Tag Archives: Detroit Derby Girls

DETROIT: This Is How We Roll

21 Jul

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In 2005 a group of high-spirited, hard-working, competitive women joined forces to form The Detroit Derby Girls, a women’s flat-track roller derby league based in Detroit. Through the years the league has grown to include more than 120 skaters, 5 home teams and 3 travel teams that compete inter-league. This is not the old-fashioned banked-track derby of the 1970’s where hair-pulling, tripping, punching and chair-throwing was the norm. Today skaters have backgrounds in speed skating, hockey, even figure skating; they are very athletic. These women pay-to-play; they spend their hard-earned dollars buying equipment, practice time, massage therapy, band-aids and ice packs. They practice several times a week, pay for their own travel expenses and manage the league. Players come in all shapes and sizes; during the day they work as doctors, teachers, lawyers, mothers and shop-keepers. 2009 was an amazing year; Drew Barrymore arrived in Detroit to film “Whip It“, many of our local skaters took part in the film, how cool is that? That same year the DDG were ranked #2 in the North Central Division and made a trip to the Nationals. Home bouts are played at the magnificent Masonic Temple; ticket cost is minimal, bouts offer everything: hard-hitting action, speed, competitiveness, live music and lots of fun. The girls still use great names such as Black Eyed Skeez, Ghetto Barbie, Cool Whip, Fatal Femme, Racer McChaseHer and Zooma Thurman, keeping the kitsch part of derby alive. It’s a blast!

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Today the DDG is having a FREE bout outdoors at Eastern Market, using the parking lot behind Shed 3. It’s one of those days when the weather changes every five minutes; we are flip-flopping between pouring rain and sunshine. When we arrive it’s pouring, spectators and skaters are gathered inside the shed waiting for the rain to stop. Today a mix of skaters from all home teams will make up the Motown Wreckers vs the Motor City Dis-assembly Line; dressed in blue and yellow jerseys they are ready to roll. The sun comes out, refs and skaters alike make short work of sweeping the puddles off the asphalt; the temperature hovers in the 80’s so it dries quickly. The track area is laid out with spray paint lines, rocks and debris are cleared and the pack lines up. One blow of the whistle and the jam begins; blockers, pivots and jammers whirl around the track, to say it’s a little tricky skating in a parking lot is an understatement, but the teams rise to the challenge. Spectators who planned ahead are sitting comfortably in lawn chairs, the crowd grows with passers-by checking out the action. Kris makes his way to the top of the parking structure to get a great overall view and take pictures, others are there just to watch. Rows of white folding chairs make up the team benches, the skyline of the city peeks out above the roof of Shed 2, the sky cannot make up it’s mind if it will rain again. It’s inevitable that skaters will fall, one good hip-check or shoulder is all it takes,  the parking lot surface is unforgiving; instead of sliding the surface grabs hold of both clothing and skin…ouch! Taking it in stride the two teams battle it out, the crowd loves it! Keep an eye on their Facebook page for upcoming bouts and events, the regular season usually begins in November.

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We are having lunch at Topsoil, a vegetarian/vegan restaurant located inside MOCAD on Woodward.  We enter the museum and hang a right down a short hallway to the restaurant/performance space; rectangular tables are pulled together creating long community tables, sunlight pours in through the glass roll-up door in an otherwise dim space. I walk to the counter to check out the menu and place our order. It’s really hot outside so we’re looking for something cold, something light; the cold sesame udon, blk seed, sea salt, carrot salad  and the kale, Farro, lemon and evoo salad fit the bill. Everybody who eats here tells us we have to try the hot dogs, well, Tofu dogs, so I ask the gent behind the counter which one he likes best, ‘Zombie’ is his reply, Zombie it is. I join Kris at the table while our food is being prepared in the open kitchen, before I know it a tray is placed on the counter and my name is called. I am sure to grab silverware and plenty of napkins, we’re sharing everything. The first thing we dive into, of course, is the Zombie, a tofu dog tucked into a bun topped with house-made peanut butter and house-made vegan kimchi………..it is soooo good! The dog tastes like a regular hot dog, no funny texture or anything like that, the combination of flavors is excellent! Both salads are generous portions and quite tasty; when all the food is gone, Kris says, we should have gotten 2 hot dogs!

