Roller derby in St. John’s.
Terri Jane Maxwell has been dying to try the contact sport for almost a year now. Finally, now that a Hollywood movie has whipped up public attention for the sport, she and a group of like-minded girls are getting ready to roll out a league for the city.
All they need are skates, a rink, helmets, outfits, alter-egos, some skating practice…
Well, they do have quite a ways to go. But they’ve got momentum and the power of a good idea behind them.
For those of you who are interested in watching—consider this your first notice.
For those of you who are interested in participating—now’s your chance to get in on the ground floor.
Elling Lien spoke with Terri Jane Maxwell about the glitz, the gore, and the glory of roller derby.
Photos by Ryan Davis.
Terri Jane Maxwell
So you’re in full preparation mode. When did you first have the idea to start up a local roller derby league?
A year ago, the Toronto band Cougar Party were in town, and when I was checking out their MySpace page I noticed the derby groups in their friends list. So I started talking to my friends about how I wanted to start a derby group here in town.
Nothing really came of it at the time, but then eventually I needed something to keep myself busy. So I started putting a lot more effort into it.
What’s your previous exposure to derby? As far as I know they haven’t really happened here.
Not a whole lot, honestly. Most of us are going to be learning it together. I saw it on TV when I was a kid, whenever it was, so I saw it then.
And after we started the group we found out that movie [Whip It, directed by Drew Barrymore] was coming out, so we went to see that of course. And there are some documentaries out there.
Was watching the movie one of the main reasons for the interest now?
There’ve been ups and downs with it. I started the group a while ago, and it was only me and five of my friends. We were thinking to ourselves it just wasn’t going to happen. Then word just started spreading. I’d get more excited. Five more people joining… Five more people! Now it’s close to 200 and still growing fast.
Yeah, of course, once we watched the movie it got people pumped. Everyone wanted to come up with their derby names after that. That’s a fun part.
The real acid test is how many people will follow through with it.
At the last meeting we had about 24 or 25 of us that are going to skate. So that’s enough for a few teams to start. It’s actually really big for a league starting off. A lot of the girls want to be a part of it somehow, but some of the girls can’t really skate, or getting injured would mess with their livelihood. A lot of people want to help out with other aspects.
Team-wise I think we’re going to have at least four teams.
There’s a scene in Whip It where a bunch of the girls are showing off their bruises. Doesn’t that scare you?
I can’t wait to show off the war wounds!
So is that part of the appeal? The violence of it?
Yes and no. We want to do the whole tough thing, but a lot of us just don’t want to get hurt. We were talking about lots of padding—padding the walls for practice even. Lots of padding!
You could wear pillows!
Yes, I think the first few practices will be like, “let’s learn how to fall today.”
Aside from the violence, what’s the appeal of derby for you?
Actually, the whole girl aspect of it too—not to sound too 1990s ‘girl power’ or anything, but I find it gets harder after high school for girls to interact with other girls. There are fewer places to hang out. This is an opportunity for a bunch of girls to get together—and we’re allowed to be catty if we want.
The costumes and personas are also a huge part. We’re all just looking forward to getting our names and picking our teams and going for it.
Even if we’re going to be on opposite teams, we’re all going to be learning and helping each other.
It’s interesting because burlesque seemed to pop up in St. John’s a couple of years ago, and in the beginning it was just two or three passionate people who started collecting others around this powerful idea… Then all of a sudden there was a lot of people who were doing it. Am I wrong or is there similarity here?
No, you’re not wrong. A lot of the girls who are into burlesque have been talking to us, and we said it’d be funny— they’d be covered in bruises! I don’t know how that would go over.
One of the other girls helping organize this, Micheala Penney, has her tattoos done by Alicia Simms Young at Troublebound, and she got Alicia to join the group. Alicia is involved with the burlesque scene here, and she was really excited. Eventually more burlesque girls signed on.
I think, again, the dressing up thing is probably part of it…
Will any guys be allowed?
My friend actually asked that same question. “I can totally skate,” he said.
“No, it’s just girls, Aaron.”
So it is girls only. Exclusively.
Well the teams are girls only, but we’re not rejecting the guys. The guys can help out and be refs and announcers and stuff. [laugh]
What’s you time line?
Right now we’re waiting to hear back from gyms we’re going to be renting to finalize the dates. We’re looking for the first practice to be on December 1st. We’re hoping it won’t take us that long to figure out who can do what. We’ve been doing it slow just to make sure we’re doing it right and that it’ll be lasting.
We’re trying to follow the rules of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. We’re taking our time. About four or five months from now we’re hoping to have a solid foundation for teams and then start looking to have public events around town, which a lot of us are gearing up for.
We really want to do it now, but we have to put in a lot of work.
I know Flat Track Association has mentoring programs where you can call someone in for help. That’s for some of the more established groups.
Dave Munro, also of Troublebound, he’s from Ontario and he has connections in the derby world up there. One of his friends is willing to come down and help us out. That’s something we’re looking forward to, hearing more from him about that.
So your derby name “Cemetery Jane”. How did you come up with that?
I didn’t actually come up with it, my ex came up with it. [laugh]
It’s something I’ve had for years now. He was coming up with punk handles for everyone. He had several names for me, but that’s the name that stuck. I’ve been using it off and on for stupid things.
But it seemed like an appropriate derby name.
What are the other names people have been tossing around for themselves?
One of the girls is going to be Helen Rage, like Helen Page, Doctor Beverly Crusher, Onya Knees. I can’t think of all of them now, but there are a bunch. And a lot of good ones.
How easy is gear to come by?
We’re talking to sports places to get them to bring in derby gear. One of the places was Maverick but where they were by Pasta Plus which burned down, they’ve been busy with relocating, so we’re waiting for him to get back to us. A lot of us have been ordering online.
You have to know what you’re looking for, and it can get pricey, but we’ve found a group that can give you everything you’re looking for for a little over two hundred dollars.
And then your outfit is your own.
Exactly. That will probably be the least expensive part.
Have you guys been thinking about that much?
Not so much. The outfits are more of a team thing. We’re just trying to organize the league. Once we’re broken down into teams, whatever those people want to do, they do.
One of the girls who skated in Victoria said they did it with live music, alcohol… It was a big party really.
Uh oh! You’re going to be competing with Legend City Wrestling league in town.
I know! But who would you rather see? A bunch of half dressed, greased up men or…
Check the 709 Derby Girls group on Facebook for more information, or to get involved. They are hoping to have their very first practice on Tuesday, December 1st. You can find the group at www.tinyurl.com/709whipit