl. It’s easy to get frustrated with yourself or teammates. Flexibility [is important]. Things don’t go as you hope they’ll go. You have to be able to adapt quickly to new situations.” And she appreciates the team.
“The team,” Power says, “has stay-at-home moms, correctional officers, librarians. There are the sorority girl types, the former softball players, the tattooed girls. Any population you can think of is somehow represented. This is a diverse array of people that might not be connected in any other way in life. [Here] we come together as a team.”
When Power’s father passed away in December, the team was there for her. “I knew I could call on them for anything,” Power says. “It’s kind of a universal truth with derby girls that your team is your family.”
Power, whose sweet demeanor off the track is undeniable, is proud to be part of such a diverse family. “There are lots of stereotypes with roller derby,” Power says, who once worked full-time for a church and is still highly involved with her congregation. “With the church crowd, especially, it’s fun to disrupt those stereotypes and show them how great these girls are and how much of a family we are.”
TCR is a family and team, and the whole venture is a DIY movement.
“The girls fund everything,” Kinder says. “As in, [TCR is] skater owned. Derby girls are just a bunch of DIY-ers.”
The women take on roles as athletes on the team and as coordinators for the production. TCR members handle everything from lettering jerseys to keeping financial records, from filing the necessary secondary insurance for athletes to building the website.
There is an impressive network of derby teams competing across the nation but no autonomous system to link the teams. Coordinating games — the competition, booklets, halftime show, ticketing, etc. — is a duty bestowed upon the team.
Kinder is the team recruiter. Attaway handles sponsorship. Power coordinates the bouts and the half-time show. Angela Seal, a local police officer and TCR’s Panama Jack You Up, is the team “mama” — handling the reams of paperwork necessary to keep a team competing.
The roles these women embody in their “regular” lives and on the court are staggering. But it’s all worth it for the bouts, for the competition, the spectacle, and the fans.
At Sunday’s opening exchange, the crowd is as diverse as the competitors. Picture the folks you’d see at a rodeo sitting next to teenage hipsters next to a balding basketball coach next to your grandmother. The pink-headed women vary from those with tattooed sleeves to those in crocheted shawls.
Up in the announcer’s booth, a deejay dons a Guy Fawkes mask and whips a bandana as if he’s the puppeteer for the circling skaters on the track below.
A group of husbands and boyfriends stand near the team’s bench, cheering and explaining rules to one another. “I belong to Suge [pronounced ‘shug’] Fight,” a guy says proudly, their baby in his arms.
The Tragic City Rollers glide and collide across the track, some in fancy tights and stage-worthy make-up, others in tube socks with simple ponytails. The crowd sighs, boos, and cheers as skaters cram into packs, slamming into one another, fighting for points. As a jammer breaks away in a feat not unlike that of the slyest of running backs, the crowd roars.
Power says bouts bring out between 800 to 1,000 spectators.
Out front, former athletes (wo)man the ticket booth, women who say the busyness of life got in the way of competing but still want to support the team.
As for Kelly Kinder, she’ll keep skating as long as she can, recruiting women along the way, advocating for a sport she loves. “We’ve had girls who were almost 50,” she says, laughing. “As long as you feel like you can do it, then knock it out. We’ll have you.”
Contact the following for more information: on recruitment, firstname.lastname@example.org; on sponsorship, email@example.com; and on the Tragic City Rollers team, tragiccityrollers.com.