The Texas Roller Derby girls whip, block and jam around the track. Photographers’ flashes go off constantly, not wanting to miss a moment of the hard-core action. Tattoos and bruises decorate the roller girls’ bodies.
This was the scene at the last match between Putas Del Fuego and the Holy Rollers. The Putas — with their faces painted in sugar scull designs and their legs covered in fishnets — battled on blades and won the right to compete in the Calvello Cup finals Oct. 25.
Bentley Screws had no knowledge of roller derby years ago when she attended her first match. She is now a member of the Putas and has been playing for four years.
“I walked in and remembered looking at it going, ‘I want to do that. I can do that,’” Screws said.
Screws, who is also a drama teacher, said hitting, yelling and getting into pillow fights are things she can’t do at work. But on the rink, it’s all about staying in character and putting on a show. She defeated a Holy Roller in a rough and tumble pillow fight on the track as fans roared with excitement in the bleachers.
“I think that what you bring in as your ‘human off skates’ is what you bring into the sport itself.” Screws said. “From a female perspective, you can always relate to someone on the track. We all are rooting for each other.”
Annie Smokley, longtime roller derby player and coach, grew up searching for a sport that fit her personality. Smokley said roller derby gives the women who participate an outlet for their aggression and an opportunity to look up to other strong women. She said she gained confidence through racing and her relationships with other roller girls.
Dental assistant by day and member of the Cherry Bombs by night, Smokley works on behalf of Texas Roller Derby to keep the league running. Although none of the roller girls are paid, they are required to attend a certain number of practices and games other than their own to help sell merchandise and work the events, held in Austin at the Palmer Events Center. Smokley said this helps bring the league together and build a solid community.
“We skate in a warehouse that costs us a few thousand dollars to skate there,” Smokley said. “We have to really push our ticket sales and merch to keep it going because, without all that, you don’t have that business.”
A trait unique to Texas Roller Derby is the penalty wheel, spun by a man dressed in drag called the penalty mistress. When a player commits a minor penalty, the wheel can land on challenges such as tug-of-war, pillow fights, arm wrestles or relay races. The player who committed the penalty will take on an opponent from the other team to gain points.
Derby girls leave it all on the track and show no mercy — fist fights even break out between referees and players.
“It gives you the power to feel like you’re not just some girl — you’re so much more than that,” Smokley said. “Being able to be in that environment and seeing women going from really shy to this whole new person is amazing.”