Roller Derby in the D: The Detroit Derby Girls

By: Toni Cunningham | October 20, 2014

If you’ve ever seen Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, “Whip It,” chances are you’re already familiar with a few faces from the Detroit Derby Girls. And if you know anything about the sport of roller derby, you know that these ladies don’t mess around.

The Detroit Derby Girls was formed in 2005, and early on consisted of just two teams. Today, DDG is made up of five home teams, three travel teams and over 120 skaters and staff members.

“DDG grew quickly and soon became four home teams. The original two teams were dissolved and we created The Detroit Pistoffs, The Devil’s Night Dames, The Pistolwhippers and The D-Funk All Stars,” Tiny Ninja (Tinja), home team captain of the D-Funk All Stars, said.

Since joining over 10 years ago, she has held several jobs on various committees, including PR and marketing, events and sponsorship, and has worked as a skater trainer, participated in two seasons of travel team and was president of the league. If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is. Tinja is one of those familiar faces that appeared in “Whip It,” and after the film, DDG added a fifth team, The Grand Prix Madonnas.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the sport of roller derby, or don’t know what a flat roller track derby looks like, Tinja says just imagine if Nascar and hockey had a baby. There are five skaters per team on the track at once, composed of four blockers and one jammer.

“The jammer (with the star on their helmet) is the equivalent of the ball. They are the ones that score points by legally passing the hips of an opposing player after the first time around the track,” Tinja said. “There is also a blocker called a Pivot that can sometimes become the jammer if the jammer ‘passes the star’ during the jam.”

Games are made up of two 30-minute periods, and there are occasionally penalties and timeouts just like in other sports. No elbows and no ball involved. And how about those awesome names? Tinja was given hers prior to joining DDG, when she was working for a beverage company at Royal Oak’s Arts, Beats & Eats.

“I was able to quickly and easily weave my way through the crowded festival to get from point A to point B,” Tinja said. “Little did I know that was a helpful skill as a jammer. I’m also only 5’2. So I’ve got that going for me.”

If you’ve always dreamed of being a roller derby girl, or are simply getting more intrigued the more you read, you’re in luck. The Detroit Derby Girls are holding Derby U, a workshop where you can learn everything you need to know about roller derby—including how to make the team. It’s a great opportunity to get a feel for the roller derby world and see what the DDG are all about.

“We have women who have never skated before to women from other leagues looking to learn more or are considering transferring to DDG,” Tinja said. “We go over skating fundamentals, derby skills and a high level overview of how we as skaters operate our business as we are also owners of our business. Then, there are eight weeks of boot camp where you dive deeper into skating and derby training to prepare you to skills test.”

After skaters attend the eight-week boot camp, they will be eligible to take the skills test, and upon passing, will be eligible for the draft. The skills test is put in place to make sure that skaters are not a danger to themselves and/or others. If you’re a little shaky on roller skates, start practicing now!

“Then there is a draft for the new skaters or skaters that choose to leave their home teams for the opportunity to join another home team. We set the draft order based on team rankings from the prior season,” Tinja said. “It takes confidence, dedication and a great attitude to get drafted to DDG. The derby stuff you will learn over time.”

If you’re the type who would rather watch from the sidelines as opposed to participate, the DDG 10th anniversary season is starting soon. The first bout takes place on Saturday, Nov. 15 at the Masonic Temple Drill Hall. Home teams play one Saturday a month through June, and the national travel team (Detroit Derby Girls All Stars) is currently winding down its season. Additionally, the DDG has a regional travel team (Motor City Disassembly Line) and a summer pickup team (The Motown Wreckers).

Going to a Detroit Derby Girls event is a great night out and unlike anything you’ve ever seen. As Tinja pointed out, Detroit is known as a sports town, and DDG is a great addition to that lineup.

“Derby is a very real and exciting sport but is also family friendly. We have fans aged six months to 96 years old in the crowd. First dates, bachelor and bachelorette parties, office outings, parents, kids, even the occasional celebrity filming in town can be seen in our stands,” Tinja said.

DDG also selects a seasonal charity every year to support the group’s goal of giving back to the city with a focus on organizations that benefit women and children. They’ve worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters, Alternatives for Girls, Detroit Youth Boxing Gym and Urban Neighborhood Initiatives, amongst others that DDG has done events and appearances for.

Speaking of appearances, the Detroit Derby Girls recently participated in a commercial shoot with your Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers for the new 2015 Chevy Malibu television spot. While showcasing the car, the commercial also highlights some of the DDG travel teams and skaters, at Eastern Market no less.

“It was… a good test of our endurance as we needed to do several takes in a row to get the shots. Normally skaters don’t jam as many jams in a row during a game. So we got our workout in,” Tinja said.

For more information on the Detroit Derby Girls, visit the official website or Facebook page, and take a peek at the upcoming schedule here.