Many women’s sports are still subtly identified as a ladies’ version—women’s basketball, women’s lacrosse, women’s curling. One does the exact opposite: the Race City Rebels, a homegrown, amateur group of 25 to 30 guys who gather in an eastside warehouse to play the bruising, hard-charging, and usually female game of roller derby. “Name another sport where women brought men along,” says Chris French, a technical architect.
Women’s roller derby, known for both its evil-sounding nicknames and the way its players knock each other around on skates, is nearly a century old. But it has blown up enough in recent years to spawn the Drew Barrymore movie Whip It and support two city teams: the Naptown Roller Girls and the Circle City Derby Girls. Men’s derby is only about eight years old, and there are just 62 teams worldwide. That doesn’t make it easy to schedule seasons, which start in the spring. To get in their game quota, the Rebels have traveled as far as California and New York.
Rebels practices are two-hour affairs where large guys on wheels are trying to knock you down. (Drills were designed by ranking skater Ron Eich, who goes by “Doc Flatliner” because he’s an ER physician at Community). Not surprisingly, injuries are common; French, for one, broke a few ribs last year. And this is the lighter edition: “The women’s teams could teach us a thing or two about cardio,” says skater Aaron Lucas, a.k.a. “Norse Horse.” Like its predecessor, men’s derby is mostly a fierce, cathartic workout, just one with an endearing punk ethos and grassroots industriousness. “My wife calls it the ‘Island of Misfit Toys,’” says Lucas. “People feel like this is a place where they can become part of a team.”