By Mickey Woods
Even when Ferguson began roller skating, she admitted, it was all about “trying to get the attention of the cute boys at the roller rink.”
Now, however, roller skating means something more to her.
She competes for the Bleeding Heartland Flatliners roller derby team and goes by the derby name KaKa Caliente.
The Bloomington-based team, along with Code Blue Assassins of the Bleeding Heartland Rollergirls league, began three years ago, following a trend of growing international teams in the sport of roller derby from Canada to Germany. The teams were co-founded by skaters Molly McFracture and Truly F Obvious in 2006.
Make no mistake, roller derby, though officially seeing its recognition as a sport since 2004 with the foundation of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, has been around in some form or another since the Great Depression era, said Flatliner Allison Baum, who goes by Killer Kindness on the track.
“I’ve always wanted to be called ‘killer.’ It’s tough,” she said of her pseudonym.
Roller derby these days requires girl-on-girl body contact, in the vein of hard-hitting NFL teams, and there are numerous spills and injuries to prove it.
Baum cheered on her team because of a sprained knee as they played against the Hard Knox Rollergirls of Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday night at Bloomington
The Flatliners and Bleeding Heartland Code Blue Assassins roller derby teams practice at Eagle’s Landing gym in Ellettsville and have “bouts” in the SportsPlex, learning safety regulations and strategies to play the hard-hitting, female-dominated sport. The nonprofit Bleeding Heartland Rollergirls league has also traveled from Grand Rapids, Mich., to Louisville, Ky., to compete, with a lot of behind-the-scenes work such as promotion and charity benefits.
Baum said the league is largely run by the unpaid skaters.
The results can be taxing.
Dutch instructor by day and Code Blue rollergirl by night Meghan Goff, pseudonym Mega Byte, gestured to her teammates.
“I think I see you guys more than my nonderby friends,” she said.
It might be a whirl of pseudonyms, sparkly panties, eyeliner and lemon-colored helmets on a flat basketball track during an ordinary bout, but off the track the women assume roles as mothers, lawyers, nurses and rock stars.
It’s not pro wrestling
While some might see names in the program for a roller derby bout ranging from Felanie Charges to Charmed N Dangerous as theatrical devices, Baum wants people to know: “It’s not pro wrestling.”
“One of our founding girls said, ‘Roller derby generally attracts women who don’t have strong relationships with other women,’” she said. “But though we’re all so different and strong-minded, we bond together really well.”
IU graduate student Katie Cierniak, who goes by Kung Furious because of her love of Bruce Lee-style Kung Fu, echoed similar sentiments.
“It’s like any sport,” she said. “It’s not as glamorous as it looks. There’s so much strategy that goes into everything you do when in competition.”
What’s in a name?
Jenni Schultz of the Black-n-Bluegrass Rollergirls team of northern Kentucky that competed against Code Blue at the
SportsPlex goes by Florence Nite-N-Hell, a play on her hometown Florence, Ky., and Florence Nightingale, pioneering English writer and nurse.
Schultz is a 38-year-old gothic artist who was once in mosh pits at metal shows and is now raising a teenage daughter, and has four cats, one named Scrubbles, who she swears is “on crack.”
Samantha Graham of the same team goes by Bertha Knuckles on the track.
“We all have that inner Bertha, that tough character inside all of us,” she said.
Graham works in a cubicle at a 9-to-5 desk job at a cable company.
She said she has a “serious boyfriend” whom she “loves very much.”
Hard Knox’s Samantha Noah was given the derby name Drop Dead ... Gorgeous by her father, a derby referee.
And Math Murderer of Code Blue is Kelley School of Business professor Sarah Sherry, who teaches K201: Computer in Business.
Standing among teammates behind fan bleachers after the first bout against Black-n-Bluegrass, Sherry said she was just happy to be able to relax. Code Blue won 69-62.
Three-year derby fan Edwin Schurg, sporting a Farm Fatales Rollergirls team T-shirt, crossed the gymnasium to give Sherry a high five and watch Bloomington’s Different Drummer Belly Dancers at halftime.
“You were so awesome,” he said.
Sherry shook her head.
“It’s just crazy because it’s my first season actually being ejected from a game,” Sherry said to Schurg, referring to a foul penalty she received in the bout. “They (Black-n-Bluegrass Rollergirls) hit us a lot, but I’m so glad because it meant they took us seriously.”
Fans apparently take roller derby as something more than a spectator sport.
At bouts, die-hard fans have the option of sitting in “Suicide Seating.” The program warned, “Sit at your own risk!!! ... Neither Bleeding Heartland Rollergirls nor the SportsPlex assume any responsibility for audience injury ... But EMTs are on hand, just in case.”
Schurg was one of those fans.
“I love that it’s just powerful athletic women competing,” he said. “These women are the opposite of victims.”
Some fans even come with their own names, like the rollergirls, reflecting other sides to their personality.
Bloomington residents and married couple Ryan Stringer and Emily Krejci also sat in Suicide Seating. Stringer, as a play on his last name, would go by String-’Em-Up to represent a cowboy theme, complete with a spiky helmet.
Krejci said she calls herself Hurricane Jane, paying homage to her middle name and the destructive power of hurricanes.
Her favorite thing about the roller derby was not just the fishnets and boy shorts.
“There is every type of female body represented here, which I think is great,” Krejci said.
“Oh, sparkly!” a male audience member yelled, pointing at Hard Knox’s player Goblynn.
She sported silver boy shorts and face paint as her team did laps around the track in preparation for the next bout against the Flatliners.
“She’s just as scary up close as she is far away,” Notre Dame senior Mike Banning would later say upon high-fiving Goblynn when congratulating the team, who lost to the Flatliners 97 to 75.
IU junior Katrina Feil stood by as fans reclaimed their seats in the bleachers and Suicide Seating areas. She and her boyfriend, IU alumnus Steven Brown, weren’t as brave.
“I love all the skirts,” Brown said. “And the intensity.”
Sipping on a Diet Coke, Feil said jokingly, “We really didn’t sit on the floor for fear our butt cracks would hang out.”
Feil said she wanted to be a rollergirl because she was impressed by the diversity of body types represented on the teams.
“I would either call myself Cruel Mama, or Spanks, because of my big ass,” she said, laughing.
After the bout, Flatliner KaKa Caliente found herself surrounded by fans, Fearleaders and paramedics. She received a shoulder to her sternum from an opposing team member in the last 30 seconds of the bout and was nearly doubling over in pain.
“Forty was the best year of my life,” she said in between cheerfully greeting fans, including one child in a blue T-shirt who called her his “favorite player on the team.”
The constant cheers of her name throughout the bout and moments like this don’t seem to get to Caliente, who played her first season last year and was voted by fans as a crowd favorite at a home bout because of her speed and fiery personality.
“Those sick nauseous feelings of nervousness don’t vanish until the final whistle blows,” Caliente said. “And there are so many talented skaters who could skate circles around me. I just learned this, really.”
She joined the team after reading about it and watching a documentary on A&E about a roller derby team in Texas.
“I’m infinitely happy since I joined,” Caliente. said “I haven’t had a down day since.”
In her free time, Caliente is in a band and has an “awesome husband” she “chills with.”
She also said she enjoys working in her garden in her spare time.
She said her favorite flower is a tuberose, because it is a “labor of love.”
“Just like skating,” she said.