Rollergirls compete in Division I playoffs


The Bleeding Heartland Rollergirls practice last Wednesday for competing in the Divison I NWFTA Championship in Fort Wayne over the weekend. Ben Mikesell Buy Photos

Roller skaters with outlandish nicknames make up the local Bleeding Heartland Rollergirls team, part of a national resurgence of the sport.

“The revival happened in Texas in 2001, and it’s slowly been growing since,” Michelle “Special Sass” Melhouse said. “This is the first year of divisional tournaments, and it’s moving towards a more mainstream sports layout without sacrificing anything.”

For the past three years, the Bleeding Heartland Rollergirls have tried to qualify for the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association’s divisional tournament.

They finally accomplished this long-standing goal.

“The Top 40 teams get to go to Division I, and we ended up at 35,” Melhouse said. “By far, the smallest town in Division 1.”

The WFTDA playoffs started Friday in Fort Wayne.

The Cincinnati Rollergirls were the first opponent for the Bloomington squad. There is a heated rivalry between the two as they have already played each other twice this season, splitting the matches.

“We played really awesome, but we lost by three points in the last 20 seconds of the game,” Melhouse said. “It was a heartbreaker.”

The local team went on to lose two more matches to teams from Grand Rapids, Mich., and St. Louis.

For those who don’t know roller derby, or those who fell on roller skates, got amnesia and forgot about the sport, Savannah “Bipolar Curves” Simmonscan explains.

“There’s one jammer and four blockers for each team on the track,” Simmons said. “The blockers are trying to hold back the opposing jammer, while the jammers are trying to break through the pack and lap them. The two jammers are racing with the assistance of their blockers.”

The Bleeding Heartland Rollergirls is made up of IU alumni as well as many others in the local community.

Like all athletic endeavors, roller derbies always have injuries lurking.

“I’ve seen a couple broken legs,” Simmons said. “It’s not that common. It’s usually not from a big hit but somebody just puts their foot down and slips.”

Not just for the young and spry, roller derby is played by people of all ages. 

“A lot of people have joined derby and are past the time where they think they could play in a sport anymore,” Melhouse said.

However, members of the team said, the average age of a roller derby competitor is 30 to 32.

“The team is amazing,” Simmons said. “It’s an instant family. Getting in shape, for sure. People don’t understand just how intense it is.”

Additionally, the “family” of the team is bonded through nicknames that each team member receives.

Although the Bleeding Heartland Rollergirls did not place as well as they had hoped, they say they have had a great season and are proud of all of their accomplishments over the past year.

“We’re still really proud about making it to the Division 1 playoffs for the first time, and it was still good as we were the smallest town there,” Melhouse said. “We feel like we took a lot out of the experience.”

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