The steady ccchhhhhhkkkk of freshly unrolled duct tape salts the air.
Elbow pads, wrist guards, knee pads and helmets are untucked from bags and strapped into place. Bright purple duct tape goes over the Velcro straps, which become unreliable when soaked with sweat. A mouth guard is taken out of its cases. Crusted drool gets wiped from the grooves. Pushed through open lips, it clicks into place, teeth finding familiar edges bitten into the plastic. Extra spit gathers, gets sucked up, the tongue rolls over the well-worn guard. Then a helmet is clasped into place — a crowning moment for sure, the final touch of the transformation from everyday woman into roller girl.
No matter what their day jobs are — teacher, hairdresser, insurance salesperson, stay-at-home mom, librarian — here, they’re part of the team, the family that is Springfield’s Queen City Roller Derby.
There are two ovals laid out on the rink — black duct tape creates a clear track, where 10 women skate at a time, pushing, shoving and rolling over one another in hopes of sending their team’s score up another couple of points. Tight purple spandex tops and hot pants are the required uniform for the league’s female A team, the Queen B–’s . Each woman’s jersey holds a name and number, as she skates close to her teammates to form a solid pack—all jumbled together, but teammates finding teammates in hopes of creating a single unit. Some are big, some are tall and prone to “accidentally” keeping an elbow pad at a height that might be equivalent to another skater’s face. Fallen skaters litter the track, scrambling to get back on eight wheels to rejoin the group, lifting themselves up on their wrist guards to find their footing, the crowd cheering as skaters pass by, the team clambering to fill gaps in their lines of defense. Always going in circles, a two-minute sprint at a time, skating wheels gripping the track in every effort to find forward motion, screeching when forced sideways on a tight turn.
Skating next to one another as best they can, the Queen B–’s blockers look side to side, trying to see around their own helmets, with thick black plastic standing between the track and their skulls, should they meet. These women who make up the line from all different walks of life come together on this track not only to skate, but to be part of the family.
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Lisa’s making threats again. Eyes on the prize and inching her way forward, she makes it clear what she’s after.
Her movements are loose—precise and focused, though.
“Your tootsies! I’m gonna eat ‘em!”
It’s not the usual threat, which usually shoots a lithe-limbed skater through the air. It’s a different threat and hardly a threat at all, sending herself into peals of laughter as she crouches beside her 3-year-old son Chase and tickles his feet as he scoots back in glee on the living room couch.
This is the quick-to-smile Lisa Hill: The stay-at-home mom who helps out her husband with his lawn care business when needed. The one who kisses boo-boos, referees which of her three children gets to play on the computer next, and the one who, evidently, spends some time eating tootsies. And at the same time, the woman who relishes that on the derby track, she “gets to hit people, and they like it and won’t send me to jail for it.”
Said with an impossibly wide-eyed grin and the shadow of a chuckle, mind you.
Derby is a family affair for them. Lisa, known on the track as Sweet Violent Urge, is the president on the board of directors for Springfield’s Queen City Roller Derby. Her husband, Mark, sometimes Major A Hole, acts as coach and plays for the men’s team, the Atomic Playboys. They talk about derby a lot. Most of the time, really. So much so that they have to set aside 30-minute increments for non-derby discussion. They can’t help it.
Their 9-year-old son Cole skates, too. He wants to tell his skating story, about how he got started. Lisa laughs, explains that it’s not too much of a story. “You started skating because I put skates on you,” she whispers to him. He said he’s been skating since he was six or seven — Lisa corrects him and tells him it’s more like since he was two or three.
He stops. His eyes bug out. “Wow,” he says. “That’s REALLLLY young.”
Their 6-year-old daughter Lily and 3-year-old son Chase are in on it as well. And if they could strap skates on the dog and cat, they probably would.
“It’s 24/7 derby here,” Mark says with a grin.
Sitting on the living room couch, Mark surrounds himself with gadgets: an iPhone, tablet and a laptop, all displaying roller derby sites and channels, examining game play, rules and strategy on three different mediums at once. Then he walks over to the PC and starts printing out derby insurance information there, too, all part of working toward getting the league affiliated with a national derby association.
Mark and Lisa are at the center of Springfield’s Queen City Roller Derby. They helped found it with Jason McDaniel, the team’s former coach, and Heather Heinrichs, after leaving the Springfield Roller Girls, the city’s other local roller derby league. It’s been a building process — recruiting players, becoming an established business, working toward gaining tax-exempt status, getting a board elected and then getting committees on their feet. Fundraising, team relations, philanthropy … a little bit of everything to get them involved and out in the community.
Mark’ll go back and forth when he talks about Lisa. Sometimes she’s his wife. Sometimes she’s one of his skaters. He’ll rattle off the exact day that they met — and every other anniversary that they share, correcting Lisa along the way — and then he’ll start talking about her skating form and how she’s improved over the years. Lisa blushes a little when he says things like that.
