A League of Their Own

Tucson Roller Derby, July 20, at the Wreckhouse

Armed with protective gear—including teeth guards—and roller skates and fishnet stockings, the Tucson Roller Derby girls are not your average athletes.

Founded in 2003, the all-girls nonprofit league features fierce women from all types of backgrounds, including lawyers, teachers, bartenders and marketing executives.

This weekend marks an especially exciting time for the roller derby community. On Saturday, July 20, two TRD teams, the Furious Truckstop Waitresses and VICE Squad, will battle the Arizona Roller Derby league's Surly Gurlies and Bad News Beaters. On Sunday, members of the Junior Derby Brats League will celebrate their city and county proclamation honoring National Junior Derby Day.

According to TRD league president Joanne Amstutz, aka "Mystery Meat," roller derby is the fastest-growing women's sport in the world.

But although it may look appealing to skate while wearing eccentric outfits, roller derby is a full-contact sport.

Each match consists of two 30-minute halves called "bouts," Amstutz said.

These bouts are broken up into "jams" which can be up to two minutes long and involve 10 players out on the track, five from each team.

Of those five players, four are "blockers" and one is a "jammer."

The jammer is the skater who scores the points. Her goal is to lap the opposing pack as many times as she can in that two-minute period, Amstutz said.

For each opposing player she passes after her first pass through the opposing pack, the jammer gets a point. Whichever team has the most points at the end of the game wins.

For a lot of women who have never played a sport before, the aggressive nature of roller derby can be hard to adjust to, Amstutz said.

The league requires three months of training before newcomers can play an official game. They also must pass a skills test to be sure they won't endanger anyone on the track.

Kindergarten teacher Layla Montiel, aka "Zippy's Takeout," is co-captain of the Furious Truckstop Waitresses. She said she felt like she was meeting celebrities when she was first introduced to TRD members.

"The first time that I watched a bout, I loved the names, I loved the fact that it was a sport that was not so mainstream ... I loved the theater of it, the costumes, the makeup. I loved the fact that it was sort of like a stage," Montiel said.

She said the most exciting part of roller derby has been the close friendships she has formed with the other women on the team.

"I've been here for five years, and in that five years, life has handed me hard challenges. And having a whole team of girls to call on for support has been amazing," she said. "The self-confidence is huge. I had much lower self-esteem before I started to play."

Montiel also coaches the Junior Roller Derby Brats League, which received a proclamation from Pima County and the city of Tucson supporting the upcoming National Junior Roller Derby Day. The day commemorates the first bout ever played in a junior derby league, which started in Tucson.

"We're really excited about it; it's kind of a big deal," Montiel said.

On Sunday, the Derby Brats will host an event that will provide the public with free information, food trucks, music, a short proclamation ceremony to congratulate the girls and a scrimmage by both the Derby Brats and TRD, according to Montiel.

She said that as a coach, she's inspired by the young girls on the team. "In the three years that I have been coaching, it's just remarkable. ...They're really what keeps the derby alive inside of me. I might get too beat up, a commitment might become too hard. But with those girls, it's like a pure love."

Both leagues are also invested in giving back to the Tucson community.

Every TRD game benefits a charity in some way, whether through proceeds from the contests or volunteer work by league members. This weekend's games will benefit the American Red Cross, which will host a blood drive at the event, according to Amstutz.

"We hope (attendees) have a good time ... and hopefully you know, participate with whatever charity that we're working with," she said.

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