Review: Old Capitol City Roller Girls’ Monster Brawl


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Roller derby: The cliché of crazy, barbaric, mindless women skating around, driving their elbows into their opponents while some violent ’90s rock chugs along in the background?


The revival and continual improvement of a sport whose roots trace back to the Great Depression is better, more fairly, described as an entertaining and impressive display of strength, strategy, intensity, conditioning, and (as anyone who’s ever had the pleasure of experiencing the trauma in gym class will understand) the ability to do some pretty amazing stuff while not continually falling backwards in a pair of roller skates. The Old Capital City Roller Girls’ Monster’s Brawl on Oct. 25 had all that, not to mention its fair share of Halloween costumes.

There was a nicely dressed wedding party milling around the Coralville Marriot on the night of the derby. Heading down the hallway, I saw a few different conferences, cheese platters, and more suits. Pish-posh. Boring. I was there for some action, and the Exhibit Hall was where it was at. At 7 p.m., the start of the first bout as the Old Capital City’s All-Stars took on the Mad Rollin’ Dolls (of Madison, Wis.) Unholy Rollers.

An ambulance stood at the ready, positioned to pull quickly out of the venue. People milled about the concrete floor, some in costume (one couple, in particular, dressed as the Bananas in Pajamas), and after a booming vocal performance of the national anthem by the most talented little girl I’ve ever heard, the skaters were off, resulting in a pileup 3 feet from the starting line. Awesome.

I sat down with captains from the Roller Girls’ two different teams a few hours before, Janelle Graber (nicknamed Death Nell) of the Ped Maulers and Diane Williams (Lady Hulk) from the All-Stars. Williams, a UI graduate student, said the league is very grass-roots. It’s a chance for adults to learn a new sport, something we often forget is possible. The group of around 40 skaters includes medical professionals, students, social workers, a graphic designer, and many others.

Looking up from my notebook, the score was suddenly 31-21 for the Unholy Rollers. I had missed something, and while I tried to have the two captains explain how the process of scoring works in roller derby and had watched a two-minute video about it on YouTube, paying attention proved confusing. But it was still exciting, even with my poor understanding. A competitor from the Unholy Rollers checked a player from the All-Stars to the ground, her hip smacking the concrete, and an official in a black-and-white striped shirt, hair down to his waist, and a glorious settler beard rolled by, spun gracefully, and blew his whistle. There are rules in roller derby.

The Old Capital would like to grow. Both of the captains made it very clear that anybody is able to join, and they noted a recruitment on Nov. 9. They said people interested don’t even have to know how to skate all that well. They’re a fun, supportive, energetic bunch.

Next time I looked up the score was 73-71, again for the Unholy Rollers. With so much going on, there was a lot to miss, even looking down to scribble notes while sitting on the floor of the aptly named “Suicide Seating” (right by the action, 18 and older only). But a player from the Rollers, the team’s Jammer (the one player of each team’s five responsible for scoring the points) was sitting in the “Ugly Box,” a penalty box sponsored by the IC Ugly’s Saloon, a damning place to be.

Ultimately, the All-Stars proved victorious, while the Ped Maulers fell to the Mad Rollin’ Dolls’ Vaudeville Vixens. But for an onlooker, especially one new to the world of roller derby, the score hardly matters; this was one bad-ass event.

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