Greensboro Coliseum’s Pavilion reminds me of a gigantic, deluxe Quonset hut. There’s a cold sterility in the cool concrete floors, the white walls and the high, arching ceilings.
But there was plenty of character inside. And character matters.
It was D-Day. That is, Derby Day. But it was a different kind of Derby Day than the first Saturday in May — Greensboro Roller Derby hosted the second doubleheader in as many weekends.
About 200 or so people sat in folding chairs around the improvised track marked with yellow duct tape. The salty, buttery smell of popcorn wafted through the space. Kids dueled with plastic lightsabers along the perimeter of the pavilion.
For the first doubleheader on May 30, the derby rolled with a superhero theme. Last weekend, they went with Star Wars.
The first bout occurred between the Gate City All-Stars and the New River Valley Roller Girls.
I don’t mean to offend the Christianburg, Va.-based team, but this matchup wound up a complete wash. Despite the valiant efforts of New River Valley’s jammers, especially Lil Capone, Sylvia Wrath and Slingin’ Gritz, Gate City scored effortlessly for the first few jams until New River finally put two points on the board, which only began a 50-point unanswered tear by the All-Stars.
The final score was 214-56.
Team co-captain Dalea Reichgott — known on the track as Betty Switch — led many of the scoring drives and would eventually be named Gate City’s MVP.
“Whether I’m playing or coaching, I keep one word in mind: Urgency,” Reichgott said after the bout. “It’s the most important word in roller derby, no matter if you’re jammer or blocker. I try to take the lead; I’m playing every jam like it’s the one that really matters.”
Originally from Pennsylvania, Reichgott first heard about roller derby while a student in Austin, Texas. She tried out for the Texas Rollergirls without ever having skated.
She did not make the cut, but it inspired her to pursue the sport, eventually playing for the Lehigh Valley Roller Girls in her home state after convalescence from a broken leg.
She just received her MFA from UNCG — “I’m a writer, too,” she laughed — and will soon return to Pennsylvania and play with the Philadelphia roller derby.
“I’m heading back to live with the fam,” Reichgott said. “Philly’s ninth in the world, though, so I’m pretty excited.”
Her performance during the bout will likely enter Gate City All-Star legend.
While Emma Ture ably muscled, bumped and busted her way past New River Valley blockers and Hitter Miss possessed undeniable balance, poise and vision of seams between opposing blockers as a jammer, Reichgott stood as the fiercest competitor of the evening. She captured lead jams without pause, bursting ahead of the pack as though she could teleport through bodies. She barked for blocks up the track, and her team complied as if taking orders from Napoleon — or Boudica. Black war paint slashed vertically across her eyes only intensified her intimidation factor.
Her performance capped a fitting end to an illustrious career.
Naturally, she’ll miss her teammates.
“They’ve been a wonderful home,” Reichgott said. “I’ve moved every two years for the past decade, but I’m gonna miss them so much. If you play roller derby, you have a home wherever you play immediately.”
The second bout between hometown rivals, the Battleground Betties and Elm Street Nightmares, proved to be a much closer contest.
The best from each team comprised the Gate City All-Stars: For example, the aforementioned Hitter Miss and Emma Ture played for Elm Street, while jammer Baby Bird served as co-captain for the Battleground Betties and All-Star blocker General Sew took pivot.
The pivot — a team member who can switch from being a blocker to a jammer — plays a fluid, strategic, often crucial part in roller derby.
General Sew — real name Gina Hicks — explained the multiple rules and nuances pertaining to the pivot position.
The helmet cover must be handed off from the current jammer. The jammer must be upright, inbounds and in play. Typically, the pivot takes the jamming role when the team needs to force the jam to end or when a lead can be cut or even taken.
Hicks exemplified the strategy in Jam 10 of the second half of their bout.
The jam began with a slim, 10-point lead by the Betties, but as the jam turned into a stalemate, Hicks called for the jammer cover.
She absolutely demolished.
“I saw the jammer was winded,” Hicks said following the match. “I felt I could take the opportunity, so I yelled for a pass while their jammer was in the penalty box. I knew the jam would last the full two minutes, and we needed to capitalize.”
Hicks added 13 points to their score, spreading the lead to 122-106.
The bout became a battle of attrition. The Nightmares seemed to struggle to score for a time, but later rallied thanks to WhipO SnapHer’s masterful 24-point jam, and eventually spread their lead to upwards of 18.
In the final two jams, the Betties needed a miracle. What they got was Hicks shutting down the Nightmares and adding eight points until Johnny Applespeed drove the crowd into a frenzied uproar with another eight-point jam.
But it wasn’t enough. Final score: 146-144, Elm Street Nightmares.
It was the most exciting two minutes in sports this side of Churchill Downs.