Given some of the activity lately on local campuses, not to mention in the halls of government, and it’d be easy to think that Nashville’s no melting pot of cultural diversity.
Go to a Nashville Rollergirls bout, then, and set your mind at ease.
Few other activities can boast such cultural diversity. Straight, gay, black, white, men, women, questioning, strollers, tattoos, twink, bear … it’s all on display. In fact, the crowds are so much fun to watch that they threaten to pull the focus from the bout itself. Threaten, but don’t succeed.
For five years now, these women have been beating the living hell out of each other, and whatever opponents have turned up at the Nashville Fairgrounds to take them on.
For the uninitiated, “flat track roller derby is a fast-paced contact team sport that requires speed, strategy, and athleticism.” That’s according to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, to which the NRG belongs. To the first-time viewer, it’s more like two squads of skaters roaring around an oval, elbows flying, shoving, jostling and occasionally flinging a woman or two into the ground-level seats. (Don’t waste your pity on those folks; they’re warned in advance.)
However you view it, roller derby has taken hold in Nashville, and in a big way. What started as a single team has grown into a main squad (the Music City All Stars), a b-team (Brawl Stars) and a growing roster of scrimmage/farm teams. The expertise has picked up, too; last fall, the NRG made it to the regional competition and finished in third place, which led to a first-time appearance at the national championship tournament.
That growth (not to mention Metro’s dithering with the property) has led to the NRG’s biggest change to date: moving from the Nashville Fairgrounds to the Municipal Auditorium downtown.
For skaters who’ve been around for all or most of the team’s existence, this is hardly surprising.
“We’re seeing a lot more competiveness for those 18 spots on the b-team,” says Britches N Hose, a veteran blocker. “It’s become much more of a legitimate sport, and that’s helped it grow in popularity. I have to watch out behind me because they’re really getting more competitive, which is awesome.”
For her, the audience is half the fun, and the rainbow aspect of said attendees is most gratifying.
“If somebody tries it once, they come back,” she says. “We have kids, grandparents, straight, gay … there’s just no divide.
One of those up’n comers is Obscene Jessture, a blocker who fell into roller derby when she found herself looking for a way to stay in shape after training for and running the Music City Half-Marathon.
“I went to a bout and they were saying they wanted girls to come and skate, so I decided to do it,” she recalls. “It was a rude awakening. It’s a huge tine commitment if you want to do it right, and it’s demanding, physically challenging, the whole way. You eat better, drink a lot of water … there’s a much larger impact on our overall lifestyle than you think there will be, but it’s in a very good way.”
Like her teammates, she’s no shrinking violet, but she’s quick to point out that, like the fan base, the team’s got a lot of diversity.
“People have this image of tough, beer-drinking girls in gear, but we take all kinds,” she says. “Some are in college, some never went to college; some have kids, some will never have kids; we don’t turn anybody away because they don’t fit some general mindset of what a Nashville Rollergirl is. That’s why our fan base has grown out in all these different directions — we tell friends and family, and they tell friends and family, and because we’re all different, we get this big community going.”
Jammer Rambo Sambo is another example of a lifelong athlete who found a new outlet in roller derby, and she too touts the personal benefits that can be gained while smacking the daylights out of some unsuspecting female.
“Just going to the gym wasn’t feeding that competitive athletic outlet for me,” she says. “I’d never really skated before, but when I got to the practice and watched, a I knew this was what I’d been made for.”
She’s also been pleasantly surprised about the rise in popularity not just for the NRG, but also for women’s roller derby in general, and for that she credits the consistency and professionalism that’s been brought to the sport.
“We’re all working on strategy, how to play better, all the things that drive an athlete to become better,” she says. “That comes across to people, and they want to come and watch. You draw in fans who aren’t just there to see women skate, but who also are becoming fanatics about the sport.”
Having a new venue to play in has also brought everybody’s game up, adds Hildabeast, a former NRG president and fan favorite. (Editor’s Note: The writer has not one, but two “I (heart) Hildabeast” buttons.) Having been around since the early days, and having been active on the administrative side, she has a unique perspective on all the team’s changes.
“It all kind of happens without you noticing it, and then you look back and say ‘My goodness, we’re so different than we used to be,’” she says. “We went through lots of baby steps bringing some structure into the administration side of it, and once we got our bearings we were able to ramp up the competitiveness side. It’s really been an interesting progression.”
Of the auditorium, she says that it’s good not only for the skaters, but also for the fans.
“Our crowds are growing, and so this gives us plenty of room,” she says. “We almost went there once before, but it was too expensive and we weren’t finally stable enough; now we’re ready, and so being there is amazing.”
Britches takes a more pragmatic approach.
“They have climate control,” she says. “We can breathe better when we’re skating, and the fans don’t’ look so exhausted at the end, either. It’s been a great move.”
“You rise to the occasion when you go into that building,” adds Rambo. “The fairgrounds have been phenomenal, but to be in an actual sporting venue … we definitely feel more big-time now.”
Wanna go to a bout? Think you’ve got what it takes to throw in some skates and get down to business in the ring? For a full schedule of 2011 bouts, as well as single-event and season ticket information, not to mention how to become a skater or join the team in another supporting capacity, visit www.nashvillerollergirls.com