By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
Neon fishnet tights, short-shorts, T-shirts and tattoos. Admittedly not the average uniform for an athlete; but, then, the Mississippi Brawl Stars are not your average team.
The Brawl Stars is the Golden Triangleâ€™s only roller derby team. Megan Dareing started the team just about a year ago knowing practically nothing about the sport.
â€śI probably hadnâ€™t been on skates since I was 15,â€ť she said.
And she wasnâ€™t alone. Almost none of the clubâ€™s 20 plus members had any derby experience when they joined. Some could barely even skate. They were basically starting from scratch.
Off the rink, it is a very diverse group of women. There are nurses, graphic designers, business owners, waitresses, and photographers. One team member works for a newspaper, and another for the Starkville Police Department. There are even quite a few mothers and students. They range in age from 18 to 40-somethings. Many members are not who you might expect out of this kind of sport.
It hasnâ€™t been easy; but over the last year, the group has morphed into true rough and tumble roller derby team- with tough nicknames to match.
â€śI wouldnâ€™t have met the majority of these girls if not for roller derby,â€ť Sarah â€śDixie Snarlinâ€™ â€ś Wilson, 23, said. â€śBut after a practice, when weâ€™re stinky and bruised and breathless, and weâ€™ve just worked harder than we thought possible, and pushed each other farther than we thought we could, weâ€™re exactly the same.â€ť
If you know anything about roller derby, you might be asking yourself why someone would ever want to subject themselves to a sport that makes football look dainty.
â€śMy very first practice, I broke my tailbone,â€ť Shannon â€śShanacondaâ€ť Haupt, 40 said. â€śYouâ€™re waking up the next day with mysterious bruises. Every practice, somebody goes down pretty hard, and stays there a few minutes.â€ť
There is the risk of injury, of course, but youâ€™d have a hard time finding a group more passionate about the sport.
â€śWeâ€™ve had some people get hurt knees and ankles, but itâ€™s still worth it,â€ť Haupt said, with a huge smile.
â€śI am just proud to have the guts to step on the track,â€ť Tammy â€śSuper Novaâ€ť Carlisle said. Carlisle, 43, is proud to be the oldest member on the team. She is also one of the newest members of the team, but her competitive nature has served her well.
â€śDerby is definitely a full-contact sport; mostly between me and the floor,â€ť she joked.
So how exactly does roller derby work? Here is a very simple break down, as explained by Dave â€śCount Abilityâ€ť Smith, the Brawl Stars referee who has been helping the women learn all about the game.
There are two teams on the floor. Each team has five players; four â€śblockersâ€ť and one â€śjammerâ€ť each. All the blockers travel around the rink as a pack, with one â€śpivotâ€ť from each team setting the pace. Their goal is to prevent the jammer from the opposing team from passing the pack, while assisting their own jammer to get through.
The jammerâ€™s goal is to pass the opposing jammers as many times as she can within two-minute periods, called â€śjams.â€ť She will get one point for every opposing jammer she passes.
Each match, called a â€śboutâ€ť consists of two 30-minute periods of jams, with a halftime.
While those are the basics, there are a lot of rules and strategy that come into play as well.
â€śI think people would be surprised to know how intellectual and complicated it is,â€ť Haupt said. But she says thatâ€™s part of the appeal. â€śI think they think of it as a WWF (World Wrestling Federation), kind of fake thing, and itâ€™s really not. Itâ€™s a physically tough game, and itâ€™s mentally really challenging.â€ť
Each of the women has made a huge commitment to be a part of this team. They practice at least three times a week for two hours.
â€śItâ€™s not a hobby; itâ€™s a giant part of your life,â€ť Wilson said. â€śSometimes my derby life and my work life battle each other. I sometimes have to remind myself that I get paid at my work life; but derby is what keeps me sane at my work life.â€ť
All the women agreed that, although roller derby can get pretty intense, itâ€™s become a stress reliever in their lives. It gives each woman a chance to forget about the stress and trouble of their normal lives.
â€śThere are people in your everyday work life that are not so easy to deal with. And you have to be nice, cordial about it. Here, I can take out all of that aggression on my friends,â€ť Wilson said, laughing. â€śItâ€™s the best form of therapy Iâ€™ve ever had in my life.â€ť
She admits that as much as she loves it, itâ€™s not for everybody.
â€śWeâ€™ve had scores of girls come in and try it,â€ť she said, â€śand for one reason or another, whether they physically couldnâ€™t handle it or they mentally couldnâ€™t handle it, or they had a life that they couldnâ€™t devote 10 to 12 hours a week to derby.â€ť
The Mississippi Brawl Stars have had quite the journey, and all the members agree itâ€™s taken hard work and commitment to get them where they are today. They admit that there were days in the beginning that they thought theyâ€™d never get the chance to compete.
But on Saturday, April 2, the Brawl Stars will get their chance to show off all their hard work from the last year. They will have a game at the Columbus Fairgrounds starting at 6 p.m. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, visit www.mississippibrawlstars.com or check out their page on Facebook.