Roller derby invades Sk8away with girls, skirts, beer

Any Washburn student who grew up in Topeka has fond elementary school memories of annual parties at Sk8away skate center.

For hours, kids would skate and/or fall repeatedly to chart-topping songs like “The Macarena” and “Barbie Girl.”

However, when the Capital City Crushers take control of the rink, the fun-loving building is far from a ‘couples only’ session. All the stereotypes of a women’s roller derby team, from the football-player-sized women to the bloodthirsty fans lining the walls, are fulfilled in the team’s bouts.

“Girls, miniskirts and cheap beer,” said Beth Shuman, whose roller derby name is ‘Blonde Bullett.’ “Those are all pretty good reasons to come.”

And the list of stereotypes keeps growing.

Rather than sugar coat the sport’s fundamental purpose, or tone it down to a PG-13 level of violence, the team embraces the reputation of a true extreme sport.

“I broke my arm seven weeks ago,” said Laura ‘Feisty’ Brown as she helped peel the taped boundary lines off the floor. “I’m not quite ready to start playing yet, but it’s still a lot of fun to come out and help and just watch.”

Some members of the Crushers organization didn’t think the team was ready to play at all this season, and at first glance, their 195-52 season finale loss to the Omaha Rollergirls shows that might be true.

But with a scoring system that is more confusing than the judging of women’s gymnastics, only the most experienced roller girls can put the 143 point blowout in perspective.

“For anyone who saw us the first time we played Omaha,” said Shuman, a member of Topeka’s original team. “You can tell we got better. [Omaha’s] been skating together three years, so right now they’re at a different level, but we caught up to a lot of our other competition.”

Only half of the roster stuck around when the team changed their name from “Top City” heading into this season. Because of the large overhaul, the team seriously considered waiting until the 2009 season to start playing again.

“Tina [Robertson, the team’s executive director] didn’t even want us to play this year,” Shuman said. “We have such a new group of girls, she wanted us to practice and just start again next season.”

Even after suffering through big losses and broken arms to veteran teams, the women still look back on the season and stand by their decision to play.

“I’m a registered nurse at Stormont-Vail,” Brown said. “This is definitely different from the norm, and even when we lose it’s just something outside of your regular job to come and have a good time with.”

“Feisty” may be the only nurse to break an arm at a roller derby, but she certainly isn’t the only skater who enjoys a break from the 9-to-5 world.

“I do the payroll in my husband’s construction office,” Shuman said. “I was having dinner with some friends of the family, and they talked me into playing because they knew I could skate. I used to work as a deejay at a skate center for eight years.”

It had been a long time since Shuman’s deejaying days took place, but once she got back on the rink she picked up right where she left off.

Now, the team’s main goal is to encourage fans to do the same when the 2009 season starts in March. While about 200 fans packed the sides of the skate center to watch the final bout, Shuman feels the action will draw much more attention as the team becomes more experienced.

“To us,” Shuman said. “This is a small crowd. We’ve had more than this before, so we’re expecting the crowds to just get even bigger next year. Hopefully, the people who come now will tell their friends about how much fun it is because what’s not to like?”