Roller derby enthusiasts come together to shred the rinks with hopes of passing the sport to future students.
To her Temple students, she’s known as Anastasia Hudgins, an assistant professor of anthropology. But in the world of women’s flat-track roller derby, she’s better known as Butterfly Stitches – the tongue-in-cheek nickname given to her when she skated as a Philly Roller Girl on the team, Philthy Britches.
Now an alumna of the fast-paced contact team sport, Hudgins is teaching derby skating basics to a group of Temple girls who expressed interest in the only activity where fishnet stockings and cheetah hot-pants can combine with helmets and kneepads to be considered standard attire.
Freshman anthropology major Amanda Raffaele and accounting and finance major Katie Fee returned from winter break with the idea of starting a derby team at Temple. After talking with Student Activities, the girls learned there was already a group interested in the same thing, and they were connected with freshman environmental studies major Claire Baldwin.
“Quickly, we teamed up and got the ball rolling on organizing rink events and volunteering with the Philly Roller Girls,” said Raffaele, the head of fundraising for the group. “I’m amazed at how fast everything happened. I never expected that we would actually become such a legitimate group so rapidly.”
After creating the Facebook page “Roller Derby is Coming” and advertising on Main Campus with flyers, the girls attracted approximately 30 active members who have participated in the two practices held this semester at Carmen’s Roller Rink on Germantown Avenue, located just off the Allegheny subway station on the Broad Street Line.
“We started out with people barely being able to skate around the rink, but now we’re practicing stops, turns, crossovers and skating in packs,” said Baldwin, who is now the co-president of the group along with Fee. “It’s great how much people are growing at the practices. People are getting it, but it’s a lot of work.”
In addition to their rink workouts, group members try to attend two fitness classes a week at the IBC Student Recreation Center, as well as completing at-home workouts created by the Philly Roller Girls, a skater-owned and operated all-girl roller derby league.
“I think people underestimate how much of an athletic sport it is just because they may think it’s just hot girls in shorts and fishnetsb fighting each other,” Baldwin said. “But it’s actually really technical and takes a lot of strength and endurance.”
For each two-hour practice, the girls have to pay out $300 to reserve the rink, on top of skate rentals, which are $10. People serious about playing also have to invest in protective equipment – including kneepads, elbow pads and wrist guards.
“The monetary commitment is pretty steep, but we’re working really hard on trying to get a lot of fundraisers together and get a lot of support, so we can pick up the slack on some of the costs,” Raffaele said. “While having Temple [backing us] would be great, I don’t think it will happen very soon.”
Student Activities only gave the option of registering as a “Temple Roller Derby Enthusiast Club,” but would not support the participation of the physical sport by the students, because its department only deals with organizations, not sports.
If roller derby had a home at Temple, it would be considered a sports club under Campus Recreation, meaning it would compete externally of the university against other clubs. Sports clubs registering with Campus Recreation have 35 percent of their expenses paid for through the university, with other costs handled through membership dues and fundraising.
Director of Campus Recreation Steve Young said Temple put a cap on sports clubs two years ago, preventing the addition of any new clubs due to the lack of funding and personnel resources available to manage any more than the 27 already in place, which are home to 1,400 participants.
“It was decided that we can’t keep growing without the resources to support more clubs,” Young said. “I give kids the credit for having some initiative to try and get something done, but we’re not serving them well at all if we can’t take care of it the right way.”
With no Temple affiliation, the group has run into difficulty finding places to hold meetings, because room reservations in the Howard Gittis Student Center cannot be made unless students are a registered organization. Its bake sale at Spring Fling had to be located at a picnic table across from Peabody residence hall, away from the booths available to registered organizations and clubs that lined Liacouras Walk.
The opportunity to rent gym space to non-Temple affiliated groups in Pearson and McGonigle halls comes at a cost of $50 per hour, but Fee said they were told they couldn’t rent out a gym for practice because they were not registered with Campus Recreation.
“When they do roller derby, they’re on a bank track, and it’s probably a pretty thick wood track,” Young said. “They’re not [skating] around a gym that’s got a basketball floor. No way.”
The roller derby matches televised in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, as well as represented in the Drew Barrymore-directed film “Whip It,” where Ellen Page traded in her “Juno” baby bump for a pair of quads, aren’t accurate depictions of modern day women’s flat-track derby.
“A lot of people think of derby as having banked tracks,” Hudgins said. “There’s some derby leagues that are like that, but they’re not associated with women’s flat track derby.”
According to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, the sport can be done on any flat surface in a track marked off by taped rope lines, including basketball courts, parking lots and even airplane hangars.
“I think we overestimated the amount of support we would get from Temple,” Fee said. “I think that’s been the most frustrating thing we took form all of this. We’re Temple students, but we feel like we don’t have any rights.”
If the cap were to be removed on sports clubs, roller derby would still need to go under a liability evaluation before being picked up by the university.
“I would do the analysis of the liability, the risk management and the safety if it wasn’t capped. I think [roller derby] would be pretty shaky,” Young said. “If you have a catastrophic injury and there is that attachment to Temple, the university could loose a multi-million dollar lawsuit.”
“As a prudent administrator in an educated environment, does it make sense to give these students more support to go and do something pretty foolish,” Young added. “Now, I’m not saying roller derby is foolish, I’m saying there’s a place for it where they do it downtown. It doesn’t have to be a Temple thing.”
The Philly Roller Girls league, which has three teams – the Broad Street Butchers, Heavy Metal Hookers and Philthy Britches – requires its skaters be 21 years old to try out.
“We’re hoping to leave something at Temple when we’re gone, so that other girls can learn how to play and start a league to learn to play before they’re 21 years old, so they can join a league if they want,” Fee said. “If campus recreation really looked at the rules of roller derby, they would see that it’s no worse than any other contact sport.”
According to the WFTDA, players are prohibited from throwing elbows, pushing or tripping opposing skaters and “clothes-lining” opponents. Just like other contact sports games, more serious offenses like fighting or tripping can get a skater removed from play.
“There’s a lot of things that are perceived to be characteristic of derby like hitting someone in the face with your elbow, but that’s not legal,” Hudgins said. “If you do that, you’re out of the game. There’s very specific rules about where you can block somebody. You have to play clean.”
One of the goals of the group is to get a network of people at different neighboring schools to start teams of their own, with the hope of gaining enough interest to form an intercollegiate league.
Over the summer, some of the girls hope to volunteer at the East Coast Derby Extravaganza, an event founded in 2007 by the Philly Roller Girls. Held June 24-26 at the Sportsplex in Feasterville, Pa., the weekend-long event hosts bouts between teams from across the United States and Canada.
Fee and Baldwin plan to stay in touch with those who showed interest this semester through the Facebook page to tell girls about leagues in their area that are hosting workshops, so skaters can improve their skills by next fall.
Anyone who’s interested in trying roller derby is encouraged to look on the group’s Facebook page to join in on upcoming events. Even if someone may not be ready to relive their days of elementary school birthday parties at the skate rink, just watching a bout is, “the coolest thing you’ll ever see,” Fee said.
The next home Philly Roller Girls bout will be held May 7 at the Class of 1923 Arena on Walnut Street where the Independence Dolls will take on the Boston Derby Dames, followed by the Belles facing off against the Texas Rollergirls.
“The game seems totally chaotic. There’s such a wide variety of people that go,” Hudgins said. “There’s parents with their kids, there’s hipsters, there’s old grannies that liked it in the ‘70s, there’s business people, college students and all kinds of people who go. It’s amazing how diverse the crowd is.”
Cara Stefchak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.