“Lois Slaine” leads the DC Rollergirls in some warm-up drills at the DC Armory.
On a recent Wednesday evening at the D.C. Armory, a dozen or so women in helmets, kneepads and roller skates are standing in a huddle. At the count of three, they all call out in forceful voices: "Mean and Green! Whips! Whips! Whips!"
That's the battle cry of the Majority Whips: one of five teams in the District's only flat-track roller derby league: The D.C. Rollergirls.
The president of the D.C. Rollergirls is Adrienne Schreiber, a.k.a. "Velocity Raptor." She says the team members usually just call each other by their derby names, even in public. And Velocity Raptor says all the team names have some sort of tie to D.C.
"We've got Scare Force One, which is my home team. And The Majority Whips, the Cherry Blossom Bombshells and the D.C. Demon Cats," she explains. "And the Capital Offenders; that's our B-Team. We're pretty entertaining!"
During the Rollergirls' scrimmages, they pull no punches as they furiously skate around the track, each team's scoring player — or "jammer" — trying to lap members of the opposing team. And while the whole thing isn't quite as violent as you'd see in a movie like "Whip It," many of the skaters are nursing their share of cuts, bruises and lumps.
The Rollergirls have been holding scrimmages and bouts at the D.C. Armory since their second season in 2008. The beauty of the space, Velocity Raptor says, is that it's so enormous. The league can lay out anywhere from four to six practice tracks at once. Plus, it's right near a bunch of bus stops and the Stadium-Armory Metro.
"We do have a lot of League members who don't drive," she says. "So being accessible by public transportation is probably priority number one."
Rollergirls searching for a new space
The Armory opened in 1941 to house the D.C. National Guard. In recent years, under the auspices of Events D.C. — the official convention and sports authority for the District — the Armory's been hosting a whole range of other things, too, from car shows to marathon-related events.
As a result, says Velocity Raptor, the space's availability comes and goes. "It's not that they're closing us out from being here, it's just that they have our contract to juggle on top of a lot of other things," she explains.
That contract, she says, isn't cheap: "It's expensive. All of D.C. is expensive!"
And the D.C. Rollergirls should know. With their teams growing and the Armory's availability shrinking, the women have been seeking a new space for their scrimmages and bouts — ideally, some sort of warehouse, "so that we could practice 24 hours a day, seven days a week," says Samantha McGovern, a.k.a. "Green Eggs and Wham."
"I go by 'Wham' for short because 'Green Eggs and Wham' is sort of a mouthful!" she says.
The league is so at the mercy of the Armory's schedule, that it can't create its own set schedule. Hence the need for its own space.
"We've come close a couple of times," Wham says. "We've actually found spaces that work. But financially it just wasn't a sound jump for us to make, because most of these places have five- or ten-year leases that we'd have to commit to.
"So we need to make sure we have the finances to back that up before we take it to the next level."
"We want to have a nice kitty so we can really look hard and not settle for something that isn't quite a good fit," says Jenny Lindstrom, who skates under the name "Slam Grier."
"My number is '11 Feet 4 Inches' because it's the reverse of my height," she says with a smile. "I'm the shortest player in the League, as far as I can tell!"
Slam says raising those $25,000 for a new, permanent home wouldn't just allow the roughly 80 D.C. Rollergirls to keep on skating; it'd allow them to expand.
"We just started a rec league," she explains, "which is great for people who just wanna learn and develop and hopefully one day be on one of our teams, and with our own space, it'd be easier to have things like that."
But despite all the challenges the league's been encountering, in true fierce, hard-core, roller-derby fashion, president Velocity Raptor says she's keeping her hopes high.
"Having a space of our own... it's going to happen," she says. "This has been our focus for our strategic plan that we put together was to find that dedicated space for the league. And it'll in the long run save us lots of money and time and headaches."
Though given the rather aggressive nature of the sport, maybe a new space won't help so much with those headaches... literally, anyway!
[Music: "Skate" by Dean Parrish from Creative Musicians]
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