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Sisterhood of bruises

Photo courtesy of Audrey Russell
File Photo

While the city’s manic roar of packed bars, ballgames and concerts slows to a Sunday hum, the El Paso Coliseum is just beginning to pulse with a crowd ready to see a more radical event altogether. As most citizens trade in their heels and blazers for slippers and Netflix, the girls of Sun City Roller Girls, El Paso’s female banked-track roller derby league, are putting on their war paint and lacing up quad skates to face off against one of the four other teams in their monthly bouts.

Midway into its eighth season, the SCRG league is finding a following in the city by combining the intensity of a contact sport and the energy of a rock show. Once hosted in the Coliseum’s judging arena–a small warehouse–the bouts were moved to accommodate a larger crowd.

“We were selling out and turning people away when we played in the judging arena,” Trixie Polverizer said, who like the majority of the derby girls on the team, preferred to be called by her derby name. “But this last time, we played in the Coliseum and ended up doubling ticket sales.”

The atmosphere is unlike any other in the city or in sports. There is a sense of daring when walking into an SCRG bout; an edge that feels like this might be one of those word-of-mouth, almost-illegal underground sports.

Continuous punk music plays loud as players skate a slanted track with enough speed to break a bone.  Menacing nicknames and peculiar numbers such as Princess Slaya #CT327, TE-KIL-YA #1953, and KamiCassi #Zer0 adorn their jerseys and compliment their fierce eye makeup .

The audience is full of fans divided into colors ready to cheer on the teams. There are five squads in the league: Las Catrinas, The Sexecutioners, Las Viudas Negras, Las Diablas and the Chuco Town Chulas.

As spectacular as an SCRG event can become–with gimmicks such as the hilarious emcee’s encouragement to boo the referees and the audience’s apparent thirst for falls and crashes — it is, after all, a regulated sporting event. The league follows the most recent banked-track roller derby rules from the Roller Derby Coalition of Leagues, which limits punching, elbowing and tripping usually associated with the assumptions about the sport.

“It might look unladylike because we’re pushing and trying to fight each other, but it’s a game too, there are rules to it,” said Polverizer, the league’s trainer and Sexecutioner member.

The rules are fairly simple. At the beginning of a one-minute scoring session, called a jam, skaters are separated into two groups on the track: the pack and the jammers. The pack consists of eight blockers, four from each team, huddled together. Their job is to let their jammer pass through the pack while simultaneously blocking the opposing team’s jammer. When a jammer passes through the pack and comes around the track again, a point is awarded for each opposing blocker they pass. To add to the intensity, the first jammer to get through the pack becomes the lead jammer and can stop the jam short to keep the opposing jammer from scoring any more points. The lead jammer signals this–sometimes with enough passion to also signal “suck it –by touching her helmet and her hips with both hands.

A total of 60 minutes of play are divided into four 15-minute quarters. Each quarter contains as many jams as can be played within the 15-minute time period.

Because of the jammers’ high velocity and the pack’s careful positioning, falls, pile ups and crashes into other players or the outer rail are not only common, but they are expected. It is only part of the game to see a jammer clip a blocker’s skate and starfish onto the track and slide down the embankment.

Although a roller-skating sport played on a banked track guarantees a few bruises and sprains, it does not make these skaters quit.

“When you start out, you just want to hold people’s hands, but they want you to learn on your own,” said Zodiac Kill-Her, jammer for Las Catrinas and psychology major at UTEP. “It’s the scariest thing ever.”

The consensus, however, seems to be that after the first few bouts, a derby girl will learn not only how to deal with the injury, but also to see them as trophies. Lady Latte Pain, co-captain for the Chuco Town Chulas and senior organizational and corporate communication major, explains the comradery that comes after a hard check into the track.

“At the end of the day, every team wants to see the others excel,” Latte Pain said. “You’ll be hitting the hell out of each other, but then we’re all at the after party showing off our cuts and scrapes. It’s a sisterhood of bruises.”

The grit of these derby girls doesn’t end in their scars and injuries, however. The SCRG is an entirely female-owned and operated league with a choice group of male volunteers willing to help out. These women, most of them also players, cover an entire spectrum of ages and backgrounds. They get women from all sorts of professions –nurses, students and grandmothers–all with a hand in several of the league’s operations.

“Everyone does everything,” said Gina Blue Jolie, a novice training to join the league and earn a nickname. “We assemble and disassemble the track for practices and bouts, and even if we’re not playing that Sunday, we’re helping out with tickets or t-shirt sales.”

Polverizer, who agreed with Gina Blue Jolie, looks up to the more experienced roller derby women and draws inspiration as an up-and-coming member.

“Even girls who are just starting out get motivation from the older girls,” Polverizer said. “Because we were all there either last week or last year.”

This reliance on individual members to keep the organization functioning is a solemn ode to the when sports were not corporations, but rather communities. It is a chance for a group of humans to challenge each other physically and mentally, while still working together to do something entertaining.

“Beyond the derby walls, we go to each other’s birthdays, weddings, graduations,” said Ambergeddon, member of the Las Diablas.. “Some of us end up sharing phone bills or wanting to live closer to each other. You end up getting a family outside of the family.”

Although the nicknames, the bizarre jersey numbers and the emcee’s teasing are irreverent compared to classic sporting events, they’re not exactly sins. An SCRG derby bout, unlike most sporting events today, does not forget that its audience is more than the sports’ purists, but the not-so-average Joes and Marias who want to be entertained. The intricacies of roller derby will be there when they are ready, but until then, the passive derby-goer can enjoy just as well the good music, a swift slip of a jammer between the blockers and the well-timed shoulder checks that a roller derby bout is bound to have in store.

The Sun City Roller Girls’ next event is on July 24 at the El Paso County Coliseum, and will feature a double-header pitting Las Catrinas against the Chulas, and Las Viudas against the Sexecutioners. Doors open at 6 p.m. and tickets are $7 at the door, and there are $5 preorders available at locations listed on the SCRG website,

Eric Vasquez may be reached at [email protected].

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    Michael VasquezJul 12, 2016 at 5:31 PM

    Great article! I’m gonna attend an event.

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Sisterhood of bruises