By day, they are moms, call-center workers and restaurant employees. By night, they are a fierce and competitive sisterhood ready to fight tooth and nail for victory.
It's OK if they break some teeth, get black eyes or purple-colored bruises. These are the women of Renegade Rollergirls of Tucson. Playing nice isn't an option.
Wanting to put the dirty back in derby, several girls from multiple Arizona roller-derby teams formed the Renegade Rollergirls league in 2004. Besides the original Phoenix league, there are now leagues in Tucson; San Diego; Los Angeles; Orange County, Calif.; and Oregon. Suzi Berrie formed Renegade Rollergirls of Tucson, or RRoT, in April 2011.
Berrie is one of the founders of Tucson Roller Derby, a league that's part of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association.
Renegade Rollergirls do not belong to the WFTDA and play by the motto "any surface, any time." This means playing on banked tracks, in parking lots, on sport courts or even in the middle of the street.
Renegade-style roller derby is true to its name—no rules or referees. "We have no penalties, so we can basically do anything. We can grab someone and throw them, tackle them or trip them," says Berrie, known on the circuit as Clit Eatwood.
This, of course, causes injuries. Sometimes bloody, broken and bandaged, these women aren't afraid to get banged up a bit. They even display photos of their injuries on their website, rrot.weebly.com.
"They are awards, in a way," Berrie says, "to show people this isn't fake. This isn't some staged thing. We are real women going out there and beating the crap out of each other."
Spectators are in for some surprises. "When I am looking (at the crowd), I see people standing up out of their chairs with their mouths open—like, 'Did that really happen?'"
At their first game, the girls got a surprise of their own. A nun dressed in full habit was in the audience. "I thought I had a concussion and was seeing things," says Dotty Shaw (aka. Smacka B. Yotch).
Shaw is the prospect manager, meaning she gets the newbies ready for play. She says she likes the game because it's aggressive. "It's the best sport to get out your aggression, but still be friends. You can punch each other and kick each other, and at the end of the game, you can shake hands ... and say, 'Wow, that was a nice hit.'"
At a recent practice, Shaw was coaching the players, frequently calling out tips and compliments, like, "Hit 'em low," "Look behind you," "Nice fall" and "Nice hit."
"We look scary; we look mean," Shaw says. "But we're really sweethearts and are there for each other."
The practice atmosphere is relaxed, with spouses and children watching from the sidelines. There is also plenty of laughter. When I ask Amanda Jardee (Death Blossom) to spell her last name, she clarifies that the fourth letter is a "d, like Daniel or daffodils or duckling." And then she exclaims, "Death Blossom! Improving your vocabulary—and not just with swears! ... I also do weddings and bar mitzvahs." She cracks up those around her, including Felicia Mathis Gregory (Twiggy Bumpkins).
Gregory's name comes from the fact that a former co-worker called her Twiggy, due to her slight frame. On the back of her uniform, the words "104 pounds" are written in glittery print. Bumpkins refers to her best tactic in the game—bumping people.
Gregory's presence dispels the myth that you need to be big and burly to play the game. Players are every shape and size, and they range in age from the early 20s to mid-40s. They come from all walks of life and professions. Besides working at restaurants and call centers, players work at a law office, a hospital and an optometrist's office.
Big, small, young or older, these women clearly have fun playing the game, even if it means getting into a fight with an opposing player. Says Jardee: "Derby is one of the few places where you can punch people in the face, and that makes you friends with them."