ASU Derby Devils, ASU’s roller derby team, have gone from not existing to preparing for the team’s first bouts in a span of five months.
Started as a club in September, the Derby Devils recently decided to make the change to a full-on club team rather than an interest group.
President Alisa Lee, also known as Maiden Asia, is a biochemistry junior who has been president of the club since its inception. She started the club shortly after The State Press published an article about ASU English professor and roller derby dame Devoney Looser, also known as Stone Cold Jane Austen.
“When (Lee) saw last fall’s article in The State Press about my playing roller derby, she approached me about serving as the new club’s faculty adviser,” Looser said. “I immediately said yes. Working with Maiden has been pure pleasure. She is a force of nature. When she says something is going to happen, it happens.”
The club struggled with recruitment at first.
“We were telling people who were interested to go join these other teams in other leagues and it didn’t really make sense,” Lee said.
Lee said tabling outside of the Memorial Union at the Tempe campus wasn’t working as well as it would have if they were there for an actual team.
“About a month in, a few of us decided at the same time, ‘Hey, why don’t we go skate together?’” she said.
Roller derby is generally seen as a woman’s sport, but the team is co-ed. Five players at a time compete in “jams” similar to plays in football, which last about two minutes. A game, known as a bout, is composed of two 30-minute halves.
There are three positions in roller derby. The jammer scores points by lapping members of the opposing team. The three blockers attempt to block the other team’s jammer while opening gaps for their own. Finally, the pivots lead the pack of blockers around the track, calling out movements to them and picking up missed blocks if need be.
Points are scored when a team’s jammer passes a member of the other team. The first pass doesn’t count, so a jammer must make it through the mass of blockers and pivots once, and then catch back up to the back of the pack to start scoring.
In the early days of roller derby, around the 1920s, it was simply a marathon race to see who could skate the farthest in a set amount of time. However, the competition grew more intense and violent. By the 1960s, roller derby had grown into a scripted contest mush like professional wrestling, with which it was broadcast on television.
“Today’s roller derby was reborn in Austin, Texas, in the early 2000s,” Looser said.
Although modern roller derby has retained the costumes and names, it isn’t scripted and plays like any other sport, with standard rules.
By 2004, a national governing body had formed. It would eventually become the International Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, or WFTDA, of which Arizona Roller Derby was a founding member league. The WFTDA was composed of 20 leagues in 2005 and now boasts more than 300 across 14 countries.
Roller derby was at first and still is a very player-orientated, DIY sport, Looser said. It also holds the distinction of being one of the very few sports that started as a women’s game and then developed a separate men’s sport.
“Roller derby often calls itself the fastest growing sport of the new millennium, and that doesn’t seem like an exaggeration,” Looser said.
Roller derby was also part of a joint bid with other roller sports, including in-line skating, roller hockey and skateboarding, to gain the final spot for a sport in the 2020 and 2024 Olympics. It lost out to wrestling, which reclaimed its old spot.
The game also comes in two varieties based on where it’s played: flat track and banked track. ASU is a flat track team, practicing in the Tempe Sun Devil Fitness Complex’s MAC gym, which is also used for indoor soccer. Practices are Saturdays at 10 a.m., and Lee encourages those interested to come and watch.
Video by Edward Hernandez | Multimedia Reporter
The ASU Derby Devils
The team has its first bouts coming up in March and April against UA. The first is a mash-up bout, featuring ASU alumni and staff to ensure that a full team can be fielded and will take place in Phoenix. The second game, at the end of April, is a full bout in Tucson.
“There is a set of minimum skill requirements, so basically, the first few weeks we just focus on teaching (new players) those skills, and when they pass the minimum skills test is when they’re allowed to participate in bouts,” Lee said. “Even if they don’t know how to skate, there’s nothing to worry about. The whole first few weeks (are) just dedicated to those basic skills.”
About six players on the team have played before and six are new, Lee said.
Despite being a mash-up bout, Looser might not be appearing in the Phoenix game.
“I’m not sure that I’m on track to make attendance requirements or pass our skills tests,” she said. “I’m rusty as a player at the moment, as I’ve been focusing on other commitments. But I’m confident that the Derby Devils are going to be at the top of their game and that the Wildcats are going down.”
Practices are run just like any other sports practice. The team arrives a few minutes before 10 a.m. every Saturday and talks for a few minutes before lacing up their skates and warming up. A few warm-up laps are followed by stretches, like the recognizable butterfly stretch or toe touches.
After that, the real work begins, mostly focusing on technique. The beginners work on how to skate and then move onto other skills. These include hip checks, blocking and various types of turns and stops.
Around 15 minutes are dedicated to a particular area of training before a brief water break followed by an explanation of the next technique. Working on a tomahawk stop, which brings skaters to a stop facing the opposite direction, might be followed by working on jumping over a low obstacle to avoid fallen skaters.
Next is a drill similar to Indian Runs, where the team skates in a line and the person in the back skates but with an emphasis placed on the ability to weave in and out of traffic. The team skated at a jogging pace around the track in a line. The last skater would take off, weave through the group as fast as they could, calling out “inside” or “outside” to the skater ahead to keep the lane open. Once the skater made it to the front he or she would take off, skating as fast as possible to lap the pack and weave through them again, only stopping after reaching the front for a second time. After that, the next skater would take off and do the same.
The drill not only contains a large array of essential skills but is a slowed down version of a real game, almost like a pads-off football practice.
Speed, strength and coordination are all incredibly important to be successful, a fact which is quite visible from watching a bout or even just a practice.
“The sport is as exhilarating and fun to play as it is to watch,” Looser said. “The derby community is also made up of incredibly strong, interesting, and generous people. ASU’s club is especially so.”
Psychology senior Leticia Lomeli, “Sigmund Droid,” said she had a tough time when she first got involved in roller derby four and a half years ago.
Now that she is a member of ASU’s Derby Devils, she said she enjoys the chance to train new members and change the trend.
“It was kind of hard for me at first,” she said. “I just kind of got thrown into it. When you have to figure out how to explain it to someone, you think about it differently, and you kind of re-learn it yourself.”
Creative writing sophomore Cass Murphy joined the team this semester.
“We don’t all know each other yet, but it’s pretty fun, and we’re getting there,” she said.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @davidhignutt