Grab your skates; roller derby is alive and well in Texarkana


Fifty-seven-year-old Tresa Underwood has no plans to retire from her roller derby team anytime soon.

No longer is roller derby the frenzied trip-and-fall showcase similar to outrageous wrestling matches in which skaters elbow each other and trip skaters as they pass. Instead, such behavior today would result in severe penalties or being tossed from the game.

Underwood, who is the eldest member of the league, said that many people still have the wrong impression of what roller derby is all about.

“Roller derby is a sport,” she said emphatically. “There are so many rules to the game and, there are minimum skills that you need in order to be able to play. For example, you need to be able to skate backwards and to fall correctly,” she said.

The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, or WFTDA, is a 350-member international league.

The Texarkana Roller Derby League, of which Underwood is a member, was created in March 2010. The team, which is comprised, of course, of all women, has two coaches, Aaron Wells and Derrick Lavender.

“Spending time with friends and people you care about is great – a sisterhood develops. And roller derby is also good for you,” Underwood said. “And, skating is a great exercise. There are so many health benefits involved with roller derby. It is a sport and it involves a lot of work, but it is well worth it,” Underwood said.

Texarkana Roller Derbe League photo

“The exercise makes you feel good about yourself and keeps you young at the same time. A lot of our players practice by going to the gym. Big girls may go in but they come out slim. It’s healthier than the Xbox,” she said.

Asked if she was concerned about getting hurt, Underwood said “not at all.”

“In any sport you’re going to get injuries, and I’ve never broken a bone by playing roller derby. But we learn how to fall correctly – that’s the first thing they teach you. And we practice at Grady T. Wallace Park at 6:30 p.m. each Tuesday and Thursday, weather permitting.

“People are always invited to come by to watch or to join in. All skate levels are welcome,” she added. Underwood said a qualified staff member is always on hand to help out newcomers.

Women in her league come from all walks of life. That seems to be the case worldwide, acording to the WFTDA:

Who plays roller derby?

  • 59 percent of skaters are 25 to 34 years old
  • 84 percent have at least some post-secondary education
  • 24 percent have graduate degrees
  • 30 percent have children under 18
  • 37 percent of skaters are married

Who watches roller derby?

  • 61 percent of fans are female
  • 38 percent of fans are ages 25-34; 41 percent are 35-54
  • 84 percent of fans have at least some college education
  • 22 percent have graduate degrees
  • 27 percent have children under 18 in their household

The term “roller derby” dates back to the 1920s, originally used to describe roller skate races. In the late 1930s, Leo Seltzer’s touring competition, Transcontinental Roller Derby, began to evolve from a marathon skating race on a raised track to a more physical competition emphasizing skater collisions and falls. This became the foundation of the team sport that still exists today: two teams of five skaters who score points by passing members of the opposing team. Both men and women competed in roller derby from its inception.

Quad State Derby DamesSeltzer’s roller derby events drew increasingly large audiences once the sport began to be televised in the late 1940s. In the early 1960s, after Leo Seltzer transferred his business to his son, Jerry, competing roller derby franchises emerged, some of which emphasized theatrics more than sport. As popularity dwindled, Jerry Seltzer shut down his Roller Derby organization in 1973.

There were several short-lived attempts to revive versions of the old sport in the 1980s and 1990s, including RollerGames, which featured a figure-8 shaped banked track and stunts like alligator pits. Some versions of roller derby, including RollerGames, included staged action and storylines, similar to professional wrestling leagues.

In the early 2000s, modern women’s roller derby got its start in Austin, Texas. Starting with the Texas Rollergirls, these new leagues formed as businesses run by the athletes themselves. The flat track version of the sport spread like wildfire in subsequent years, as the ability to mark track boundaries on a skating rink floor or other venues, rather than building and storing a large banked track, made it possible to play the game just about anywhere. By 2011, there were nearly 500 flat track roller derby leagues worldwide.

And, of course, leave it to Texarkana to have not one, but two roller derby teams.

Enter the Quad State Derby Dames.

“We are strong and motivated women,” said member Carry Slay. “We train hard, respect our teammates and love the sport of roller derby. We have aggressive skaters who work to improve their skills through discipline, hard work, and focus,” she said.

The Quad State Derby Dames strive to create a full-contact sport to inspire girls and women and appeal to its fans.

“We work to be fully sponsored and financially sound to create our own practice and bout (game) space and to be fully-funded regarding travel, uniforms, insurance, and equipment for QSDD skaters. QCDD does not endeavor to be a profit-making organization, and hence will work to give any net profits back to the community via donations to charities and non-profit organizations,” Slay said.

“We love seeing our community grow, and being able to give back to all the well-deserving charities in the area is something that is close to all of our skaters’ hearts,” she added.

The QSDD skaters have raised money for:

  • Runnin’ WJ Ranch
  • Domestic Violence Prevention
  • Toys for Tots
  • Vietnam Veterans Association of Texarkana
  • Texarkana area Veterans Council
  • The Texarkana Animal Shelter

And just like the Quad State Derby Dames, the Texarkana Roller Derby League also is a charitable organization that volunteers its time to various charities in town.

Charities the Texarkana Roller Derby League has helped include:

  • Domestic Violence Prevention
  • Texarkana Animal Shelter
  • Texarkana Museum System
  • RailFest
  • Third Annual Poker Run benefitting multiple local charities
  • Carwash fundraiser to benefit a police offer who lost his son.

“Every single game we skate in involves charities,” Underwood said of the Texarkana Roller Derby League. “We are always looking for ways to help out local charities. They are welcome to contact us on our Facebook and we will see what we can do for them.”

Fans of the Texarkana Roller Derby League may follow them at their Facebook page by clicking here:

Facebook fans of Quad State Derby Dame may follow them by clicking here:

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