Fort Wayne – 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 dont know about roller derby and the first thing they ask is, Is it real? said Shannon DisPennett, president of the Derby Girls And Ill say, Yes, I broke my leg and ankle in three places last year. I have a bionic leg, so, yeah, its real. We fight it a lot. Its getting better, but were 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 Womens Flat Track Derby Associations 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 its the real deal. Its 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 didnt think they would get it.
One (other city) in particular, Austin (Texas), where roller derby was resurrected in 2003, made us nervous, DisPennett said. Its 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, its just a huge honor, and were 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 didnt know what roller derby was. The fact that weve worked well and proved ourselves the last four years with the Spring Roll tournament, which we head up ourselves, doing all the leg work. Its 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.