Tri States Public Radio Staff
Queens of the Rink
Thu January 26, 2012
Women's Roller Derby Team Growing in Quincy
People find different ways to relieve stress.
Some take a trip to a spa for a bit of rest and relaxation. Others curl up on the couch with a good book.
A group of women from the tri-states have a slightly unorthodox method.
They lace up their roller skates and beat the daylights out of each other.
Among them is Heather Kath.
By day, "Miss Heather" is the children's programmer for the Quincy Public Library, organizing activities such as story time and summer reading events.
"It's amazing, it's a great, great job," says Kath, "we always say we get paid in Hi-Fives and Hugs."
By night, Kath becomes Felony O'Connor, #20-To-Life.
Kath is a founding member of Quincy's first women's roller-derby league: the Dark River Derby Coalition.
"It's really the most fun I have ever had doing anything," says Kath, "I have a great group of friends and a really good support group. These are just things you would never even think would come along with this."
The DRDC, as the team is more commonly known, is wrapping up its first season.
The idea of forming the team came out of a Quincy Not-So-Fine-Arts Society meeting in the summer of 2010.
Kath has been involved from the beginning, but her desire to derby goes back to the 2005 television series: Rollergirls.
"You know, the powerful woman and the getting to have an alter-ego," says Kath, "especially since work with kids and since I work at the library. It is nice to not be Miss Heather sometimes. It is nice to be Felony O'Connor sometimes, especially when I don't want to be very nice."
Roller Derby seems to be the perfect outlet for women who don't want to be nice because it is a full-contact sport without scripts or pre-determined results.
The 60-minute bouts are split into two 30-minute periods.
Each team is allowed five skaters on the track at one time during a JAM, which is when points can be scored.
Teams score points each time their "Jammer" usually a small, quick skater, gets past an opposing player.
The opposing team does not just stand around, though, and let the jammer go free.
That can lead to vicious hits, multiple trips to the penalty box and some scary collisions.
Crystal Clark is a mother of two from Monticello, Illinois.
She is a professional photographer who has been a member of the Vice Quads derby team out of Champaign-Urbana for about a year and a half.
Clark is not an imposing figure, standing 5'2" and weighing about 100 pounds.
She was the jammer during a recent bout between the Vice Quads and the DRDC.
As Clark was coming around a curve in the track, she saw two DRDC blockers converging on her, so she tried to skate to the outside.
"And it was working, but, and I don't remember because they totaled knocked me out," says Clark, "which is probably why people come to roller derby and I am fine now, so that is OK."
The collision left Clark with a mild concussion and a dislocated shoulder.
"I guess I should be happy that it knocked me back because I don't think I would have wanted to feel that. Putting it back in was extremely painful, so I will just take one end of that."
Clark says even after a hit like that, it is not a question of if she will return to the track, but rather when she will return.
"This is an opportunity that I know I will get once," says Clark, "so as soon as I can get back out there, I will take every minute that I can."
JJ Magliocco with the DRDC completely understands where Clark is coming from.
"Roller derby is not just a sport or a fad," says Magliocco, "roller derby is a lifestyle. It is a way of living and a way of being. It has taken over my entire life as I eat, sleep, and dream derby."
Magliocco, AKA the Scarlet Slamurai, says the DRDC is a grass-roots effort.
The team shares the duties of scheduling bouts, organizing practices, promoting the team, and recruiting new members.
Magliocco says the DRDC is also breaking down stereotypes, especially the ones that say women should not be involved in a contact sport.
"As far as, you know, derby girls are this, that and the other," says Magliocco, "first of all, we are women. We are derby women, not derby girls and we are strong and independent and we are here to kick some butt."
That mindset continues to spread.
There are now several hundred women's roller derby leagues throughout the United States. Some international leagues are even starting to pop up.
The more teams there are, the more fans there are.
Heather Kath with the DRDC says it was early on in her first match when she realized why she was taking hit after hit.
"There was this little girl on the side," says Kath, "who said, Don't give up hope Felony, never give up,' and that is when everything clicked for me. While we are out there, we are not doing it for ourselves, we are doing it for everyone out there."
That includes Abby Freier, 18, who came to the last bout to watch Kath, who she knows from the Quincy Public Library.
Freier says as soon as she is 21, she is signing up for the DRDC.
"I guess I am very aggressive and it is something that I just love, the contact sports," says Freier.
The Dark River Derby Coalition hopes to find more kindred spirits as it continues to provide an outlet for women who are looking to have fun, be competitive and maybe blow off a little steam.
The DRDC's final bout of the season against the DuPage County Derby Dames is Saturday night at Scottie's Fun Spot in Quincy.