Mention roller derby, and most people flash back three decades or more — to Raquel Welch busting heads in Kansas City Bomber, to the scripted but thrilling WWE-style bouts broadcast on UHF in the 1970s and '80s. So when you see a poster around town for the Nashville Rollergirls, you might think, "Is that real?"
It is — as real as knees on concrete. The game is alive and well here in Music City, and unlike the old-school, scripted spectacle — which pro-sports snobs back then treated with about as much respect as midget wrestling — roller derby is making a name for itself as a legitimate sport. The Nashville Rollergirls have been skating since 2007, but they joined the Women's Flat Track Derby Association in 2008 and are working their way up to be serious contenders in the WFTDA.
Working women and mothers by day, badass athletes on wheels by night, the Nashville Rollergirls are currently ranked No. 5 in the WFTDA. While the WFTDA sets regional and national tournaments, the regular season rankings are done quarterly by vote of active member leagues. Just one more vote at the end of July will decide the seeding for the regional tournament in October. Having defeated No. 3 Atlanta (now ranked two spots above Nashville) in February, the Nashville Rollergirls hope to be bumped up a spot or two after the July vote.
They're contenders, they've got momentum, and they're a franchise in the making. Now all they need is a home.
Right now the Nashville Rollergirls have all their practices and games ("bouts" in roller-derby lingo) at the Tennessee Fairgrounds Sports Arena. With the fairgrounds set to close at year's end, though, the Nashville Rollergirls are looking for a new place to park their skates. Starting this Saturday, July 10, they'll play the rest of their home bouts this summer at Municipal Auditorium, and they hope to make Municipal their permanent home next year. But they still need a new practice space.
There is a catch, however, to making a permanent move to Municipal. Right now some 1,200 people pack the fairgrounds arena to capacity for the Rollergirls' bouts. But Municipal holds 10,000. That means the Rollergirls need roughly twice the fans that come to the fairgrounds — or more — to make Municipal look full.
"Municipal is the best option, and it's a great option," Rollergirls marketing director "Demoness" tells the Scene. "But attendance has to go up for them to give us dates in the spring and summer months."
In just two years of being a part of the WFTDA, the Nashville Rollergirls have grown and improved tremendously. With a winning record this year, they could well reach their goal of placing in the regional tournament and going on to nationals.
Ramb0 Samb0, the Nashville Rollergirls' superstar jammer, became a Rollergirl after Nashville's first skating season. Having watched the league grow over the last couple of years, Ramb0 Samb0 tells the Scene where she wants to see it go.
"I'd love to see more players," she says. "I'd love to see our rec league get bigger and our junior league get bigger. I would love to have more fans in the seats at Municipal. I would love to see us grow, and I want us to go to nationals. We have to place in our region to go to the championship, and that's my most important goal for this year."
Even in Austin, Texas, though, where the current revival started in 2001, roller derby is do-it-yourself. No one gets paid. In fact, most leagues put out money to buy equipment, pay for practice space and travel. Besides being the Rollergirls' marketing director, Demoness laces her skates for track time, while Ramb0 herself doubles as the league vice president. A lot of people wear a lot of different hats to make roller derby possible, and the Nashville Rollergirls need a bigger fan base to continue to grow.
"We're just trying to develop that player-to-fan relationship and get people talking about it," Ramb0 Samb0 tells the Scene. "We have such a little amount of time to get people's attention. If you don't know about us, here we are. If you do know about us, here we are again — come to our game."
Whether they're for TSU football, Vanderbilt basketball or Sounds baseball — let alone the Titans and Preds — Nashville fans are hardcore screamers, shouters and hell-raisers. To this the Nashville Rollergirls say: Don't ever change. If you're looking for the perfect environment to let loose your belligerent, rambunctious inner fan, see the Rollergirls play Tallahassee at 7:30 p.m. July 10 at Municipal Auditorium and enjoy a bout full of body-checking, whipping and weaving — all of it on wheels.
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