I came back to practice a few weeks after my first visit to watch them get ready for their home bout with Mother State. The Dames ran through drills where they skated side-by-side in ranks, jumping left to right, right to left, to the sound of Coach Rex Knightly’s whistle, sometimes falling to their knees before popping back up again. Then they ran through a skating version of running lines, skating from a starting line, back and forth to incrementally further turnaround points, finishing off with one long sprint. After several elimination heats, two finalists emerged: B-One Bomber (who everyone calls Bone and whose mother wears a t-shirt that says, ‘I dropped the bomb’) and Mia Machete.
Lithe and muscled, Bone played soccer and field hockey in school but said she is in the best shape of her life since skating derby. Rex, who’s over 6′ tall and in good shape, skates with the team a few nights a week.
“I’ve been hit by her. She can knock me down like a bowling pin,” he said of Bone.
Mia Machete (who bouts in makeup reminiscent of Daryl Hannah’s Pris in Blade Runner, only with a much more agreeable demeanor) is an A-team jammer and blocker extraordinaire. She played volleyball in college. Now she works by day with the elderly through the Jefferson Area Board for Aging. A few of her charges, well on in years, remember derby from TV in the ’70s and excitedly make it out to cheer Machete around the track during home bouts.
Among the best athletes on the team, the two faced off for a two-lap race around the track to decide fastest skater honors for the night. After the first lap Machete had a narrow edge on Bone, checking for her over her shoulder the way a bike messenger checks traffic. Halfway into the final lap, Bone came from behind Machete’s outside shoulder, shot for the low angle, and took possession of the inside line of the track. Bone’s move surprised Machete, and she started to pull away. Just as she looked home free, Bone’s skates lost grip in the last turn and she slid on her haunches off the track. Machete sashayed to victory to a chorus of “woo-hoo”s from her teammates. Bone played off the slip, but she looked bashful and a little bit peeved as she congratulated the winner.
At that point in the workout, the sweat was soaked through the women’s shirts, clinging to the skin on their backs. They were winded from hard skating, and the drills morphed into a light scrimmage that was halted here and there for Rex to point out positioning issues or remind the ladies to avoid penalties. Bone, playing blocker for one jam, saw an opportunity to neutralize opposing blocker Stonewallup. She cut across the track, lowered her shoulder and then lowered the boom on Stone, dropping her like a sack of feed. Stone fell to her knees, cupping her face in her hands as blood splashed on the track. She didn’t make so much as a whimper or even shoot Bone a “WTF?” glance. Towels came out, somebody produced a tampon to staunch the bleeding, and the practice more or less trailed off at that point.
Stone said it was the first bloody nose of her life. If so, she played it off pretty cool.
“Sometimes you get hit,” she said.
A couple players and Rex agreed that Bone’s hit on Stone would have been grounds for expulsion from a real bout. Bone skated around more or less unconcerned. Days later, when I asked her about what could have been viewed as excessive aggression in a practice scrimmage, Bone said, “I think it was the follow-through that got her.”
It would not be any stretch at all to imagine the whole incident resulting in a post-practice fist fight had it been two dudes on a men’s team, but there appeared to be no lingering animosity between the two Dames.
“I don’t like to watch men’s derby. I don’t think it’s exciting,” said Mama. “They’re not graceful and the egos stick out a lot more than women playing the sport. I mean, first of all, it’s our sport and it’s a team sport and that’s what we focus on.”
After the Dames victory over Mother State, I asked every single jammer (the ones who score points and get all the glory) about the dramatic second half turnaround that sparked their annihilation of the more experienced Mother Staters. To a woman, they gave all the credit to their blockers. There was none of the modern, pro-athlete bullshit of, “well, because the blockers played well, I was able to…blah, blah, blah.” It was just unqualified praise for their teammates and the women who did the dirty work in the blocking packs.
A couple weeks later, after the Dames lost a hard fought battle to the Capital Offenders from D.C., a bout that was decided in the final jam, there was palpable enthusiasm in the air among the home crowd. Even the Dames who mingled with the postgame crowd, gregariously signing autographs, seemed pleased with the performance. A non-skating Dame observer said, “Yeah, they were happy to have a good bout.”
Mama, who served as bench coach during the contest, interrupted a lingering, informal, post-game award ceremony, to remind the team that the D.C. girls were about to leave, so they stopped what they were doing to congratulate their opponents, thanking them for making the journey. Having played ball in school myself, this was the kind of thing a team of boys would begrudgingly do at the behest of a strict coach. But these women have an unspoken solidarity, even with their opponents from a distant burg, and are eager to support and remind each other of their appreciation for the effort.