Flint City Derby Girls are Ready to Roll

Don Lierman

The Flint City Derby Girls, which was originally a club team at UM-Flint, is gearing up for a new season and it’s members, many of whom are UM-Flint alumni, are ready to lace up their skates and continue working toward membership in the big leagues of women’s roller derby, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.

There are approximately twenty women’s roller derby teams in Michigan at present. The Flint City Derby Girls compete in the “Mitten Kitten” Tournament in a bid for seeds for October tournaments. A ranking system determines where each team will compete. Women’s roller derby combines the rebelliousness and energy of the sport’s original incarnation without the scripted action and fake fisticuffs. The sport has exploded across the world in recent years with the do-it-yourself self-possessed consciousness that was last seen in the punk rock scene of the 70’s.

UM-Flint alumni Nicholas Cotton is the current coach of the Flint City Derby Girls.

“I first became a fan in 2007, shortly after the Flint team began,” Cotton said. “I became involved because I had a few friends on the team and I had skated inline as a kid. It was nice to be involved in a sport where I could jump in and help right away. I began as a referee to help police the game. Shortly thereafter, I became assistant coach. Today, as head coach I have a staff of three assistant coaches.”

The team has become much more competitive recently.

“Last season, we finished 5-5,” Cotton said. “I consider it a decent performance as we were fielding a relatively new roster and were forced to use five less skaters than most teams. Still, we managed to beat some impressive teams. The team played with only a 30-minute rest between games in the tournament. We destroyed our second opponents despite no rest.”

Derby games are timed at 60 minutes with two halves for each game, which are then divided up into “jams”, that can last up to two minutes with only a 30 second break between.

“You can see how tiring it can be to only have nine skaters. We impressed a lot of observers and are this year playing in the tier 1 tournament,” Cotton said.

Skaters are attracted to the sport for a number of reasons.

Past UM-Flint student “Ash Tray” Ashley MacDermaid discovered women’s roller derby from the cult film, “Whip It”.

“The first game I attended was at what was then known as Perani Arena (now the Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center)” MacDermaid said. “It wasn’t a bank-tracked game like in the movie. However, between the brutal hits, hard falls and short shorts, I was sold. I didn’t understand most of what was going on, but Flint won by a lot and I was impressed.

MacDermaid said that she fell so hard for the sport that she wanted to play herself.

“I had never seen a full-contact sport for women, let alone on skates. After the game, a skater invited us out to a team meeting the next day. I was nervous about it, but upon arrival, everyone was so welcoming and were genuinely happy to have some fresh meat,” MacDermaid said.

“Block Mamba” Crystal Wilson, a receptionist from Burton, stresses to those interested that it will be a tough process but worthwhile.

“It takes commitment,” Wilson said. “But nothing good comes from life without sacrifice. Also, the derby community is a family. That includes all the derby teams you’ll play against throughout Michigan. You’ll be accepted for who you are, supported when going through hard times, and challenged to reach your goals to become a better person. Basically, it’ll be the best decision you’ll ever make.”

Baltimore Maryland native “TyrannoJanna Wrex” Janna Elmslie, a physical therapist assistant, notes the strong bonds of all those involved.

“I’m really proud to be a part of such a strong, positive and committed group of women and men that have continuously pushed me to do better than I’ve thought I could achieve,” Elmslie said. “Roller derby is tough but it has been the most worthwhile expenditure of my blood, sweat and tears.”

UM-Flint alumni “Kategory Five” Karina Pickett-Rust, a substitute teacher from Flint, urges any women interested to come to a practice.

“If you have even the slightest desire to try it out, go for it,” Pickett-Rust said. “Roller derby has become a big part of my life. It is great exercise and you will make a lot of new friends.”

Cotton seconds the notion.

“We have a few stages to training,” Cotton said. “We start with what we call fresh meat. We have a current group that completed the first “boot camp.”

The team is starting out next in April while moving the first group to the second tier.

“Once they show proficiency in the list of skills that are required and pass a rules test, they can then be selected to join the roster. If you would like to come out on a Sunday, we have practices for both new skaters and the team. Our team practices from 5:30-7:30 and the new girls go from 7:30-9:30.”

The Flint City Derby Girls play their home games at Rollhaven in Grand Blanc. The games will begin at 8 p.m. Seating is first come, first serve. One can sit around the track in the “suicide seats” or behind in chairs. Home games scheduled are May 21 against the Sarnia Chinstraps, June 25 against the (Kalkaska) Small Town Outlaws, Sept. 24 against the Lansing Mitten Mavens (WTFDA affiliation) and Nov. 12 against the Battle Creek Cereal Killers (WTFDA affiliation).

For further information, please contact the Flint City Derby Girls via their Facebook page or e-mail them at [email protected]