They train for hours, weeks, months, all for a few minutes of excitement. They walk away from the arena covered in sweat and blood. They have names like “REO Meanwagon,” “Tina Fray,” and “Ada Bloodhouse.”
This is their world- the world of roller derby.
Since 2006, Steel City Roller Derby has been an outlet for women in the Pittsburgh area to come together and enjoy some flat track derby action. There are five main teams- the Varsity and Junior Varsity teams, Steel Hurtin’ and Steel Beamers; and three intraleague teams: The Allegheny Avengers, The Mon Monsters, and The Penn Bruisers. The Varsity/Junior Varsity teams compete against other leagues around the world- over 200, at last count.
During their tenth year, however, SCRD suffered a setback. Their home arena, Glenshaw’s Romp ‘n’ Roll, closed for business. But much like in their matches, they got right back up and skated to their new home base: the Pittsburgh Indoor Sports Arena, located in Cheswick. Jamie Fargo, aka “Ally McKill,” told me the change was a smooth one. “We really like it at PISA. The space is perfect for us- modern, a wood floor, and plenty of space for our track. The adjacent PISA Pub is also great for holding events after a match. It is difficult to get to, though, being so far away from the city. Romp ‘n’ Roll had a similar problem, but it was pretty well-known.”
With their new arena welcoming and broken in, I asked what the plans for the rest of 2017 would be. She said a final intraleague double-header would be held at PISA on August 5th. “We’re also super excited to be hosting the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) Playoffs at the David Lawrence Convention Center,” Fargo explained. “We’re not competing, but teams from around the world will be there.” The Playoffs are from August 18th to 20th.
Fargo laughed when I asked if roller derby was merely a hobby, or a full-time job. “It’s somewhere in between,” she said. “We can’t get paid for it, unfortunately, but it’s more than just a hobby. We have our paying jobs, but we also run the league, fund it ourselves, so even when we’re not practicing, we have duties.” She chuckled again when I brought up her nickname, “Ally McKill.” “It’s a traditional thing, but it’s not required. It’s exciting for newcomers to create their alter ego and have fun with it.” She elaborated, explaining that it’s mostly a throwback to the leagues of old, but some people do use their real names. Derby names reflect the sport itself- mostly serious, but with a definite playful side.
Lastly, I asked Fargo to give some advice for any novices, or those just interested in general. She urged newcomers and those curious to check out a game. “We have open recruitment and tryouts [at the Playoffs]. You don’t even need any skating experience- we can teach you and even loan out equipment. We take the time to teach the skills to keep our skaters safe. And there’s no pressure; it’s a welcoming environment.”
Judging by the comradery on display, and the enthusiasm during the interview, I would have to agree.