Photography by Jaclyn Baker

Truly F. Obvious (third from left) chases her opponents during a scrimmage at practice. Obvious is the co-founder of the team and was voted Most Dedicated in the team awards.

Truly F. Obvious hasn't always skated. She started six years ago when she was 30 years old and has cherished the sport ever since.

"I liked it better than any other kinds of workouts because the wind that you make for yourself keeps you cool," she says. "Now that I play derby, I work a lot harder, and I do notice."

At Western Skateland two years ago, Obvious and Molly McFracture got the idea to start a roller derby league. They loved skating, and the roller derby flat-track movement was growing across the country.

"The Rollergirls TV show on A&E has inspired a recent resurgence on the flat track," says Obvious. "We use a flat track because buying and building a banked one takes lots of cash and months of labor."

The duo formed Bleeding Heartland Rollergirls (BHRG) in August 2006 after attending the national competitions in February 2006. They’ve been dedicated to the league since their first lap around the track.

"Plus, we were sick of just skating around in circles at the rink," says Obvious. "And they didn't want us to go fast because of the little kids."

History of roller derby

The roots of roller derby date back to Roaring ’20s, when the title "roller derby" was used by the Chicago Tribune to describe flat-track roller skating races in 1922.

Roller derby promoter Leo Seltzer and sportswriter Damon Runyon are credited with adding the full-contact aspect to the sport in the 1930s, similar to the version most are familiar with now.

The sport became popular in the 1960s and ’70s and was broadcast on national television. The bank-track version was televised the most, which involved a sloped track with a surrounding rail. The matches were orchestrated and focused on entertainment, not competition.

Bank-track roller derby is not what the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) -- the national organization for flat-track derby teams -- wants the sport to be known for.

"We are a flat-track association," says Mercy Less, one of the co-founders of the organization. "We are mainly concerned with the sports aspect."

Obvious agrees. BHRG is also a flat-track league, and it takes athleticism seriously.

"Derby athletes of the ’70s were all stunts, but they

Photograph by Jaclyn Baker

Penny Hostile tries to knock down her opponent during a scrimmage at practice. Hostile is new to Bleeding Heartland Roller Girls and is on Farm Fatales, a division of BHRG.

still had to be athletes," she says. "But no one had respect for them because all they saw was them putting on a performance."

Forming the Roller Girls

Although the roller derby movement has been on the rise nationally for the past five years, Obvious and McFracture had trouble starting the league. The pair found it difficult to find a practice space and convince the owners that the skates wouldn't harm the floors.

Also, it was hard to come up with the initial 10 women they needed to scrimmage.

"We did a bunch of promotional events in bars and put out a lot of fliers," says Obvious. "But a lot of people we've obtained now have been through word of mouth."

The word spread fast in two years. In November 2007, the league held a skills camp that would later segue to tryouts. Many of the women returned to try out, and BHRG now boasts 20 new members for the 2008 season. Obvious credits the growth of the team to a movement for women in sports nationally.

"Women have become more independent," she says. "They are looking to do something for themselves."

The rise of roller derby

Although roller derby achieved popularity in the 1960s and ’70s, it faded from the spotlight until the formation of WFTDA in 2004. Twenty teams initially founded the national organization to "discuss standardizing to enable and promote competition between the leagues," according to its Web site.

Less believes the rise of roller derby is attributable to the fun of the sport.

"Most of us are having the time of our lives doing this, and I think our fun is contagious," she says. "Fans enjoy being a part of it, and we're very accessible as athletes, so we include them in the fun at games and after-parties."

Obvious says women are more active in sports, especially since the establishment of Title IX, which states that no person can be excluded on the basis of sex from any activity that receives federal funding. High school and collegiate sports for women grew after Title IX went into effect in 1972.

"Also, I think roller derby gives women a fun way to exercise," Obvious says. "It's different than just going to the gym."

The future of roller derby

Roller derby’s popularity is on the

Photograph by Jaclyn Baker

BHRG teammates scrimmage at practice for their first "bout," held at Bloomington Sportsplex on May 17. The home team and the traveling team will compete against each other in the first match.

rise, and if the flat-track women get their way, it will be featured on American TV again.

"I think a big part of the future of roller derby depends on the version that ends up on TV," says Obvious. "There has been talk that someone is trying to start it up again."

Obvious says if bank-track roller derby becomes televised, it will be a lot like what audiences saw in the 1960s and ’70s. But she wants the flat-track version televised to show the serious athleticism of the sport.

"If we convince them to put our version on, then WFTDA can become involved," Obvious says. "We can prove that roller derby just isn't for entertainment."

Less agrees.

"I think this culture and many others are really intrigued with the idea of women who are the 'girl next door' playing a full-contact sport," she says. "Plus, major league sports have really out-priced the average family, and it's incredible action-packed sports entertainment for what you pay to get in the door."

Roller derby could also be headed for the Olympics if the popularity continues. The Roller Skating Association is pushing for roller skating sports to be added to the competition. If the association gets its wish, roller derby could be the first roller sport in the Olympics because it is the most played.

"Roller derby is played all over the world," says Obvious. "If it grows in other countries like it is here in the states, we might actually have a shot."

The future of BHRG

While the women of BHRG have the Olympics in their dreams, the goal for the 2008 season is for the team to become an official member of WFTDA. The organization takes its memberships seriously and requires all teams to fill out a 28-page application, including recommendations from three teams already members of WFTDA.

BHRG completed most of the application and is settling its operating agreement and obtaining letters of recommendation. The team has two -- from the Cincinnati and Fort Wayne teams -- but needs one more from either the Chicago or Ohio team.

"We want to join WFTDA because it's serious athletic competition," says Obvious. "We want to be challenged."

Jaclyn Baker can be reached at .