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‘We don’t wear a bunch of tutus and crazy outfits:’ Roller derby leagues make comeback in St. Louis

As of 9 p.m. on a Monday earlier this month,  the temperature had not sunk below 90 degrees all day. Despite the lethargic heat, the St. Louis Skatium, an un-air-conditioned, no-frills skating rink in south city, was bustling with action.

For two hours, the Arch Rival All Stars, 20 of the best women’s flat track roller derby players in St. Louis, have been running drills and scrimmaging.

A part of the 100-person strong Arch Rival Roller Derby league, this team is currently ranked ninth in the world, out of nearly 400 teams competing in the revived sport across the globe.

“The resurgence of roller derby came in 2005 when a couple of other major metropolitan areas picked up the sport … St. Louis started in 2006. We just celebrated our ten-year anniversary last year as a league,” said Sarah Arnosky, captain of the Arch Rival All Stars. “We were one of the first leagues to join the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, which now has over 380-plus teams across the world. It has become an international sport with different countries joining. It has really grown in popularity.”

Arch Rival All Star Head Coach Michael Christopher and Captain Sarah Arnosky pose for a picture at the St. Louis Skatium on Monday, June 12.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Arch Rival All Star Head Coach Michael Christopher and Captain Sarah Arnosky pose for a picture at the St. Louis Skatium on Monday, June 12.

St. Louis has become a roller derby haven in the last ten years. The city not only plays host to a vibrant women’s league with team names like the Saint Lunachix and the Fleur Delinquents, but it also claims the world’s number-one ranked men’s team The Saint Louis Gatekeepers, who also have a league by the same name.

“The men’s league started in 2010 and the girls of Arch Rival were really instrumental in the start – they were the coaches at every single practice, teaching us how to play the game,” said Michael Christopher, who plays the dual role of head coach of the Arch Rival All-Stars and pivot on the Saint Louis Gatekeepers. “A lot of us started as referees or significant others of skaters as well. From that point, we kind of grew together as two leagues that helped each other to grow to become as good as we can.”

The men’s team is two-time defending world champion in men’s flat track roller derby.

The teams are busy prepping for a three-day invitational they’ll host this weekend for the second time in St. Louis. It’s called Sibling Rivalry.

Nine men’s and women’s teams from across the country and one team from as far away as Sydney, Australia will converge on the Midwest Sport Hockey Complex in Queeny Park for the invitational, running Friday through Sunday. 

The sport of roller derby, consists of two teams of five players that score points passing members of the opposing team. The sport has been around in some iteration since the 1920s, but faded out of mode in the 1970s.

These teams aren’t playing your parents’ style of roller derby. There’s no kitschy costumes and fake fighting on the rink here. For many players, this sport is a second full-time job and requires a high level of athleticism.

"We don't wear a bunch of tutus and crazy outfits. We are playing in athletic wear to help make sure we're able to move, be agile and strong in what we're doing."- Sarah Arnosky

As players with derby names like “Cupquake” (a baker by day), “Jamheiser Bush,” and “Salty” skate by, managing to not only stay upright on old-school roller skates but also block, check and pivot in a loop while moving at high speeds, it is impossible not to admire their sheer technical ability.  

“A lot of times when I tell people I play roller derby, they have two points of reference: either the Bay City Bombers of ‘Whip It,’ depending on their generation. In reality, it is neither of those things today,” said Arnosky.  “We don’t play on a banked track, we play on a flat track. We don’t wear a bunch of tutus and crazy outfits. We are playing in athletic wear to help make sure we’re able to move, be agile and strong in what we’re doing.”

Armored up in heavy-duty knee and elbow pads and hard helmets while donning four-wheeled roller skates and shirts with messages like “HUSTLE CITY,” the Arch Rival All-Stars practice two to three times per week for two hours each time. They play teams from around the country at least once per month. Between 500 and 1,000 people come out to cheer when the men’s and women’s teams play double-headers in St. Louis.

This weekend, both the men’s and women’s teams will face off against teams from places like Denver, Minneapolis, Dallas, and Jacksonville. You can find information and ticket information about event, which runs from Friday through Sunday here.

“We are very spoiled to have so many good teams coming to St. Louis to play here,” said Christopher. “It will be a great example of the best derby played. On both sides, men’s and women’s, you will see people who compete for their countries at the world cup. You are really getting to see some of the best players in the world right here in St. Louis.”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.
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