Roller Girls push through money woes

The Philly Roller Girls recently played its first home game at the 23rd Street Armory.

Adorning assorted piercings and brightly colored tattoos, tough-looking women with fishnet stockings, fake blood and punk-rock styles not only have looks to fear, they have the attitudes to match.

These are the Philly Roller Girls, a feisty band of women who owns and operates its own roller derby league. It consists of the Broad Street Butchers, the Heavy Metal Hookers, the Philthy Britches and the Liberty Belles, an all-star travel team.

The season opener was the first for the Philly Roller Girls in its new arena. Teams played to a full house in a sold-out game.

Janet Meano, a petite and enthusiastic member of the Philthy Britches, said the league rented the 23rd Street Armory for one season due to the high cost. If shows continue to sell out, the team hopes to score an even bigger venue.

“Our shows are selling out two weeks in advance,” Meano said. “We would love to have bouts at the Wachovia Center, but that’s not gonna happen just yet.”

Previously, the team has played home games at a rink in Feasterville, Pa. Its season opener marked the start of a new season, bigger crowds and a better arena.

Screams echoed and bounced off the walls and the high, metal ceilings of the Armory, which is nestled between Chestnut and Market streets. The former military equipment factory has a dusty interior filled with 6-foot-high rusted bleachers that are lined up around a circular track. It has only two oval-shaped lines of hot-pink tape stuck to the dirty concrete floor.

The crowd was rowdy, and the beer flowed from the coolers while the Broad Street Butchers warmed up for its first bout against the River City Roller Girls of Richmond, Va.

Each skater is required to pay $40 in monthly dues. The cost covers uniforms, equipment, insurance and the rental of the space.

“There’s a whole litany of cost that comes out of our pockets,” Meano said.

Philly Roller Girls relies heavily on sponsors, fans and donations to cover its expenses. The league also uses volunteers to help with the bouts and tournaments. Players often serve as cocktail waitresses in between bouts and talk to the fans.

“I’ve spent well over $1,000 on derby stuff since I started in March of 2007,” said Sabrina “Sunshine Skate” Tamayo of the Broad Street Butchers.

Since the Philly Roller Girls has entered 2009 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and has a new location, derby members are hoping to get more local businesses to sponsor them and take interest in the league.

The team is also able to raise profits by having karaoke fundraisers and selling merchandise at sold-out games.

Despite its financial difficulties, the Philly Roller Girls’ spirit and passion for the game never seems to tire and neither does the fans’ raging enthusiasm.

“We looked into playing college venues like Temple,” Meano said, “but they wanted $10,000 a night.”

As the bout continued and the girls raced around the track, taking every bump and bruise with bravado, the Butchers’ mascot – a man with a mullet haircut wearing a red jumpsuit and a blood-splattered apron – carried a flag with cleavers on it and ran around rousing the crowd, which varied from senior citizens to young punk-rockers.

The camaraderie and teamwork is refreshing, and so is the girls’ desire to have the derby spawn into a larger sport – with an even larger fan base and stadium.

The next bout, scheduled for March 7, is “over half-way sold out,” Tamayo said. “Nationals are being held in Philly this year, and we are trying to get the [Pennsylvania] Convention Center. It’s like a dream of ours.”

The first home game ended with the Butchers defeating the River City Roller Girls by a 136-75 margin, with the happy crowd cheering on their hometown heroes.

Kayla Murphy can be reached at

1 Comment

  1. We are right down the block from Temple.

    On Saturday, March 26th, our Penn Jersey Roller Derby group played
    their first banked track game at the training school in north Philly.
    This game was the amateur division, not the pro division and it was
    four 12 minute periods with girls only skating.

    Because of zoning restrictions, it was not open to the public but only
    open to a select few people who are friends and relatives of skaters
    and a few fans. They are only allowed to have up to 100 people in the

    I probably would have refereed in the game because of my previous
    banked track refereeing experience but they had no one else there who
    had enough score and stats keeping experience so I wound up doing
    stats with another girl who had never done it before. The good news
    though was that both of us did the stats from the infield of the track
    as an experiment. We just had chairs to sit in where the medical table
    would normally be in the center of the infield. There was no medical
    table but they did have penalty boxes. This went well because it was
    much easier to see who the pivot and jammers were for each jam. It was
    a lot better than doing stats from outside the track like we do for
    the flat track games.

    It was very emotional for a lot of us since this was the first banked
    track game in Philly since 1983 and we knew the significance of the
    game. Some skaters actually had tears in their eyes during the
    national anthem.

    Judy Sowinski coached one team and Skip Schoen the other team. The
    game itself was absolutely amazing. I couldn’t believe how good it
    was. The pace of the game was super fast and the pack moved faster
    than any game that I’ve ever been at in person before. The pack moved
    just as fast as it moved in games from the 1940s and 1950s. The pack
    skaters moved at top speed and the jammers had to work like crazy to
    get in scoring position. It was a clean game with very few penalties.
    It was very low scoring early in the game. It was 9-9 at halftime but
    scoring picked up in the second half. Skip’s team made a big come back
    late in the game and tied the score at 30-30 with very little time
    left in the game. They skated a full 5 minute overtime period (not
    sudden death). Skip’s team won 33-31. Everyone loved the game. The
    skaters and fans were really into the game and the crowd was cheering
    like crazy throughout the game. All of us were very pleased about how
    well everyone skated and how good the game was and we can’t wait for
    another banked track game.

    This game brought back so many memories for me since this is the first
    time that I`ve been in the infield for a banked track game since I
    refereed the T-Birds vs. Devils game at Madison Square Garden in 1983.
    I was thrilled about being in the infield for the game and I was just
    as excited as the fans and skaters to be there. I’m still savoring the
    game and I’ll never forget being a part of it. Hopefully I’ll be able
    to referee the next banked track game if they can get at least one
    stats keeper who has the experience to do the stats and show a rookie
    stats keeper what to do.

    I can’t wait for the next banked track game and it will be even better
    when the pro division starts doing games because they will be allowed
    to do so much more.

    Congrats to Judy S, Skip, the skaters and the referees for a job well done.

    Tom Wersderfer, Referee

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