Ann Arbor Derby Dimes get down and dirty—and look good doing it
MOUNT MORRIS—On a cold, Saturday night in a small central Michigan town, two ambulances sit outside the Skateland Arena, motors running, just in case. Inside fans cheer as 30 women dressed in fishnets, booty shorts, ripped-up tank tops, tattoos, dyed hair and gaudy makeup are sporting the tools essential to their trade—quad roller skates and elbow pads as they skate onto the flat track.
More than 100 fans begin to cheer, “A2D2! A2D2!”
As part of a pre-bout warm-up routine, a woman in a jersey that reads, “Big Banger,” yells, “Keep your butt low and skate to a stop.” As all come to a stop, she yells, “And skate.”
Their wheels take them on a sprint. There goes “Queen McLighting, Hermione Gank-Ya, Courtnasty, General Strike and Whiskey Drifter” fierce and proud women of roller derby or, as they call themselves, derby girls.
Among them is Amy “Collete RL Jammage” Fredell. With a kid-in-a-candy-store smile, she leans over and whispers, “This bout is going to be intense.”
Which is exactly what the crowd expects, especially those who strategically positioned themselves near a sign on the track that reads: “Suicide seating, 18 and older allowed.”
These are the Ann Arbor Derby Dimes. Or A2D2 for short.
Danielle “Cranberry” Muntz, 27, of Ypsilanti, a graphic design major at Washtenaw Community College, revels in the glory of being a derby girl. Straight out of the 12-week “fresh meat boot camp” training program, Muntz passed the difficult qualifying test on her first try, a rarity on the circuit.
“The skills test is all of the information that you need to know before you get in, and it’s very challenging,” Muntz said. “You have to learn how to skate and skate fast, fall small (tumble without getting injured), get through the pack and not get penalized. It’s tough and a lot of information to memorize.”
In January, Muntz was drafted to one of the two home teams, the Tree Town Thrashers.
The Ann Arbor Derby Dimes is comprised of two home teams, the Thrashers and the Huron River Rollers. Top players from both teams make
up the Brawlstars, A2D2’s travel team.
Mother and student by day, derby girl by night
Kayleigh “Queen McLight-ning” Cyrus, 24, of Ypsilanti, is a technical writing major at Washtenaw. She is mother to 2-year-old Audrey Grace, and holds a full-time job as a hairstylist. Roller derby is more than a hobby or pastime for Cyrus, who describes it as the foundation to everything else in her life.
“When my child grows up and is able to understand derby, I want her to be able to say, ‘That’s my mom and she is tough and that is so cool. How many of my friend’s mothers do that?’” she said.
For Cyrus, derby is another way for her to channel her natural aggression.
“I’ll even joke with the other girls when we get to practice and I’ll say, ‘Girl, I just got to hit a bitch right now,’” she said. “Sometimes after a drill or two, if we didn’t feel like we got it out, we’ll keep hitting each other until we feel better.”
For Cyrus and Muntz, derby takes away from studies, time with their daughters and time away from their families.
But is it worth it?
“Hell yes,” Cyrus said, unflinching.
Although the adrenaline rush is addictive and the time commitment challenging, most women find derby for the camaraderie it brings to their lives.
“I have never had 105 best friends and no one can say that,” Cyrus said. “If I need a babysitter, a friend or a shoulder, those 105 friends are always there no matter what.”
A2D2 founder Kellee “Cha-Cha Chingona” Gallarel, 34, of Saline seconds that notion and credits the fellowship of derby for getting her through her divorce.
“You post something on Facebook about having a bad day, you’ve got 20 people commenting on it for encouragement,” she said. “It’s a force field to be reckoned with.”
Rink rash and injuries
Cyrus lay on the flat-track rink injured while other derby women tended to her. While everyone takes a knee to show respect, they’re all hoping and praying their fallen friend will get back up and skate again. Injuries frequently happen at the bouts, and sometimes their weekly practices.
While derby is a serious contact sport with a concrete competitive disposition and major potential for injury, the women are also expected to carry their own health plans along with the USA Roller Sports insurance (usars). While usars doesn’t cover major injuries like broken bones, it does cover spectators sitting in suicide seating at the bouts.
John “Coach Slyde” Miller, 50, of Ann Arbor is no stranger to roller derby – and how not to get hurt.
“When one of the girls gets hurt, they all take a knee just like in any sport,” he said. “And that’s my No. 1 goal when coaching: Teach them how to fall small and how not to get hurt so they can return day-after-day to play this sport.”
A veteran to coaching hockey with his son, Miller started skating at Riverside Roller Rink in Livonia and got a chance at a little fame when Drew Barrymore came to town to produce the derby girl-themed film “Whip It.”
“A lot of derby girls from Detroit started showing up and I started teaching them how to skate,” he said. “And then the movie, “Whip It” came to town, forcing roller derby’s explosion in Michigan.”
With injuries, comes equipment and getting the best that one can afford.
“The knees are the most vulnerable in this sport,” he said. “We do exercises at practice to strengthen and to avoid as much injury as possible, and I always tell the women to buy the best pads they can. It will only save their body in the long-run.”
For the skater, by the skater—The birth of A2D2
The seed was planted in May 2010 when Gallarel stepped out of her house and said, “Let’s form a derby team.”
The next month, A2D2 started scouting for practice space unsuccessfully in Ann Arbor. The closest flat-track roller rink happened to be in Belleville about 20 minutes from Ann Arbor.
Closed due to lack of business at the time, A2D2 approached the owner of Rollers Skate Park asking for him to reopen so A2D2 could have a place to call home.
“There was no carpet there and no paint, but we were able to use the floor,” said Amber “General Strike” Cooper, 31, of Whitmore Lake. “The owner originally opened just so we could practice but eventually he opened it back up for open skating and it’s been great ever sense.”
While A2D2 calls Rollers Skate Park their home for now, the long road that lies ahead is eventually to become affiliated with the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association—a network of other leagues to help facilitate development of athletic ability, sportsmanship and good will among member leagues. wftda is also the guideline that A2D2 uses for training, testing and bouting.
Gallarel marvels at what has transpired in such a short time.
“My gosh, seeing these women and the way they’re competing brings tears to my eyes,” she said. “Of course, I love how far they’ve come but I didn’t think that in just a year and a half, we would have three teams competing at a level like this.”