Zipping around the track in a savage ballet, following intuitive patterns as their bodies crash into each other, the women engage, again and again. Muscles sore, sweat dripping from their skin, they push hard, ever forward, a tangle of arms and legs, as through the cacophony, two lithe figures weave between the jigsaw of effort, until they reach an open space, and they sprint, faster, faster, on four wheels driven by long legs, luscious machines of fury.
This, is roller derby.

This, Quad Cities Rollers Roller Derby, will open its tenth season this weekend with a tough opening bout that welcomes old fans and newbies alike to check out their unique sport. The Rollers were the second group of their kind founded in Iowa and now find themselves the oldest functioning organization presenting roller derby. The women have been practicing for weeks, getting ready for the season’s start, and players both veteran and newbie are excited to get things rolling.

qc rollers two“We’re exhausted, but it’s a good exhausted, we’re excited,” said Melanie McMullen, 36, of Milan, who goes by the name LoonaChick Cringe in the ring. “One of the coolest things about this is that it’s family friendly. A lot of us have kids and so we like to keep it clean, keep it fun.”

McMullen, a mother of three, notes that the Rollers are an eclectic group of ladies from all different backgrounds and career paths.

“We have 36 members in the league and everyone has a job on and off their skates, there are women from 19 to 44 playing, and everybody has their own reason,” she said. “I was a Mom and I needed something for myself, something to do, a hobby, I guess, and I really liked this. But there are women all across the spectrum who do this for a number of reasons. We’ve really built a family here, it’s a very strong group of people, but we all work together.”

Jennifer Knapp, 26, of Davenport, who skates under the name Jen Raged, agreed.

“I found this as something to motivate me, to keep my drive, after I got out of school,” Knapp said. “I love it. I love the challenge of it. I love the camaraderie with the other girls. It’s one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done.”

For those who have never seen roller derby, here’s basically how it works: There are a group of blockers who create space for a trailing skater to get through and make her way around the track. There are points rewarded for each trek around the track as well as the number of opponents passed on their way around. It’s a physical sport – players can get knocked down and blocked up and slowed down on their way around, but there are also rules against contact outside of a designated area (mostly the torso) and players can be penalized for illegal contact, leaving their team short-handed.

“It’s a really fun sport and it’s not too tough to understand once you get the basic idea of it,” McMullen said. “Plus, like I said, it’s family-friendly, people can bring their kids of all ages and they’ll enjoy it. And it’s also nice to see girls playing sports and doing something tough. I think little girls especially get a big kick out of it.”

The Rollers, like every other team of their ilk, are registered with the national organization, the Women’s Flattrack Derby Association, which provides rules and regulations to groups across the country. It also helps organize bouts between cities and allows members more-or-less an open door policy to sit in and play when they visit other cities.

“It’s a really cool community of women, we’re all very supportive of each other,” McMullen said.

qc rollers one

Each of the members pays monthly dues, and all skater is required to have an additional job to help out of the rink. But, as McMullen says, it’s well worth it, and once women give it a try, “they get hooked.” The Rollers are always looking for new members and offer training and additional support.

“It takes a lot of energy, there’s an edge to it, but after a game there’s no better feeling,” McMullen said.

“It’s really a lot of fun,” Knapp said. “We think if people come out and give it a try and watch it, they’ll really like it.”

You’ll have your chance this weekend, and during the upcoming season.

Tickets are $10 in advance available at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2505943, Mellow Blue Planet Comics and Collectibles, Fred and Ethel’s, Abernathy’s, Hilltop Gunshop, or from your favorite Roller. $12 at the door, and as always, children 12 and under get in for free.


QC Rollers Opening Bout
Doors at 5, bout at 6 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 27
Eldridge Skate Park, 400 S. 16th Ave., Eldridge, Iowa
Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door, kids under 12 get in free

Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written almost 30 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.