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The museum is still open, so we have a look around. MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit) is a non-collecting institution, its purpose is to explore emerging ideas in the contemporary arts. The 22,000 sq. ft. building is a former auto dealership; the huge open spaces are perfect for art exhibitions. In addition MOCAD hosts lectures, musical performances, films, literary readings and educational activities for children in the historic space. Today the main exhibit is a show called La Bella Crisis by Jose Lerma, a Puerto Rican artist. The gallery is transformed into an art fair; Lerma created a ‘booth’ a day for 30 days, now complete, the floor is covered in a silver tarp, canvasses hang at different levels, each space is unique. Detroit Native Steve Locke has an exhibit in one of the smaller galleries; “There is no one left to blame” is a series of male portraits on canvas. Midwestern Voices and Visions showcases the work of highly talented artists of color in Midwestern residency programs. Along the back wall is Dana Friedman’s video installation “Projecting”. We like that the museum is ever-changing, there’s always something new to see anytime we pop in. If you’d like to check it out you don’t have much time, the museum and restaurant will be closed from July 28 through September 11 for renovations, so get there soon!

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Derby returns to Masonic Temple !

11 Oct

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Summer has come to a close, the kids are back in school, and a new sports season has begun. People are flocking to football games at colleges and NFL cities, the NHL is set to begin while the MLB is in the process of crowning their champions. Also ready to kick off a new season are the Detroit Derby Girls, of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, that’s Roller Derby to you and me!

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Yes folks, Detroit has its own Roller Derby league, and they play downtown at the Masonic Temple. Though it bears similarities, this is not the same roller derby you may remember from years ago. Gone are the knock-down-head-slamming fights of the past; hair pulling, tripping, and punches are not allowed. What remains are women bearing campy names like Maim West, Ghetto Barbie, Tara To Pieces and Fatal Femme, skating on 8 wheels around an oval track trying to score more points than their opponent; It’s a blast!

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Like any worthwhile sport they hold an annual draft, and the public is invited. The Draft Party gives the fans a sneak peek of the upcoming season, the class of 2011 looks promising. I can’t think of a cooler venue anywhere than the Masonic Temple. Made of Indiana limestone and resembling a Medieval castle, the Masonic Temple opened in 1926 on Thanksgiving Day. The main lobby is fashioned after a castle in Sicily, it is Gothic in style and absolutely magnificent in person. The derby is played on the third floor mezzanine, before you head up in the elevator take some time to notice the details; The brass floor plaque is 5 feet in diameter and features symbols of Truth, Strength, and Charity. The specially designed chandelier is impressive, as are the brass elevator doors; symbols of the Craft are carried out through the entire building. The  derby takes place in the Drill Hall; 17,500 square feet of open floor space. The drill hall is equipped with one of three “floating” floors in the US. The wooden floor is laid out on felt cushions, allowing the floor more ‘give’, it was meant to relieve the feet of the marchers who practiced here, today it helps make the landings of wayward skaters a little less brutal.

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The action had ended at the Masonic, now it was time for dinner. There’s a great little pub on Trumbull across from the Wayne State athletic field called Woodbridge Pub, it takes its name from the historic neighborhood  where it resides. The facade is brick with large windows overlooking Trumbull, the interior is vintage with the majority of it rescued from old buildings and re-purposed. The tin ceiling and rich wood give it just the right amount of charm. The menu varies season to season, they say the majority of their ingredients come from within a 5-mile radius, talk about local! This is not your typical bar food, as a matter of fact I don’t think there is even one item on the menu that is fried. Meat-eaters and vegetarians will be equally impressed with the quality and selection.  We were really hungry, so we ordered the Queso Fundido appetizer; pork chorizo, cheese, and bell pepper blended smooth and served piping hot with corn chips. Next up the Cherry Chicken Salad with the homemade cherry vinaigrette, delicious, and one of our go-to menu items. Finally, the Stever McFever; a black bean burger topped with grilled onions, tomato, avocado creme, and a balsamic glaze, scrumptious. The pub has a great neighborhood feel, and has been a great addition to the area. 

