Events: Hugs & Bruises

Cincinnati Rollergirls offer camaraderie and competition

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Graham Lienhart

Women on wheels: The Cincinnati Rollergirls do their thing.

Like the beginning of any respectable American sporting event, we all rise, remove our hats and join together in singing the National Anthem. But on this Sunday afternoon, sitting in the musty dark on floorboards that hold the nostalgia of so many singles skates past, we aren't interested in the formalities or the promise of sportsmanlike conduct, we're interested in blood. I mean, come on, we paid $15 to get in.

The emcee calls the names of the Cincinnati Riots one by one: "Number 7 ... Erma Geddon. Number 21 ... Gummilove. Number 3 ... Nina, Ruler of the Universe."

As the sound of Queen quietly pulses in the background, these scantily clad women skate out to meet their peers in the Cincinnati Rollergirls' first-ever derby battle.

Their competition: the Bloody Sundaes, another group of Cincinnati skaters dressed in the bitchiest black micro-miniskirts and tiny aprons.

Co-founder Paula Estes (aka the Alabama Slammer) watches on, clad in bondage gear, as "penalty box mistress," unable to skate with her team because Sister Superlicious took her down in practice, almost breaking her neck.

Estes, along with Christa Zielke, founded the Cincinnati Rollergirls, an all-female flat track roller derby league, in April 2005. Estes was looking for a new exercise routine. The news of the formation spread by word of mouth (and a few Myspace bulletins), and Estes and Zielke ended up with a full roster of girls ready and willing to skate or die.

"My friend Lauren (Miss Print of the Riots) convinced me to go after she had become smitten with the TV show Rollergirls," says Erma Geddon, insurance woman/captain of the Riots. "I never thought I'd be (physically) able to do it."

The girls, many raised during the golden era of Roller Blades, were taught how to skate on quad skates. They were whipped into shape under the guidance of head coach and speed-skating champion Marsha Yeager.

This is the first game of their exhibition season. The crowd, numbering a sold-out 700, has packed itself into the bleachers and seeped out into the "suicide seating" on the rink.

The Rollergirls are trying to become a member of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association. The 50 women that constitute the Cincinnati league are divided into four teams: The Bloody Sundaes, The Cincinnati Riots, Dames of Destruction and Full Metal Corsets. Until they join the Association and go national, the girls must skate against each other in a series of bouts.

A "bout" consists of two 20-minute periods in which a player called the "jammer" has to pass through a pack of girls who are positioned as either "blockers" or "pivots." You score based on the number of blockers you pass. The violence and crowd-pleasing panty sneak peaks come into play when the girls try to take each other down to prevent scoring.

"It took me until the second bout between the Dames and the Corsets to finally understand what was going on," says Taryn Tegarden, a derby virgin who came with me in hopes of witnessing some carnage. "Then it got more exciting."

"It almost felt like the first bout was a practice," she says. "Like everyone was still nervous about taking each other down."

With good reason: The girls have been through months of training together. They've knocked each other down, broken some tailbones, skated over some fingers and even shared a few beers. They've developed a twisted sisterhood.

"They'll knock you down, but then if you need a dollar, they'll give it to ya," says Estes.

Roller derby is a mix of sport, sex appeal, violence and show. There were only three fights this time, but the girls will get more aggressive the more they bout.

"The violence is all real," insists Geddon. "The fights aren't staged and I feel pretty damn good about kicking the shit out of some other girl. In the end, we know we're here to entertain."

CINCINNATI ROLLERGIRLS' next bouts are Sunday at Beechmont Rollarena.

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