Moms first, then Rollergirls

When I heard about the resurgence of roller derby, I wanted to find a different angle.  This story ran in the Living section of the Omaha World-Herald on July 16, 2006.

Moms first, then Rollergirls: Rough sport empowers women

The smile Tuesday Larson wears all day as an office manager and real estate agent disappears when the mouthpiece goes in.The gentle hand she placed on her ill son’s back turns to a fist as she races around the rink floor.

The cheers of “nice hit!” to the girls softball team she coaches take on new meaning when shouted at the women knocking one another to the hardwood floor.

Since March, this Omaha mother of three has adopted an alter ego, a new sport and a new group of friends.

Larson, 32, is not a desperate housewife or a soccer mom. She’s a roller derby mom.

As Tooty Too Tuff, Larson is one of five moms in Omaha’s newly formed roller derby league, the Omaha Rollergirls, a group of about 30 women and growing.

As this nearly century-old sport stages a national comeback, the moms are discovering the empowering benefits of shedding their roles as nurturers a few nights a week for a sometimes violent sport.

In addition to working off stress, derby has revived a childhood passion for skating, exposed an athleticism they had forgotten or didn’t know they possessed, and introduced them to a diverse group of like-minded women.

“It’s been great for my life,” Larson said, somehow forgetting the pinched nerve in her neck. “It’s for me, it’s strictly for my enjoyment. I don’t have to worry about pleasing anyone.”

Anyone like her boss, with his software crisis. Customers of his air-conditioning business. Her real estate clients. Her kids.

She’s accessible to all of them all the time, with two cell phones ringing almost constantly.

“It’s all things I like to do,” Larson explains.

But derby transports her out of that world for a bit, to a place with new and exciting friends.

While Larson said she was a popular athlete who listened to her parents, the other derby moms mostly described themselves as tomboys who didn’t go out for sports, who got tattoos and skipped school. And who didn’t really get along with other girls. (And still don’t.)

“We’re not the cheerleaders, we’re the anti-cheerleaders,” said Clarissa Henderson, a 27-year-old preschool teacher and mother of a 7-year-old. “We’re all pretty normal when you get down to it. But we’re definitely ornery.”

For Henderson, the pendulum has swung in both directions: from the teen who smoked cigarettes, skipped class and pierced her nose to the woman who married, became a mom and wears pearls to work. Derby has helped her find a balance between the two extremes, she said.

“It’s made me a happier person, and in turn that makes me a better mom,” she said.

But it’s raised a few eyebrows.

As she walked in Ralston’s July Fourth parade to publicize the roller derby group, she noticed some of her students and their parents with confused expressions. Decked out as Scarlatina, her derby persona, she wore knee-high, high-heel black leather boots with fishnet stockings, a miniskirt and a tank top.

For now, they might notice only the over-the-top outfit. But she hopes that as derby catches on, people get the real message.

“It shows (my daughter), even the sons, that moms can be powerful, too,” she said. “We can get out there and kick some butt, too, and we’re not just here to pick up the laundry. I think it’s good for kids to see that in their moms.”

While some kids haven’t seen that side of mommy yet, Monique Boettger’s 5-year-old son, Devin, has.

Omaha’s league hasn’t competed publicly yet, and practices are closed, unless moms can’t find sitters. Boettger, an ex-Marine and single mom who assembles machinery parts, has had to bring Devin along.

At one recent practice, she multitasked, doing drills and fetching him a drink. He colored in the middle of the rink floor as the women stretched alongside him. She’s unconcerned about the environment.

“He knows not to curse. He tells the girls, ‘You just said a bad word,'” Boettger said. “I tell him that the girls only hit each other during practice. It’s a sport that has contact.”

Just like football, roller moms say.

Football with a feminine twist, that is.

Miniskirts and midriffs expose womanly curves, a stark contrast to their mouthpieces and bruises.

Their outfits: from plaid schoolgirl miniskirts to skull-and-crossbones knee-high socks: mostly come out for public events, such as their first exhibition game this Saturday.

For practice, some wear toned-down versions. Others, especially the moms, don workout wear or denim shorts and T-shirts.

At the practices, two hours three nights a week, a whistle chirp from a coach starts a 20-minute endurance skate, with Pearl Jam and Nine-Inch Nails setting the pace.

They scrimmage, 10 at time, five on each team. Each team has a jammer, whose goal is to pass as many people as possible, scoring points for each opponent she passes while staying in bounds. The blockers try to keep one another’s jammer from passing by using their shoulders and hips: without illegal punches or hits. (They do happen, though.)

Those not scrimmaging stand in the middle of the rink: “Keep it tight!” “Help out your jammer!” “Push her through!”

Anywhere from one to six people occasionally crash, but they usually jump back up and rejoin the pack. An elbow to the throat slows one woman, and during the group stretch at the end of the practice, two women silently leave the floor limping and grimacing.

No one pays them any attention, not even the roller moms. Just because they’re moms doesn’t mean they’re mother hens. Not here anyway.

Tiffany Henderson, no relation to Clarissa, takes a tough, dismissive approach to derby: “If you can’t handle getting hurt, then go home.”

But with her 3-year-old, she’s so protective that she won’t let anyone other than the girl’s father watch her.

“People stereotype people that look like me, people with tattoos. (They) already think that ‘there’s a crazy mom doing drugs.’ When in fact, that’s not the situation at all,” said Henderson, whose derby name is Mallory Knoxious. “My daughter is No. 1 to me, and then derby is No. 2. If anything were to happen where I thought derby was taking over my life, then I would be done (with derby).”

Derby doesn’t detract from moms’ ability to be nurturing and tender, said April Jones, a legal assistant and mother of three who goes by Raquel Welts in derby. “They’re some of the best moms I’ve known,” Jones said.

It proves, derby moms said, that there’s room for all types of women as mothers.

“There’s (nothing) wrong with the girly girls and the ones perfectly fine being housewives and doing scrapbooking,” Jones said. “That’s not enough for me. Roller derby is for me.”

Omaha Rollergirls The roller derby league formed in January will break into teams later this summer to compete against one another in an exhibition this fall, then against other regional teams from Kansas City, Chicago, Lincoln, Minneapolis and Denver.

Other dates:

Saturday: The Omaha league’s first exhibition game. Tickets for the Pershing Center event in Lincoln are available at Ticketmaster.

Oct. 6: The Omaha league’s first official competition. The Omaha skaters will compete against Lincoln’s league, the No Coast Derby Girls, at Pershing Center.

Caption: Color Photos/4 Tiffany Henderson, who goes by the roller derby name Mallory Knoxious, hugs her daughter Hannah Hart, 3, in their Omaha home. Tiffany Henderson has her daughter’s name tattooed on her arm. Monique Boettger dances to the music at Skateland Playdaze during practice for the Omaha Rollergirls. She is one of several members of the roller derby team who are moms.
Edition: Iowa;Midlands;Nebraska;Sunrise
Section: Living
Page: 01E
Index Terms: Skating;URL
Record Number: 7950559
Copyright (c) 2006 Omaha World Herald
This article is copyright of the Omaha World-Herald and used with permission. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, displayed or redistributed for any purpose without permission from the Omaha World-Herald.

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