Dead Girl Derby

A group of about 20 roller derby players circle around the River Roll Skate Center rink, all squished together in a tight troupe of helmets, pads, and pantyhose. Most all of the women have fierce looks of concentration on their faces.

Suddenly, two of the skaters become tangled and fall to the floor with a hard smack. As they untwine themselves, both laugh it off and continue skating.

At practice lightheartedness is expected, but roller derby is a full contact sport. In a few months, these two athletes will be knocking each other down with malice in their eyes.

Since 2009, Dead Girl Derby has grown from 20 members in two teams to over 100 members in four teams. The women meet three times a week for training in Riverside, where coaches build their endurance and skating technique.

Deadly Sirens Coach Jeff McKee is a founding member of the league. “It’s like getting married into a huge family,” said McKee. “Roller derby isn’t so much a sport but a lifestyle.”

Two key parts of Dead Girl Derby are outfits and nicknames. All the women are decked out in fishnets, short shorts, and team jerseys. Skaters get to show some individualism with names such as Pippi Strongblocking and Lil’ Red Wrecking Hood.

Dead Girl Derby is currently in the middle of their two month training period, where new recruits and veterans get to learn the rules of derby and practice skills like, “Booty blocking”, “Shoulder bumping”, and “Whipping.”

In Modern Athletic Derby Endeavor rules, five players from each team are on the rink at any given time. Each team has a Jammer, a Pivot, and three blockers. As the blockers circle the rink in pack formation, the Jammers try to lap them in order to score points for each player on the opposing team passed.

For Sally Jackson, a.k.a. Alevya N Payne, it’s the contact and empowerment that keeps her coming back season-to-season. “The good blocks and bumps and the ‘I’m going to hit you and send you to the stands’-that’s what brings me to this,” she said. “Derby changes the way you do things. You feel more in control, you become more determined in everything.”

As with any contact sport, roller derby dishes out plenty of injuries. Jackson broke both her tibia and fibula early last season, forcing a medical leave of absence for surgery and recovery. Other recent injuries include Ashley Puderbaugh, otherwise known as LL Kill J, who broke her elbow in practice and then hurt it again during last season’s final bout. As Jackson puts it, “It isn’t a matter of if, but when. Something will happen.”

With such high risks, determination is a key trait for any roller derby player. Shotgun Sheila’s coach and former player, Lindsey Wyatt said, “They have to be willing to accept criticism. I run a low drama, low stress team.”

Wyatt became a coach because her knees couldn’t withstand the abuse, but she still wanted to be a part of the Dead Girl family. The league is unique because there are no cuts during recruitment. “We’ll train anybody,” said Wyatt. “It’s open to the speed skater who is looking for a new hobby and the girl who hasn’t ever skated.”

Word of mouth has increased the member count for Dead Girl Derby, and may lead to new opportunities for players in the coming seasons. “We’re flexible and looking to grow,” said McKee, “we talked about forming a Midwest conference with teams from Missouri, Texas, and Oklahoma.”

Roller derby is fiercely competitive, but the close bond between all the players is strong. Jackson said, “A girl who joins this league is going to have a hundred new sisters.” Bouts start in February, so Kansas City derby fans will get to see the Dead Girls special bond in action soon.

One on One

At the Ewing Marion Kauffman School, fifth graders get to learn more than just math, literature, and science. They get to learn Chinese.

Every Wednesday, UMKC Communications Studies and Political Science student Kirsten Peterson teaches Kauffman School students in Mandarin for an hour and a half. Peterson said, “The kids love it because it is so different. People often think of Chinese as ‘ching, chang, chong’, but it is much more elegant.”

Part of this elegancy is in the written characters, or Hanzi. Peterson said, “They enjoy that the most because they feel like they’re drawing pictures, but I usually just write it out phonetically.” Peterson also focuses on culture to expose the children to how different countries and people can be.

The lessons that Peterson teaches are completely pro-bono; she doesn’t get paid or receive any college credit for her time. However, it helps her in her study of Mandarin. Peterson said, “It would be really cool to be an international journalist or international, political correspondent in China.”

Peterson’s grammar lessons focus mainly on intonation. She said, “Chinese is harder than romantic languages because it relies on tone, so māmā and mà má are spelled phonetically the same, but the tone changes the meaning.”

And what exactly is the difference between the two? Peterson said, “The first means ‘mother’, the other means ‘scold the horse’.”