The Thunderbird Roller Rink in Plano—home to the Assassination City Roller Derby league—harkens to a scene from the 1980s. A roller derby bout transcends class and generation: high schoolers split attention between friends and phones; middle-aged men and women settle in with coolers and fold-out chairs; two police officers sip their drinks in the back.
A 1973 Jim Croce song once described a “queen” of the roller derby, representing the rather bawdy nature of the sport back then: “A bleached-blonde mama with a streak of mean / She knew how to knuckle and she knew how to scuffle and fight…”
But unlike the clobbering derby America once knew, today’s derby has become a much more sophisticated sport. With its flat track and increasingly mainstream appeal, it’s a far cry from the dome rink and grungy frays of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Yet a touch of grunge still clings with punk-culture derby names, purple lipstick, and fishnet stockings.
Tonight, Team Conspiracy of Plano rolls out onto the rink, among them Sloane Gunman, Homici-Doll, and Bumble BeeDuff, a “jammer”—point-scorer—for the team.
Then out charge the Kansas All-Stars: Ann T. Histamine, BB Gunner… and on violently pink skates, jammer Vanilla Slice.
The whistle sounds. The bout is on.
The Derby Girls
Bumble BeeDuff’s daytime alias is Brittany Duffin, a digital marketing manager in Plano. Her derby name, proudly announced after passing “Fresh Meat” training assessments, has raised eyebrows on the circuit.
“Not a lot of people like it. I think it’s the cutesy factor,” Brittany says. “Most derby names are risqué or fierce. When I started derby, I didn’t feel very fierce.”
The roller derby love story usually starts like this: Girl meets derby. Girl falls for derby. Girl remembers she can’t skate.
Fellow derby girl, Amanda Forasteros, a bilingual social worker, spent her first Fresh Meat session clinging to the wall and flailing around. When the trainees were all practicing derby stance—a low squat that ensures better balance—Amanda fell. Hard.
Now a seasoned blocker for Ruby’s Revenge, that tailbone injury is a distant memory.
And her derby name? Mother Terrorista.
“I love Mother Teresa—especially since I’m in social work,” Amanda says. “And I’m a pastor’s wife. The name just really hits many facets of my life.”
Amanda admits it—yes, there are physical breaks: broken tailbones, sprained ankles, even torn ACLs. But you could get those injuries anywhere and not have a cool story to go with it, she insists.
Ask any derby girl, and she’ll tell you that the sport is more mental than physical. There’s a mental toughness you must have if you ever hope to stick with it. But when a derby girl joins a team, she also joins a family.
“I love how tough everyone is, but there’s also this expression of femininity—like Wonder Woman,” Amanda says. “You’ve got stay-at-home moms here. You’ve got nurses and teachers, social workers and tattoo artists.”
But the wheels really hit the rink when it’s time for a bout.
The music amps up. The crowd buzzes. A woman sings the national anthem to the beat of the skaters’ clicking stomps.
Bee zooms out with the pack. She has to lap everyone to earn points as a jammer—all while evading body blocks, clashing helmets and the tight-linked cluster of girls blocking her path, much like a scrum in rugby. The rigor of the bout meshes rugby and relay racing. Just throw in roller skates.
She starts out strong, but the slick maneuvers of Vanilla Slice, sliding through and lapping the pack as if she was skating in the park, ignite a determination in Bee that both helps and hinders her. A few penalties stack up and intermittently find Bee in the penalty box. Not for violence—for track cuts, as routine as foul balls at a baseball game.
Still, Bee took from that bout not only a close win with her team (202-192), but also self-determined goals that only derby life could inspire in her.
“I want to walk into the next bout knowing that it doesn’t matter if I make a mistake, as long as I bounce back from those moments,” she says with cool confidence.
The end of this bout is victorious but bittersweet. Two of Conspiracy’s teammates announce their retirement. But instead of sniffling, the team celebrates its win and friendship at favorite after-party haunt, the Lion & Crown Pub in Watters Creek.
The bonds and impact of the derby girls are forever, from inside the league out.
“Hanging out with the derby team, you learn that everyone’s a little weird—especially in the derby community. We attract the weirdest of the weird,” Bee says with a smile. “I feel like I’ve embraced my inner weirdness, and the weirdness of other people.”
Mother Terrorista agrees. “Every time I walk into the rink, I feel so excited because I know I’m exactly where I need to be. It’s a beautiful community of people who can come together in tragedy or celebration.”