“As Hard and Cracked as the Liberty Bell”
Walking into the Class of 1923 Arena in University City, the first thing that meets your eye is what appears to be an all-out brawl in the center of the skating rink. Decked out in flashy uniforms, a diverse group of women push, grab, shove and slam into each other, all while expertly traveling around a hard, concrete track on roller skates. Coaches scream from the sidelines, referees rush about while motioning wildly with their hands and exuberant fans scream the names of crowd favorites from the stands, “Drop! Menace! Mommy!” Despite all of this noise, you can still hear the painful thwack of bodies hitting the unforgiving track as skaters are thrown from to the ground. On the outskirts of this rough display of organized mayhem, staff members feverishly serve up refreshments, food and merchandise in a flurry of tattoos and multicolored hair. Strange, out-of-the-ordinary, off-the-beaten-path, eccentric, we don’t think that anyone involved in this organization would disapprove of these descriptors. One thing that they would definitely agree on is that they are an empowering and inspirational group of athletes. Call them crazy, call them inspirational, call them Philly Roller Derby.
In 2005, a group of experienced, Roller Derby skaters came together to form a D.I.Y. league with a “by the skater, for the skater” mission. This newly formed, Philly Roller Derby experienced immediate success and was quickly hosting games for sold out crowds. The four fabulously named teams, the All Star Liberty Belles, the Block Party, the Cheeseskates and the Independence Dolls, are made up of women who have gone through extensive training and a series of rigorous assessments to prove that they are ready for the track. Members of PRD have assured me that games are extremely brutal, combining the skills of rugby, ice hockey and football into 60 minute, non-stop sessions. After 10 years in operation, the talented and world-renowned skaters of PRD have built an entire community out of a shared passion for this hard-hitting sport.
Tarandiehl Bahgat, AKA “Tarantula,” was nice enough to tell us all about Philly Roller Derby. She explained that they have their own unique brand of top-notch entertainment with multiple games, contests and performances by their Pheerleaders at each event. This full night of family fun comes at a very affordable ticket price ($12-20). Tara informs me that although her fans come for a variety of different reasons, they always leave with a new sense of respect for the players and the sport. She went on to explain that PRD is “”extremely proud of [their] non-profit status and… community outreach in the Philadelphia area.” Their skaters and teams continuously place in national and regional competitions. As an organization they have maintained their “homegrown approach” with every aspect of the organization being maintained by athletes and volunteers. This sense of self-sufficiency makes their accomplishments all the more remarkable.
Not only does this organization have an amazing past, they also have a bright future. Tara states that they are making a priority of “continuing to grow [their] juniors league as well as…a recreational league for retired a alumni and anyone who just wants a great workout on roller skates.” They are currently in the process of seeking out a 10,000 square foot practice space in order to give the league a home base. They are very thankful for their fans and the ongoing support that they receive from the Philadelphia community. They give back by contributing to local charities such as Philly Girls in Motion, Paws and WHYY’s fund drives. Tara left me with some powerful insight at the end of our interview, stating that “derby empowers its players to find confidence and realize personal strengths they likely didn’t realize. It’s an incredibly physical outlet, as well as mental and strategic challenge. Many skaters claim roller derby saved them from bad places in their lives, unproductive relationships, and helped them get healthy. ” Though Roller Derby may seem quirky and unusual to some, it is clearly much more than an oddball hobby for those involved. We are very grateful to Philly Roller Derby for bringing “sisterly shove” to the City of Brotherly Love.
Written by Patrick Kaisinger (Mike McCann Team Blogger Extraordinaire)