Lisa’s a blocker. Her main job on the track is to skate in a close pack alongside her teammates and make sure that the other team’s jammer — noted by the bright star on her helmet — doesn’t pass her. Jammers score points by passing members of the opposite team on the track — in each jam , either four or five points can be scored.
Derby’s changed Lisa. It’s made her more outspoken and a hell of a lot more confident.
“I don’t want to go as far as to say that I used to be mousy, but that might be a good word for it,” she says. She searches for a better word before deciding. “Um … a people-pleaser? And I still am a people-pleaser, but now I know when to say when. And now I’m more confident in what I do, what I say.”
She talks about the on/off switch that she turns to, the one that changes her from the stay-at-home mom who sweetly addresses her child as “my pumpkin pie” to the woman who — and she hedges a bit before she says it — is a “bit of a bitch” on the derby track.
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This is not about fishnet tights. It’s not about garters, peppering curses into every other sentence, the beer garden set up at the end of the rink, or even about getting your ass kicked so hard you have to duct tape your elbow, wrist, and knee pads into place. OK, so it’s a little bit about getting your ass kicked. But then it’s just as much about kicking ass, too.
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At work at Mojo Pie Hair & Body Salon, Heather Heinrichs wears 5-inch floral-patterned heels. Her hair is tied back in a loose bun, with an oversized fabric flower tucked into the side of it. Her lips are painted bright red and she has the retro pin-up girl look down pat. There’s an edge to Heather that you can see right away — a couple of tattoos ring her ankle and there’s a certain air with which she carries herself — but it’s pretty clear that neither the tattoos nor the pin-up look tell the whole story.
For Heather, a recently divorced and a single mom, roller derby is where she can “get it all out.” She skates hard and has worked her way up to being one of the hardest hitters and loudest mouths on the team.
Heather got her start in roller derby after being recruited at a bar five years ago. She was absolutely sure that she was going to get into a fight with somebody. A group of girls kept looking at her from across the bar, pointing at her. She’d never been in a fight before, but she figured she could hold her own in case things came down to it. They approached. She readied herself.
“Have you ever thought about roller derby?” they asked her.
Heather glosses over the rest — she showed up to practice, put on a pair of skates and has been doing it ever since. She calls the rest of it “history.” Derby history.
“Apparently, I like to hit people,” she says with mock surprise.
She’s been with Queen City since the beginning, in early 2011. Ask a skater how she got her start with Springfield’s Queen City and Heather’s name will come up in the story somewhere. It’s that toothy grin, the one you can’t say no to, the one that reflects an obvious infatuation for the sport she calls an addiction.
Heather gets all fluttery when she talks about derby, and the feeling comes back when she gets ready for a bout. Stomach flutters — that’s what she calls them. It feeds into the look she goes for at work, but on the track, TKO Rose, her derby alter ego, hardly seems the type to get nervous at all.
She wears her hair back in braids for practices and bouts — her braids never frizz, thanks to some secret hairdresser magic. That’s the look she goes for, the look that she wants TKO Rose to represent. It’s something she describes as wild, but sexy.
“But you can’t really be sexy with a mouth guard and helmet,” she admits with a laugh.
It’s more of an attitude thing. She mentions it during practices, at least when she’s not holding her own against the skaters from the all-male Atomic Playboys . She takes out her mouth guard, wipes away some spit and sticks the guard in her helmet, in one of the holes at the top.
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She’ll tell you about her teammates, her extended family, the names that join hers on the team and league roster. Crash Bandicooch. Barnes ‘N NailHer. Skaytor Moon. Lady After Math. Aphrodite’s Revenge.
They’re just a fraction of the larger list, a database of more than 15,000 derby alter egos. It’s not so much a roster as it is a record. Names typed on a website might as well be written out in blood. Or bruises. Or black eyes.
Roller derby names — these alter-ego titles that these women bestow upon themselves and one another — are one of the lasting parts of derby culture, a constant within the sport’s history over the past few decades.
Roller derby started in the 1920s as a marathon skating event, with skaters competing in a race. The 1930s brought a contact element to the sport and featured two five-man teams. By the 1970s, it was more about the show than the sport — choreographed moves and exaggerated falls competing for attention on a banked track. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, different TV shows kept roller derby as a spectacle, with things like a figure-eight track and alligator pits. 
The sport, as far as Springfield’s Queen City Roller Derby is concerned, got started in the early 2000s, with small grassroots teams formed as businesses. The hits are real and there are rules. Lots of rules. Skaters can’t just go out on the track and start beating people up, even if they’d like to. The sport has gained a certain legitimacy in the past several years and some campy or kitsch aspects of the game are even starting to fade — yes, women still wear fishnet tights, hot pants and play under aliases akin to leading a double life, but it’s very much a sport. And honest to God, you nearly feel the hits yourself when you watch some of them fall.
