Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’! Fishers family skates together as part of Circle City Derby Girls
By Ray Compton
It probably ranks near the top of the fiercest frustrations faced by the jammers and blockers of today’s almost 300 women’s roller derby teams.
Despite all of their efforts on and off the rink by the participants stretching from coast to coast, novices compare the competition to those exaggerated antics and pile drivers delivered in professional wrestling. The non-believers see entertainment and not sport.
“Our biggest frustration is that some people think it is fake,” reported Tiny Ann Mighty of the Circle City Derby Girls. “They think the hits are planned. But 100 percent of the hits are unplanned.”
And Tiny Ann Mighty (also known as Ann Eich in her Fishers neighborhood) has first-hand knowledge that we are not witnessing a scripted event at matches – and the four times-a-week practice sessions in a local warehouse. The Tiny one was rubbed out on a blocking scheme in practice two years ago and suffered a severely broken ankle. The injury required emergency surgery and a metal plate and nine screws to repair the devastating wound.
“It was not a good story,” she recalled. “On a pain scale of 1 to 10, it was probably a 12.”
But this episode continues today. Tiny Ann Mighty will be in the lineup on July 19 when the Circle City team plays a match at the Fishers Forum.
“I love it,” says the 4-foot-11 blocker. “It becomes part of your identity.”
Indeed, roller derby is in the DNA of the Eich family. Husband and father Ron may be an emergency physician at Community Health Network in one life, but a second character features him as Doc Flatliner, coach of Circle City. (He also skates for the male version, Race City Rebels.)
And not to be left out is 24-year-old daughter Melanie, a Hamilton Southeastern and Indiana University graduate and a one-time national baton twirling champion. She goes to law school at IUPUI in the daytime and skates as Hitter Up Style on game nights.
“The practices and games are great stress relievers,” said Hitter Up. “After sitting at a desk all day, it is fun to skate.”
In some form, roller derby has been part of the American fabric since 1880. In 1930, Leo Seltzer (not nicknamed Alka) formed the Transcontinental Roller Derby League and the game took on a carnival marketing game plan. Four teams toured the United States and Seltzer created matches featuring the city of the arena (i.e. Indianapolis if the match was at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum) against either New York or Chicago. Apparently, it was easy for roller derby fans to dislike teams from New York and Chicago.
Then in the early days of black and white television in the 1950s, Roller Derby joined boxing and wrestling as programming favorites. For the next two decades, Roller Derby showed on independent stations throughout the country and heroes and villains called the Bay City Bombers and Los Angeles Thunderbirds became the game’s Yankees and Cubs.
Most of the bickering, ranting and kicking, however, was all choreographed in advance by the matchmakers. Indeed, most hitting bordered between fraud and entertainment, not sport. But while today’s roller derby is not your mother’s version that featured highly banked tracks and skaters such as Blonde Bomber Joanie Weston, some of the old-time fans flock to join today’s generation at the Forum.
“People say they used to watch it on television,” said Doc. “They have become hooked.”
And that is good news for local entities such as the Naptown Roller Girls (who skate at the Fairgrounds) and the Derby Girls. Both have punched it out with other local sports entities for attendance. The Naptown Roller Girls average almost 2,000 fans per home match, while the Derby Girls come close to filling the bleachers at the Forum. (Tickets are $10 and $12 and beer – Flat 12 Bierworks – is sold.)
All of the league’s teams are owned and managed by the players. Derby girls pop in $30 in monthly fees and work on fundraisers and selling sponsorships. “Our biggest expense is traveling,” said Doc, whose male mates flew to California this season.
But the thrill of skating and competing outweigh the financial hurdles. And there is the fun of uncovering those crazy nicknames for the skaters – Ames To Kill, Kneads Therapy, Philly Sheezskate and Betty Fright, complete with two arms plastered with tattoos. A referee goes by Studly Do Right and one announcer is labeled Major Rupture.
Not to be left out are unique team names. The women’s league includes the Slaughterhouse Roller Girls, Assassination City and Hudson Valley Horrors, while the men counter with the Quadfathers, Chicago Bruise and New York Stock Exchange (complete with a logo featuring a suit and tie skater).
Can this zany show end up on television again? “That is the ultimate dream,” admitted Flatliner.
In the meantime, the doors are open for new skaters. The current Circle City cast includes social workers, doctors and attorneys. The team holds special camps to reach new skaters.
“We tell people to give it a try,” said Tiny Ann. “You would be surprised how we can take people who can’t stand up on skate and turn them into players.”
Bring your nicknames, ladies.
- Circle City Derby Girls
- All-girl roller derby league
- Founded in 2008
- Home course: the Forum at Fishers at 9022 E. 126th St.
- Open to women 18 years of age or older
- Upcoming bouts: July 19 and Aug. 2
- Ticket prices: $10 in advance or $12 at the door, children 6 and under are free
- Contact info: CircleCityDerbyGirls@gmail.com