Ready to take a rough moniker and dish out a brutal hip check?

Yo everyone, there’s some sassy ladies in Gilroy. Or maybe they
hate the word ladies. And the word sassy. My guess is, they’d
prefer to be thought of as bad-*ss b*tches. I should’ve asked them,
but I was too scared.
Yo everyone, there’s some sassy ladies in Gilroy. Or maybe they hate the word ladies. And the word sassy. My guess is, they’d prefer to be thought of as bad-*ss b*tches. I should’ve asked them, but I was too scared.

You know to whom I refer? Yes! The South County Derby Girls. The ones single-handedly resurrecting the 1980s and the culture of knock-down skatership here in Gilroy. Their website warns that while this is still a full-contact sport, “What it’s not is the old-school WWF type of drama it used to be.”

I went to observe (luckily, glass separated us) at their natural habitat, the indoor soccer club on Monterey. They’ve subsequently relocated to warehouse space elsewhere, but I saw them in their pre-move rage, circling like panthers. That is, if panthers wore striped hose or visible panties.

After a series of loops, the skaters lined up to launch themselves one by one at the sole male. He stood without skates holding a boxer’s kick pad. They were supposed to knock into him, practice for the aggression of competition, but I’m sorry to say timidity ruled the day. Only two women were able to make him temporarily lose his footing. One of those was Gilroyan Stefani Merlo.

She told me later, “What drew me to this sport was that it looked like fun! Before joining SoCo Derby Girls, I wanted to either join a gym or do some type of class, but I have never been able to commit to anything because I would get bored. Roller derby is extremely physically challenging while also exciting and competitive. I know I’ll be doing Roller Derby as long as I am physically able.”

So what’s with the failure to knock the fellow over? One of the coaches, Kimberly Merrill, explained. The group is only about eight months old, and everyone’s still learning. They welcome everyone, even people who don’t know how to skate. The Dispatch last wrote about them in June 2010, the month they started up, and Merrill admits, “We were disorganized. There were only about six of us then.” Membership swelled to 25, but usually 15 show up on practice night, she estimated.

They hope to start competing in March; the group’s blog humorously notes, “It’s exciting to know that we are starting to be able to skate in a functional way, so that maybe in March we can let other teams kick our butts in actual bouts.”

Merrill explained that she helped form the South County league (Gilroy, Morgan Hill, Hollister and surrounding areas) because newer skaters struggle to obtain entry into the more-established Santa Cruz or San Jose leagues. “San Jose’s got 80 members and it’s hard to get in,” Merrill said. She signed up for San Jose’s boot camp, held only twice a year, only to have it cancel.

She gave me, a faint-hearted columnist, the once-over and handed me the “Fresh Meat Packet.” That’s literally what it says on the top. It’s the info packet for new members. It explains what’s necessary to join: proof of health insurance definitely caught my eye. So did “positive attitude,” which is funny given everyone seems to be striving for a surly, kiss-my-posterior-prominence stance. My favorite moment was hearing someone stridently yell out, “It’s not a coffee break; get your *ss back out here!” after they all took a moment to hydrate and wipe brows.

Another requirement is a derby name. I misspoke earlier when I referred to Stefani Merlo; she’s really ‘Fani Hatchet. And Kimberly Merrill is Lucy Stars. There are strict rules around the monikers: according to the Fresh Meat Packet, you can’t pick names that are “too generic (Roller girl, Skater, etc.); that begin with possessives (Your Worst Nightmare, Her Bad Day); that end in verbs ( Speed Skater is okay, but not Speed Skating).”

Once you rename yourself and buy your protective gear, you’re ready to go. I heartily encourage readers to sign up and give that guy a genuine hip check. These women project a vibe that’s fun and athletic, and they don’t take themselves too seriously. (Did I mention they also have a charitable, philanthropic side? Could they get any better?)

When I saw them at the holiday parade, I felt a little frisson of “I know them!” I even hooted and waved and hoped they’d see me and wave back. I’d love to have one-tenth of their juice.

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