The UIC Pavilion rumbles with anticipation as the “Eye of the Tiger” begins. Down on the floor a few dozen kids gather rink side, bouncing with eager energy. In the stands, the fans are already screaming. They’re holding hand crafted signs and wearing tee shirts broadcasting their favorite teams. There are two tweens a few rows away dressed like their favorite derby girls (complete with striped tube socks and fake tattoos). Suddenly, the players enter the arena. The roar of the crowd is deafening and the kids on the floor reach forward to nab high-fives as the athletes speed by.

This is the antidote for a boring Saturday night.

Chicago’s Windy City Rollers have been breaking hearts and kicking butts since the league’s inception in 2004. The athletes are a blend of feminine wiles and hard-hitting prowess. Their armor includes lipstick, ripped fishnets, glittering helmets, and sprawling tattoos. Outside of derby, they’re the cool girls you see riding the L, returning library books, and hanging out at that dive bar in Wicker Park. Inside the rink, they shed their true identities in favor of superhero-worthy alter egos like Slammah Montana, Tina Flay, Nina Millimeter, Deb Autry, and Loco Chanel.

Tonight, the fans have come out in droves to see two inter-league bouts: the Hell’s Bells versus the Maniac Attackers and then The Fury will take on the Double Crossers. The seats are filled with families, hipsters, yuppies, students, and huge groups of birthday and bachelor parties. It’s a cross-section of Chicago blending all races, genders, and ages.

Roller derby is an easy sport to follow. Each team sends a pack of five on to the track made up of three positions: a pivot, a jammer, and blockers. The pivot sets the pace of the pack and the blockers, naturally, try to stop the scoring jammer. The jammers race to break away from the pack and pass the opposing team. The jammer who makes it out front is the lead jammer and can now score points, one for each of the opposing derby girl she laps. In between all the scoring and blocking, there are plenty of hard hits, trips, and rink pile ups.

Derby girls are fighters. More often than not, a night at the derby comes with a lesson. Just like a clichéd sports movie (minus the bad soundtrack), scrappy underdogs will come from behind to win it all and the tiniest girl on the team is often the unlikely hero. Individually, the Windy City Derby’s roster reads like a character synopses from great American novels. Hell’s Belles’ jammer Zombea Arthur, a 4’11” powerhouse, tried out three times before she made the team. The Maniac Attackers’ Beth Amphetamine is a former national level boxer whose career ended when she tore the tendons that connected her head to her neck (though, thankfully, they were not completely severed). After years of painful recovery, her determination and competitive thrust led her to derby.

The Windy City Rollers do have a softer side under all that rink rash. The bouts’ proceeds are gathered and donated to charitable causes including the Chicago Abused Women’s Coalition and the American Cancer Society. Since the league is made up entirely of volunteers (including the referees and statisticians), they are able to donate an impressive amount.

As the night draws to a close, the excitement doesn’t. The bouts end and the derby girls are swamped with fans asking for autographs and pictures with their favorite flat track stars. Their passion for the sport and genuine affection for their teammates is palpable and contagious. In fact, it’s got me thinking about an old, dusty pair of Barbie skates packed away in the attic. First things first: any suggestions for a bad ass derby name?

The Windy City Roller Derby League continues its 2010 season this Saturday April 10th at the UIC Pavilion (525 S. Racine Avenue). The doors will open at 5 pm and the fun begins at 6 pm as The Fury takes on the Maniac Attackers and the Hell’s Belles try to hex the Double Crossers. Tickets can be purchased online with student, child, senior, and group discounts available.

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