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Derby isn’t a lesson in learning how to be OK with your body. It’s not a lesson in learning to embrace thigh-highs and fishnets as a big girl, or about putting on a show by sticking out your ass while you skate. It’s a sport that’s about giving anyone a shot — in this league, at least. If you want to be there, they’ll find a spot for you and you’ll almost certainly become part of the family. They’re absolutely adamant about it and each skater repeats the mantra like they’re being paid to say it.
But they’re not getting paid, not for saying a mantra and certainly not for the hours of hard work that have gone into making theirs a name to be reckoned with in Springfield and the derby community at large.
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Finley, the high school math teacher, says derby helps her get the attention of her students.
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For LaShea Finley, derby is another way to connect with her students. She’ll tell them about about the bouts, the hits she takes, and, of course, the hits she doles out. They’ll look back at her wide-eyed, sit up a little bit straighter in their chairs in her math class, because apparently their sweet-looking algebra teacher has no qualms about shoving a fellow human to the ground. But talking about derby on those off days in class — the days when high school students in math hit a wall and just won’t talk about finding “x” no matter where it is — LaShea is able to connect with her students on a different level and bring them into an aspect of her life that’s not focused on the classroom.
“They see me as a human, so they see me as…” she says, pausing. “I’m not here just to teach them about math. I want them to learn.”
LaShea is undoubtedly a ray of sunshine on the team. Where other skaters might outwardly look tougher — tattoos, piercings and the like — LaShea seems innocent, the team sweetheart.
But then she’ll talk about this bruise she has on her leg, one that she got more than a couple months ago after falling on someone’s skates on the track. She doesn’t recommend falling on someone else’s skates, for the record. But that bruise only kept her out of the bout for three jams — just about six minutes. And then she went back out onto the track.
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Getting hurt and falling are just accepted aspects of the sport — a slew of broken legs among the local derby community is unusual, but not unheard of. And everyone has a story about the worst hit they’ve taken. Fabulous Flash has been knocked unconscious, TKO Rose tore her glute and had to sit on one cheek for months and Sweet Violent Urge has a bulging disk in her back that tends to flare up.
But immediately after talking about the beatings that they’ve pretty much paid for by being part of the team, they’ll tell you how much they love it and that bruises aren’t going to keep them from being part of this.
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As much as Heather started Krissy’s derby career, she sure as hell finished it. During practice one day in late September, Krissy Sinor tried a turn as jammer — the team’s coach, Major A Hole , has blockers try a turn as jammer to make sure that everyone gets a feel as to what the other positions are like. Krissy’s not a typical jammer — Barnes n NailHer and Fabulous Flash are smaller than she is, but a little bit nimbler. They’re young, they’re quick, and more than anything, they’re just fast and can avoid the shoulders and hips that assault them as they try to break through.
Krissy wasn’t as fast.
Heather nailed her, sent her flying. She landed hard, with her right arm outstretched. Something was wrong. She shook it out — as a derby girl well into her first few months of practice, she’d fallen before, she’d taken hits. But this one really hurt.
She saw a doctor, who delivered the bad news: Krissy had torn her rotator cuff. Her career was over as a derby girl. She waited months before electing for surgery, finally having doctors fix her shoulder just before the June 30 bout against the Tulsa Beta Corps and showed up with her arm in a large padded sling. She’s still going to skate. Probably not with her arm in a sling, because even she thinks that would be pretty stupid, but she still wants to be part of the team as much as her shoulder will allow. She’s working on becoming a referee, looking at the game from the outside in now, watching “the kids” play. That’s what she calls most of the team. She’s allowed to, she says, because she has a son who’s 29. If you’re younger than that, in Krissy’s eyes, you’re still a kid.
She hasn’t taken a hit since November and doesn’t plan to again. It’s possible to get hit as an non-skating official or referee , but she’s banking on staying steady on her skates.
She admits that the pile-ups are her favorite parts of the bout, in the same way that fans pay more attention to NASCAR crashes than laps.  Krissy’s here because as she creeps in on her 49th birthday this August, making her one of the, ahem, more senior members of Queen City, she wants to have fun. She says that’s what it’s all about. To have fun. The same reason why she keeps rubber ducks on her dashboard in her car as her driving buddies. Because it’s fun.
