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Coming up
What: Junior Volleyball Association Girls Midwest Power League Championships
When: June 14-16
Where: SportOne Parkview Fieldhouse
Host: Midwest Power League Curling
What: U.S. Olympic Curling Arena Club National Championships
When: July 18-21
Where: Lutheran Health SportsCenter
Host: Fort Wayne Curling Club Roller derby
What: Women’s Flat Track Derby Association’s Playoff Tournament
When: Sept. 6-8
Where: Memorial Coliseum
Host: Fort Wayne Derby Girls
To join Derby Girls:
Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
The Fort Wayne Derby Girls will be the host for the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association’s Playoff Tournament in September at Memorial Coliseum.

Derby Girls coup shows sport legit

Roller derby tournament 1 of 3 city showcases in ’13

Blake Morton of Madison, Wis., participates in a Fort Wayne Curling Club tournament at Lutheran Health SportsCenter.
Photos by Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
The top curling clubs will descend on Fort Wayne in July for the U.S. Olympic Curling Arena Club National Championships.

– More than seven years after their inception, the Fort Wayne Derby Girls still run into the stigma – the belief that roller derby is some farcical, staged production fit for TV in the 1970s.

“We fight it every day. We still get people who don’t know about roller derby and the first thing they ask is, ‘Is it real?’ ” said Shannon DisPennett, president of the Derby Girls “And I’ll say, ‘Yes, I broke my leg and ankle in three places last year. I have a bionic leg, so, yeah, it’s real.’ We fight it a lot. It’s getting better, but we’re trying to spread education about roller derby.”

The sport traces its roots back to the 1930s, and while it became scripted for a time – an attempt to keep it fit for TV and popular – the Derby Girls want people to know that they take part in a legitimate contact sport, one that requires days of practice each week.

It was announced Wednesday that the Derby Girls will play host to the 2013 Women’s Flat Track Derby Association’s Playoff Tournament at Memorial Coliseum from Sept. 6 to 8, and that will bring more than 1,000 people to town, boosting the local economy. It will also be another great chance for the skeptics to see what the sport is about.

“If people come and see this, they will realize it’s the real deal. It’s not alligator pits and fights and all of that,” said DisPennett, adding the Derby Girls are a nonprofit organization that has donated large sums of money to charity.

Landing this tournament was a large feat for the Derby Girls, who were assisted in their bid by the Coliseum and Visit Fort Wayne.

The Derby Girls had tried to land the tournament a few years ago, DisPennett said, but lost by a few votes.

Despite putting together a sleek package, and flying the Flat Track Derby Association president to town, the Derby Girls still didn’t think they would get it.

“One (other city) in particular, Austin (Texas), where roller derby was resurrected in 2003, made us nervous,” DisPennett said. “It’s their 10-year anniversary, and we thought for sure they would be getting it. For them to say that Fort Wayne is going to host it, it’s just a huge honor, and we’re so excited.”

So what changed in the time between bids? More than anything, the relationship between the Derby Girls and the Coliseum grew and strengthened.

“And the community knows us better, as well,” DisPennett said. “We were so new. People didn’t know what roller derby was. The fact that we’ve worked well and proved ourselves the last four years with the Spring Roll tournament, which we head up ourselves, doing all the leg work. It’s been very successful and gained a huge following.”

There will be other new events in Fort Wayne in 2013: The SportOne Parkview Fieldhouse will be the site of the Junior Volleyball Association Girls Midwest Power League Championships from June 14 to 16; and Lutheran Health SportsCenter will be the host for the U.S. Olympic Curling Arena Club National Championships from July 18 to 21.

But for roller derby, there could be defining moments at the Coliseum.

“People will realize that Fort Wayne is a good place for roller derby and sports,” DisPennett said.