Victoria Jamieson‘s story about a middle school student’s determination to build the strength and persistence necessary to compete in roller derby resonated with readers young and old, and her book Roller Girl earned the author the Texas Library Association’s Texas Bluebonnet Award in 2017.

San Antonians seeking the same action that inspired Jamieson’s graphic novel need look no further than the Alamo City Rollergirls (ACRG). On Saturday, ACRG will host El Paso Roller Derby at Mission Concepción Sports Park.

For tickets, click here.

A Hard-Hitting Mission

Any league member will tell you that contemporary roller derby with ACRG is more than the fishnet stockings and the wheeled wrestling moves of yesteryear. The beloved derby names, however, remain timeless, and picking a name is a treasured experience for anyone joining a derby league.

Since 2005, ACRG has fostered competitive women’s flat-track roller derby through athleticism, diversity, empowerment, and community engagement.

ACRG is a skater-owned and -operated nonprofit, so the time on the track is only one component of the holistic approach the league takes to fulfilling its mission. Each full-time member holds a league job to help with the day-to-day operations. In addition to competitive derby play, ACRG members volunteer with local nonprofits, like Girls on the Run of Bexar County, host fundraisers, and try to balance derby activities with other parts of their lives. For many in the league, the opportunity to spend time together off the track helps build the sense of community that drew them to the sport.

“The women attracted to this type of sport are leaders, and it brings us together to make San Antonio better,” said Steel Megnolia, who joined ACRG in October.

The camaraderie found in roller derby, combined with the physical demands of the sport, build a new sense of confidence in many of the players. Derby requires strength of character as well as physical strength. This combination is the only thing that enables skaters to receive a full-body check from their teammate during a scrimmage, but then bring cupcakes to the same teammate’s kid’s birthday party.

Skullyvera has skated with ACRG for more than 10 years. She credits the derby community with bringing “a lot of very different women into your life.

“ACRG is always open to anybody, so you meet women you would not have met otherwise,” she said.

The league’s 40 members include skaters, coaches, referees, non-skating officials, and volunteers. You may know them in the community as counselors, educators, students, servers, veterans, personal trainers, and more.

The members of ACRG are a diverse group, and the general stereotype of hardened, scary women is lost on many of the skaters who view themselves more as amateur athletes than dramatic wrestlers. The opportunity to build new friendships, be part of a team, and stay active in a full-contact sport gives each member the tools to help fulfill ACRG’s mission. The next chance to join ACRG as a skater, official, or volunteer is Tuesday, July 11, at the league’s Recruitment Night.

“We are much nicer than we look,” said Mazel Tuf, a new skater in the league.

Why is it Called a Bout?

In soccer it’s a match, in basketball it’s a game – but roller derby requires its own lingo. The reason behind the name is a source of roller derby speculation, but ACRG’s favorite response to the question of the origin is this: “Because we’re a-bout to kick ass.”

ACRG plays flat-track roller derby and is the only league in the city affiliated with the international ranking body Women’s Flat-Track Derby Association (WFTDA). Through the association, ACRG represents San Antonio alongside almost 400 other member leagues from Sao Paolo to London. Later in June, ACRG will travel to New Orleans to compete against the Big Easy Rollergirls.

Membership in WFTDA helps hold ACRG to a competitive level that is as rewarding as it can be grueling, and skaters who travel for the league are expected to attend practice as well as workout outside of practice time. This helps them prepare to take on higher-ranking teams, such as the one in New Orleans. WFTDA sets the rules for how the game is played and has helped move the sport from theatrics to athletics.

Flat-track roller derby is played in 32-minute periods made up of two-minute jams. Each team has five players: three blockers, one pivot, and one jammer. The blockers from each team form the “pack.” Each team’s jammer lines up behind the pack. The objective of the game is for each team to help get their jammer through the pack while preventing the opposing team’s jammer from breaking through. The jammers earn one point each time they pass an opposing blocker’s hips, after their initial lap around the track.

In theory, it sounds like a relatively simple game play. However, keep in mind that players are using the full force of their bodies to move their opponents’ bodies – on wheels. Skaters often end a bout with a colorful array of bruises, and concussions and broken bones are common injuries. The skill required by the skaters and the full-contact excitement have helped make the sport one of the fastest-growing in the world, and as one skater’s colleague likes to tease her, “the No. 2 sport in San Antonio.”

Keeping Derby Local

In 2014 when I joined ACRG, my favorite skater – the infamous but now retired Pleasure 2BeatYa – told me that derby is for everyone, and you get out of what you put into it. These wise words applied to Jamieson’s Roller Girl characters just as they apply to any new skater. Today, I recognize it also applies to the community. Almost all of the women I have met in derby have a story about the many gifts the sport has given them, like a new commitment to living a healthy and fit lifestyle or the courage to speak their mind and stand by their decisions.

Roller derby in San Antonio means that women have a supportive and welcoming community. It also means the city has a sporting event for the whole family where the athletes will remind them of their mom, sister, wife, or friend. But, ACRG can’t continue its commitment to empowerment and community without its fans –and our “fresh meat,” otherwise known as new skaters.

Become one or both on June 17 and July 11, and follow ACRG on Facebook for more information.

Melanie Call is a skater with the Alamo City Roller Girls.