Roller derby – once seen on late night television as a cross between roller skating and wrestling — sweeps the nation for a second time in a generation – even on the desert streets of Palm Springs.
Meet the Coachella Valley Derby Girls, a group of local women training to make their derby debut, this season.
Jessica “Jessi James” Jeffries and Caitlin “Smiley Coyote” Hogan relocated from the San Francisco Bay Area earlier this year and said they found it difficult to connect with other local women.
They compared notes while playing their favorite sport, roller derby and decided to see if creating a desert roller derby league might solve both problems.
“We made a flier and the response has just been crazy,” Hogan said.
The group attracted the attention of a group ranging from recent high school graduates to moms in their 40s. More than a dozen women of all fitness levels — including women who never skated before joining the league – now practice on unforgiving asphalt.
“When Brelinda (Wadley) started, she couldn’t skate. Now she’s the fastest girl we have,” her teammate, Nadlla “Sally D. Doll” Almeyda, said. “The coaches take you in and teach you from the ground up.”
As the league’s coach, Jeffries said she’s willing to welcome all interested girls on one condition: They must be willing to work hard.
“It’s a sport for anyone who can handle it,” Jeffries said.
Three times a week, the CV Derby Girls don their signature black, pink and orange team colors to meet for a two-hour practice. Jeffries drills them on derby techniques, while Coach Jon “J-Rod” Gayler focuses on improving fitness levels. Filled with tumbles, screams and sweat, the practices appear agonizing.
At the end of the day, though, many of the women cherish the sisterhood they created from these training sessions.
“You form bonds out there,” Jeffries said.
They push themselves harder during each drill. When they fall, the team shouts out supportive cheers to get back up.
"It's nice to be in an environment where girls are actually encouraging each other," said Valerie Kattz, MIX 100.5 radio host and recent CV Derby Girls addition.
Kattz admitted she knew nothing about roller derby before she joined. After hearing about the group, she watched the roller derby film “Whip It” for a crash course in the sport.
Her interest in the group sparked a debate among her coworkers and listeners as to whether or not Kattz should join the CV Derby Girls. Her naysayers ultimately pushed her to buy a pair of skates and prove that she can compete.
"Everyone I work with was telling me I couldn't do it," Kattz said. "And my mom told me, ‘Maybe you can just be their announcer.’ That just made me want to do it more."
Driven to prove her doubters wrong, Kattz said she finds the entire roller derby experience empowering. Many of her new teammates echo the sentiment, including Lindsay “Toxic Rocket” Arthur. After watching her sister develop as a derby girl in the Inland Empire, Arthur jumped at the chance to get involved with a local league.
“There aren’t too many full contact sports for women,” Arthur said, “but we want people to know that we can do full contact, too.”
With roller derby season starting in January, the women hope to be ready for scrimmages and bouts against other Southern California leagues by mid-season. Eventually, Jeffries hopes to create three level-based teams within the CV Derby Girls league. She also plans to eventually start a junior league.
But first, the group needs a permanent venue to call home. Currently, the girls practice outdoors at several public places throughout the valley, and several practices have been cancelled due to bad weather. Without a venue, the league is also unable to host bouts against visiting leagues.
The CV Derby Girls are hoping to raise enough money for a venue and uniforms at their Sept. 29th fundraiser at Playoffs Sports Bar in Desert Hot Springs. A few of the women will don their skates to serve guests, while Hogan will serve the team’s two original drinks, the Dirty Derby and the Whip It, as guest bartender for the night.
The girls are also organizing a kissing booth, beer pong and raffle giveaways. Proceeds from the event, including the $5 cover charge, will help the CV Derby Girls with uniform and venue expenses.
The team plans to start playing against the Yucca Valley-based Mojave Rattler Skaters, another newly-formed team, and other regional leagues by next summer. Before any of the girls are allowed to play against other teams, though, they’ll have to measure up to Jeffries’ expectations.
“I want to make sure they’re bout-ready,” Jeffries said. “We don’t want anyone getting hurt.”
The women will continue to practice several times a week to reach the next level, but some members are already chomping at the bit to face off against another league. CV Derby Girls Event Coordinator Yvette “Evie Von Creep” Turner said she is more than ready to put her training to the test.
“I can’t wait to go full contact with another team,” Turner said.
For more information about the Coachella Valley Derby Girls, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Coach Jessica Jeffries at (760) 550-3566.