Cobo Arena: Rolling Stones to Roller Derby

15 May

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I still remember the first time Kris came home from a Detroit Derby Girls bout, it was at the Masonic Temple then, I believe his description was “It’s like I went to a burlesque show and a sport broke out, I’m not sure how it all works, but we’re going back!”  We’ve been back…..A lot!  We’ve made many friends along the way and we are repeatedly impressed with the work ethic, devotion and skill of these women. Derby is not for everyone, but most that have joined us really enjoyed it and many have returned.  

 If you are not familiar with roller derby in the new millennium, you should know it is not the same old derby that has women on roller skates taking moves from big time wrestling, and in Detroit, they skate on a flat track. It is an evening filled with excitement, kitsch, and fun. Let’s start with the names; Elle McFearsome, Summers Eve-L, and Roxanna Hardplace are a few great examples, imagine yourself yelling, “lets go Cookie”, as Cookie Rumble tries to break out of the pack during a jam. Announcers guide you through the bout, with their quick wit and derby knowledge you’ll never miss a grand slam. Except for team jerseys, players choose what they wear, some may choose to wear their panties on the outside, there are gold shorts, sparkly helmets, and fishnets in all patterns and colors of the rainbow. Derby is fun for all ages, during half time kids are invited onto the track to balloon race or hula-hoop, there’s also music, food, and alcohol…..what’s not to like?

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   We were back at Cobo Arena on May 7 to watch the Detroit Derby Girls take on the Naptown Roller Girls of Indianapolis. It was a great bout, Detroit took an early lead and never looked back, final score Detroit 147, Naptown 75.  While I was there I got to thinking, the Detroit Derby Girls Championship game will be played on June 4, and that it will be the last public event ever to be held at Cobo Arena. In March of this year there was an announcement stating that the arena would be renovated into more exhibit and banquet space for Cobo Hall. My interest in Cobo was suddenly piqued, so I started doing a little, which turned into a lot, of research. What I learned both surprised and fascinated me.

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Cobo Arena opened in 1960, and seats 12,191. The Detroit Pistons played here from 1961-1978, Mayor Dave Bing scored his career high 54 points against Chicago in 1971 at Cobo.  On June 23, 1963, more than two months before the infamous March on Washington for Civil Rights, Martin Luther King Jr practiced giving his famous “Dream” speech right here to a large audience in Detroit. You may remember back in 1994 when Nancy Kerrigan was hit in the knee with a baton at the arena during a practice session for the US Figure Skating Championships. In August of 1968 Frank Sinatra performed here at a gala for presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey and then in October of 2008 Jay-Z held a free concert here in support of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama to encourage younger voters to register to vote. All varieties of sports were played here; basketball, hockey, soccer, and currently roller derby.

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It is probably the concerts that people remember the most. Starting with Jerry Lee Lewis on May 17 1961 , Cobo’s entertainers read like a list of  Rock & Roll icons; The Stones , Zeppelin, the Doors, Dylan, Hendrix, Joplin, The Who, Bowie, Nugent , Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Elton John & Springsteen all played here . From the sweet sounds of Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland , Sarah Vaughan & Tony Bennett to the arena rock of  U2, AC/DC, Van Halen, The Police & of course, Kiss , all genres were represented . If you have a live album from Madonna, Kiss, The Doors,  Seger, Kid Rock, The Tragically Hip, Journey, Yes, or  Geils they were recorded in whole or part at Cobo . 

There are lots of memories floating around that circular building on the river, if only walls could talk…..You still have one more chance to come down on June 4th when the Detroit Derby Girls play their championship game. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster, the Fox, and can be purchased at Cobo on the day of the bout. Come check out something new, and reminisce about the old.