The Masonic Temple drill room was packed Saturday night with 800-plus fanatics, from babies to blue-hairs, to see the Detroit Derby Girls Travel Team, comprised of the best players from Detroit's four derby teams, annihilate the St. Louis Arch Rivals 153-91.
After a close first half, the hometown team rolled easily into victory in front of the sellout crowd — the first time a travel bout had sold out and the continuation of a completely sold-out season.
The DIY revival of roller derby, the provenance of which dates back to the '30s, has now reached an international level, but the sport is still unfamiliar to many people.
And while newbies may see derby as nothing more than racing around in a circle and throwing 'bows, the attraction is undeniable: from the campy theatrical aspects — cheeky nicknames (how about Roxanna Hardplace, the game MVP?), the knee socks, referees in silver lamé shorts — to the passionate athleticism that the skaters exude as they block members from the opposing teams, fearlessly hit the floor and fling their teammates forward out of the opponent's way.
But the best part of the whole thing is seeing how enthusiastically the female sport — which is completely run by the players and a host of selfless volunteers — is celebrated by an increasing number of metro Detroiters.
While most female sporting events are either ignored or deplored, derby is selling out — often in advance (when doors opened at 6 p.m. Saturday, only three tickets were still available). And sure, that could be attributed to the underground entertainment aspect of it more than to its actual value as a sport. But, as noted in an article in Sunday's New York Times Magazine, as derby's sexually driven theatricality is decreasing, both the competition and the popularity of the sport are heating up.
And even if people walk in dismissive of its athletic merit, one look at these tough chicks hauling ass and taking hits and it's clear that a derby girl is as much of an athlete as any dude. Except in fishnets and on wheels.
The Detroit Derby Girl season continues through April with championship matches taking place in May. The next bout takes places on Feb. 14. For info and tickets visit detroitrollerderby.com.