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The June 30 bout against the Tulsa Beat Corps starts tense. It’s only their third against another team — they started the bout with a 1-1 record, but that loss was one doozy of a loss. More than 200 points separated the Queen B–’s from the other team, which is a whole lot of points. Major A Hole doesn’t particularly enjoy losing. In fact, the team he plays for out of Des Moines — Your Mom — is ranked first according to the Men’s Roller Derby Association. He served in the Marines for nine years. Kind of intense when derby’s of concern. He appreciates a well-played game of derby. And this … might not be one. They’re not keeping their walls together and they’re not keeping the Tulsa jammer from passing them. And that’s a really big problem in roller derby, where that’s the whole point.
Now, well into the bout, there’s only a couple of jams left, and only four or five points to score per jam, so the 40-something-point lead that Tulsa has built over Queen City this evening makes it clear that this is going to be the home team’s second loss. Major A Hole slams his fist into the boards, creating a rumble around the rink. His team is out of breath and though they’re still skating hard, you can see them start to wane, at least a little. There’s just no way that they can win.
Major A Hole shouts from beside the bench, “I didn’t know this was a horse race!”
Lisa turns to him — decidedly Lisa at this point, Mark’s wife, not Sweet Violent Urge. “Oh, Mark!”
“Because they’re riding us out there like horses!” he shouts. It’s a rough moment. The team is on edge. Mark is the only one in the arena who is shouting. The rest of the crowd is mostly cheering.
Then, with three minutes and 21 seconds left in the bout, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” starts playing.
The tension breaks and everyone sings along. The 40-point deficit starts to melt away. Fabulous Flash, one of the jammers, gets up from her seat on the bench and claps her wrist guards above her head. Everyone knows the words, because everyone knows the words to “Don’t Stop Believin.’” The team starts smiling and the crowd starts clapping. The Queen B—’s are here to skate hard, to be a on a team, yes. But they’re also here because it’s fun and they do this because they want to.
Derby is a fever. It’s a fix, an itch that has to be scratched. They’re here because they love it. They need it. They invest in it — not just with money, but their time and their bodies. They throw themselves across the rink, on eight wheels, and aren’t shy about the black and blue marks that the sport has left on their arms, legs and sides. It’s a badge of honor, these bruises — they play hard, taking some hits a linebacker might wince at taking in full padding. They play hard out of respect to the other team and out of respect for the hours that they spend skating during the week, the hours they spend fundraising.
The announcers — the one dressed as a cowboy  and the one wearing a Mexican wrestling mask that covers his face — tell the crowd to hand it to Springfield’s Queen City. They’re playing hard to the end, despite the massive deficit. There’s 3:21 left in the bout, but there’s still one jam left to go. On the first whistle, the pack takes off. The second whistle sends the jammers into the mix, fighting through gaps in the pack. Lisa lunges after the jammer, leading with her right shoulder, but she’s knocked out of the way by one of Tulsa’s players.
Tulsa takes the lead jammer position. The Queen B—’s aren’t going to win. They can’t. But they’re still fighting. Tulsa gains another few points, four sharp whistles are given and the bout is done.
Final score: Beta Corps 137, Queen B—’s 88.
Derby is a fever. It’s a fix, an itch that has to be scratched. They’re here because they love it. They need it.
The Queen B—’s roll off to the side, hunched over and regaining their breath. They drop to the floor in front of their bench and rest on their knees, forming one solid line. One wrist guard up as Beta Corps rolls by in a victory lap. High-fives and congratulations are given. It was a hard one for the Queen B—’s, a good lesson for their next bout in August. A lesson in fighting until the end. There’s a thack-thack-thack as the teams exchange high-fives, wrist guards slapping against wrist guards, as Tulsa skates by for their victory lap.
On the Queen B—’s bench, out come the mouth guards, laced back with a few strings of spit still strung to the mouth. Off come the helmets, revealing hair plastered to the skull with sweat. Laces are untied, skates are kicked off and toes are allowed to breathe again. Off comes the bright purple duct tape, with a satisfying rip and a few grunts. Off come the wrist guards, elbow pads, knee pads, all of which are sweat-soaked and smell — these are Crash Bandicooch’s words here — like a herd of gerbils. Everything is tucked back into bags and stuffed beneath chairs. Lady After Math slips off her hot-pink skates and becomes LaShea once again. TKO Rose takes off her helmet, becoming Heather, who ties her hair back in a bandana. Sweet Violent Urge peels off her wrist guards and now she’s Lisa, adjusting her wedding ring.
The bout’s finished for now. In little more than an hour, after the men’s game finishes out to the tune of Europe’s “The Final Countdown,” it’ll be replayed blow-by-blow over a couple of pitchers of beer at the sports bar down the road. Skaters will sit side by side, smeared makeup and messy hair next to more smeared makeup and messy hair, their street clothes not doing much to betray which team they play for.
There are a lot of things that make up roller derby. The fishnet tights. The garters. The hits, bruises, tightly laced hot pink skates — they all come secondary to this larger community, this family of skaters who have made this sport part of their lives.