It’s a rainy Sunday evening, and a unique group is taking shelter inside a skating rink. Louder than the claps of thunder are the hoots and hollers emanating from within.
All geared up, members of the Philly Roller Girls — laden with tattoos and piercings while donning short skirts and skates — zoom around the hardwood floors with ease and aggression. It’s only a scrimmage, but that doesn’t stop the women from vigorously rooting for their teammates.
The tactics work, as the skaters legally bump and push the competition out of their way. Forceful falls to the floor — accompanied by loud "thuds"– are common, as is the occasional skater losing control and rolling speedily out of bounds before hitting a wall.
Roller derby never looked so good.
"I think I’m real laid back, but as soon as the whistle blows, it’s different," Bella Vista resident Stephanie Mannis, who goes by the skate name "Lexie Deluxe," said. "When we’re out there, you get a chance to be rough and tough."
The Philly Roller Girls have spiked in popularity since arriving on the scene in April 2005. Now, with nearly 50 members in the league, they have enacted a travel team that will compete in Las Vegas Saturday against the Sin City Neander Dolls. The game is a step for the league, a member of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), towards gaining national rank.
The Liberty Belles, consisting of 14 women, includes members of the league’s four teams: Broad Street Butchers, Heavy Metal Hookers, Hostile City Honeys and Philthy Britches. Just like each skater, teams have their own personalities.
Mannis describes hers, the Hostile City Honeys, as "weapon-toting bad girls from the wrong side of the tracks." Yet, the resident hardly could be classified as such when she’s off the track, with an infectious smile and pleasant voice.
While strapping on her pads and skates, Mannis is eager to display two of her 14 tattoos: a roller-derby voodoo doll and a colorful derby girl.
"I’m very corporate by day and this is what I do at night," Mannis, a senior product manager for a payment company, said. "Once you’re out there [on the track], it’s so much fun and the adrenaline takes over and you don’t feel [the bruises] until the next day when you’re black and blue."
Though some of the girls ooze intimidation during competition, there is something bigger than the sport itself; it’s about invoking a sense of sisterhood.
Saturday’s game, like all bouts, will use rules set by the WFTDA. The women play three, 20-minute periods made up of two-minute "jams."
One "jammer" from each team is allowed on the track during a session and tries to acquire points. The defense consists of four "blockers" in a "pack."
Once jammers are 20 feet behind the pack, they begin maneuvering through the defense. A point is awarded for each jammer who can successfully pass each of the opposing skaters sans penalty.
"Pivots" act as blockers and assist their jammer. "Lead jammers" are determined by those who pass the blockers and pivots on both teams without penalty, and can call off a jam before the two minutes are up.
Legal blocks are executed between an opponent’s shoulder and hips. A player may use shoulders and the arm area above the elbow to block. Tripping, shoving and punching are not allowed and can lead to penalties, three of which lead to time in the penalty box during the next jam.
"It looks really aggressive to the spectator," Kristi "Annie Christ" DellaBadia, a member of the Liberty Belles from 10th and Latona streets, said. "For me, I’m not aiming to hurt anyone. I just want my team to win — and I’ll do what it takes to win."
Practices, occurring twice a week, and league competitions (regular season typically runs from April to October) takes place at Millenium Skate World in Camden, N.J. Since safety is important, "we not only practice doing the blocks," DellaBadia, 28, said, "we practice receiving the blocks."
But all the protective gear in the world can’t prevent bruising (take note of the ladies’ legs). The players, however, know it’s all in good fun.
The Hostile City Honeys are "all extremely friendly outside of the rink as well as in the rink. We’re there more to have a good time," Molly "Dublin Carbomb" Delaney, of Second and Wharton streets, said. "I can really go out of my way and knock girls down and still be friends with them afterwards, which is what I like."
The notion of female empowerment resonates in the players, who handle every aspect of the league — from fund-raising to promotion. Delaney, for example, is a skater rep for her team, acting as a disciplinarian.
"Not only do you have to hand out punishments, you have to enforce it," the 21-year-old former accountant said.
"You get to be tough and still wear fishnets and a cute, little short uniform — and at the same time be an organizer in the organization," added Kristina "Ivana Rock" Morgan, a Liberty Belle from Ninth and Fitzwater streets.
Typically, what happens in the rink stays there, Morgan said. If hit by an opponent, she has no problem reciprocating the action accompanied by a few choice of words. Afterwards, she’ll give the same girl a hug and buy her a beer.
Morgan, team captain for the Heavy Metal Hookers, has not set foot in Sin City since she was younger and anticipates a good game.
"The whole traveling thing is really cool because this is our first traveling season and we’re really making a name for ourselves," the 21-year-old said. "You not only get to be a local celebrity, but you represent Philadelphia in the derby community."
The traveling group recently lost to a New York team, but are confident they will redeem themselves.
"We have a great chance and [Sin City Neander Dolls] consider us a threat," Morgan, who normally wears lightning-bolt accessories during bouts, said. "We’re going to go out there and do our best. Win or lose, it’s still going to be a great learning experience."
Next on the Liberty Belles’ agenda is a trip to Boston in February. In the meantime, they will continue to wow the growing audiences. New recruits ("fresh meat") also are abundant.
While happy to have found a venue in Jersey, the girls know where their allegiance lies, despite the difficulty in acquiring such a place there.
"Honestly, we’re the Philly Roller Girls," Melanee "Darth Hater" Galoardi, said. "We should be playing in Philly."