By day, they’re stay-at-home mothers, paralegals, retailers, therapists and otherwise regular employees at normal businesses.
But on any given night, they’re flamboyantly clothed skaters with a penchant for knocking over those who oppose them while navigating an oval track in front of hundreds of fans.
They’re the women of the Flathead Valley Roller Derby League, a growing nonprofit enterprise that has drawn an estimated 2,800 people to two events in the past four months.
Ariel Lockwood is a freelance cake decorator and a mother of three daughters.
On bout nights, though, she’s Annie Wardoll, and can be seen skating with the likes of women who have taken on monikers like Monica Lewinskate, Doc Foul A Day, Boogie Fights, Malicyn Pains, Doobious Lou and Teryn Flesh.
Lockwood is one of about 40 Flathead Valley women to join the ranks of a fledgling roller derby scene that began with a few enthusiasts in late 2009.
In a little more than a year, the league has grown into a big draw. The group’s last matchup was held Jan. 22 at the Flathead County Fairgrounds in front of about 1,200 fans.
The local Big Mountain Misfits fell to the Missoula-based Dirt Road Dolls 114-113 in the bout, dubbed the “Winter Scarnival.”
More important than the score, Lockwood said afterwards, was the scene surrounding the event — raucous fans filling nearly every seat and standing in almost every open space — and the camaraderie shared by each of the participants.
“Winning, it really doesn’t matter matter,” said Lockwood, who prefers her “Annie Wardoll” moniker when conversing about roller derby. “It’s all about fun.”
Rolly derby melds sport and entertainment to create a reality where women — who take on new and original names — skate around an oval track in an effort to score points against an opposing team.
Each team sends five ladies on the track, with each group consisting of a scoring position called a “jammer,” three “blockers” and a position known as a “pivot.”
Opposing jammers score points by working their way through the pack of blockers, scoring one point for each opposing skater passed.
Participants dress in team shirts, but are left to their own devices when assembling the rest of their attire. Fishnet tights, bandanas and gaudy makeup are the norm.
Lisa Pooler, also known as Scarley Davidson, is one of the founding members of Flathead Valley Roller Derby.
She said the idea to form a local league was sparked on social networking websites where she met like-minded women with hopes of bringing roller derby to Northwest Montana.
She recalls an initial meeting held after the women posted an advertisement on Craigslist calling for potential roller derby participants.
Only a handful of women attended, she said, but that number swelled to about 40 after the league began receiving media coverage.
“We were very overwhelmed at that point in time,” Pooler said.
Throughout the year, the initial batch of would-be roller girls practiced their techniques two nights a week.
In October, the Misfits hosted their first bout at the fairgrounds. Pooler said she and others expected between 350 and 400 people to watch the event.
By the time the bout was under way, though, there were 1,600 people in the bleachers that surrounded the makeshift ring. The Jan. 22 event drew 1,200 people, and resulted in a $3,000 donation to the Boys and Girls Club of Glacier Country.
“I had no idea we would draw so many people,” said Pooler, a paralegal who also teaches motorcycle classes. She said a league in more densely populated New Hampshire, where she’s from, would see crowds of only about 500 people.
Along with the crowds, the number of women interested in becoming roller derby girls is also expanding. Pooler, who fills the role of coach, trainer and occasional referee, said a group of beginners — she refers to them as “fresh meat” — is already training to become full-fledged members of the league.
The appeal, she said, is that the sport doesn’t require a certain physical appearance or skill-set.
“There’s no one specific body type,” Pooler said. “You can be tall and curvaceous or short and skinny and still play this game.”
Plans are under way to expand the league, with one idea being to start a junior division. The league currently accepts women 18 and older. Pooler said the team also hopes to join an apprentice league to the national Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.
“I would love to see us able to play on a national level,” she said.
That will take at least a year, she said, but the Flathead Valley Roller Derby League is already moving forward.
The next bout is scheduled for April 2 at the Flathead County Fairgrounds. Pooler said the league will continue accepting new members.
One thing anyone considering participation should know, she said, is the potential for injury. A new skater recently broke her leg, while another has sustained a fractured wrist.
“This is a full contact, aggressive sport,” she said. “Injuries happen ... Broken bones are fairly rare, but they do happen.”
To learn more, visit the league’s website at www.fvrollerderby.com.