IF YOU GO
What: Chattanooga Roller Girls season opener against Classic City Rollergirls
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, April 13; doors open at 6 p.m.
Where: Chattanooga Convention Center, 1150 Carter St.
Admission: $10 in advance, $12 at the door; $5 ages 6-12
April 13: vs. Classic City Rollergirls
May 18: vs. Hard Knox Roller Girls
June 29: vs. Atlanta Rumble B's
Aug. 10: Greenville Derby Dames
From the digital confines of their team profile portraits, they scowl out with malice in their eyes. Try to pass them on the track, and they'll send you to the floor. They take guff from no one, especially not on skates.
They are moms, college students, accountants and nurses, but first and foremost, they are roller-derby girls.
"They say that the only thing derby girls have in common is derby, and that's so true. Our team is such a melting pot," says Shawn Williamson, who has skated as a blocker for the Chattanooga Roller Girls for two years under the name The mBOMBinator.
Despite experiencing a resurgence in popularity in recent years, roller derby's history stretches back to the 1920s, when the term was applied to multiday endurance skating events.
Roller derby is a sport known for its daring, sometimes brutal, competitions that can leave skaters with bruises almost as colorful as the tongue-in-cheek nicknames they adopt. In the '60s and '70s, derby began emphasizing theatrics over athleticism, but Williamson says modern derby bouts are every bit as rough as they appear.
"People ask us all the time if it's fake, but it's an extremely tough sport," she says.
Originally founded in 2008, the Chattanooga Roller Girls didn't begin competition until 2009. They will open their fifth season racing around the flat track at the Chattanooga Convention Center in a bout against Athens, Ga.-based Classic City Rollergirls on Saturday, April 13. The Roller Girls handily won their last bout against the Athens team with a final score of 193 to 66.
After several years of competing in an apprentice league, the Roller Girls this year have been recognized as a full-member team by the sport's international governing organization, the Women's Flat Track Derby Association.
That distinction means the Roller Girls now will be ranked and could ultimately compete for a national title. It's a level of competition they long have chased, and achieving it has been both thrilling and intimidating, Williamson says.
"Everyone was like, 'Oh my gosh, we're finally there,' but then it was like, 'Oh my gosh, now we have a lot of work to do,' " she recalls, laughing.
"I think we're all hyped up and ready to win, but our team seems more unified now than ever. We know that now we're not just going to win, we're going to kill them."
Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@times freepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...