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 firstname.lastname@example.org.