The following series looks back at the ten -year history of the Arch Rival Roller Girls, St. Louis’ first women’s roller derby franchise, as it prepares to celebrate “ARRG Alumni Night” at Midwest Sport Hockey on Saturday, March 12. Part one, which features the foundation of ARRG, can be read by CLICKING ON THIS LINK.
With its April 29, 2006 inaugural exhibition at Columbia, Missouri’s Empire Roller Rink now recorded in the ledger, the Arch Rival Roller Girls now found itself at an important crossroad in the early stage of existence.
If it wanted to evolve as a flat-track franchise, it would not only have to develop the derby skills needed to compete internally, and inevitably externally, but it would also have to sustain itself financially by finding a local public venue to host events on a consistent basis. In short, a place to call home.
The former was relatively easy by comparison. Summer months spent at the Skatium sweat box provided the first-year rollers the opportunity to log precious rotations.
The latter was a little more demanding as roller rinks were starting to collectively become a thing of the past. Inline roller hockey venues were even harder to find and when they could be found, their schedules were mostly filled or were too expensive for “prime time.”
ARRG found its haven at All-American Sports Mall, located in the South St. Louis County, and launched a three-month, three-event inaugural season that began on September 10, 2006. All three events were held on Sunday afternoons at 4 pm. Not ideal, but it was the best they could do at the time.
Keeping with team designations chartered at the Columbia exhibition held five months prior, Pink Vixens vs. Black Angels was the attraction for all three events and the initial attendance was comparable to the 160 spectators that was found at the Columbia game. However, the audience did slightly grow as the word was getting out and attendance pushed 250 at the end of the trio of events.
With its upward trajectory, and newfound interest by newfound recruits, early seeds were planted to break away from the “Pink vs. Black” motif that earmarked the ARRG 2006 campaign and the league inevitably branched, on paper, into four local teams with separate identities. The early quartet of squads “penciled in” consisted of the M-80s, the Smashinistas, the June Cleavers and Las Calaveras (The Skulls). The last two would inevitably be put on the back-burner.
Following its first-year public launch, ARRG entered 2007 wanting to test the waters of interleague play against squads that were competing within the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) which, at the time, was establishing itself as the governing body of the sport nationally.
On January 20, 2007, the locals traveled to Chicago and faced its inspiration, the Windy City Rollers, at Cicero Stadium and fell 74-11. Not a win on the scoreboard, but a victory for a fledgling league looking to maintain traction.
During its off-season, ARRG continued the “do it yourself” methodology of promotion to raise awareness in anticipation of its second local season. Demo bouts, a March appearance during the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and a “Black Eye Affair” event held at the Thaxton Building weeks before its May 26, 2007 event helped spread the message.
Abandoning the four-team concept developed earlier, the 2007 ARRG complexion contained three local teams: the aforementioned M-80s and Smashinistas and the newly-christened Stunt Devils. What was different, compared to the season prior, was that ARRG now possessed a seven-event schedule and competed on Saturday nights at All-American.
Not surprisingly, attendance steadily increased. In the first-ever ARRG local trophy game on November 2007, the M-80s topped the Smashinistas. At this point, derby audiences swelled to over 500.
This upward trajectory would continue over the next three local seasons, both in attendance and in the competitive action found on the flat-track. In November 2008 in front of 900 fans, the M-80s topped the Stunt Devils for back-to-back championships.
The ensuing season’s title battle saw the Stunt Devils claim its first-ever trophy with a victory over the M-80s. 2010’s capper saw the Stunts earn back-to-back titles with a win over the Smashinistas.
Attendance remained close to 1,000 at season’s end, and with the addition of interested skaters, ARRG added a fourth team, Rebel Skate Alliance, to the intraleague mix for its upcoming 2010-11 local season. This changed the complexion of the league’s events as it had now shifted from a solo local game held on event night to a twin-bill of derby that featured all four teams.
Attendance for ARRG games at All-American had now reached close to 1,100. Advanced tickets, for the most part, were claimed for the seven-event schedule as soon as they were put on sale online.
All seemed well in the world…or so it seemed. Then, the unfortunate occurred.
On March 12, 2011, All-American Sports Mall, per last-minute direction of local fire officials, had to limit the amount of spectators that it could hold at its facility due to safety concerns. The enforcement reduced the potential 1,100 paid that wanted to see the Arch Rival local playoff semifinals to a capacity of below 350. It turned out to be a last-minute heart-breaker for fans of the league spiritually and a dagger to the heart of ARRG financially.
Where others would proverbially throw in the towel out of frustration, ARRG laced up its strings, claimed an alternate venue in a few days and scheduled its 2011 league championships at Midwest Sport Hockey in Ballwin, Missouri. At the time, the indoor facility at Queeny Park was hosting the local campaign of ARRG’s “brothers in derby,” GateKeepers Roller Derby, and obliged the last-second request.
Despite the kerfuffle that occurred at All-American weeks prior, fans were forgiving as 900 spectators saw the newly-minted Rebel Skate Alliance claim the ARRG trophy with its victory over the Stunt Devils on April 9, 2011.
On the national level, St. Louis’s travel team play also continued its upward trajectory as the ARRG All-Stars were now becoming a recurring entrant in the WFTDA’s annual post-season playoff rounds, its B-team of hard-charging developmental, the Saint Lunachix and its C-team of rookies, the Fleur De Linquents were both recording games and racking up victories.
Even with so much progression made, there was still a primary dream that had still eluded ARRG.
Though it had presented exhibitions in parking lots, warehouses and city streets, the league had still yet to hold a league-regulated game within the Gateway City’s boundaries.
If the Arch Rival Roller Girls wanted to truly represent itself as one of the fastest-rising, and sustainable, sports franchises in St. Louis…then it would have to play locally at a large-scale venue. Skaters wanted it. Fans wanted it. Even St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay directly asked the league via Twitter as to when the league was going to hold a game in the city.
“I think ARRG had its eye on Chaifetz since it was built,” said former ARRG skater Biohazard Betty, who at the time served on the league’s Board of Directors. “It’s such a nice facility. It’s got the size to handle a larger crowd. It’s been on the radar for a long time. We just kind of said, ‘Okay, it’s all or nothing’ and we just went for it.”
For ARRG’s Shimmy Hoffa, the quest for the franchise to play at the home of the Billikens would take on whole new personal level. She made the initial contact with the venue’s chain of command.
“It’s kind of my baby,” said Hoffa at the time. ”When we were selling out the All-American, I could not grasp why we couldn’t play at a venue like Chaifetz. I was convinced it could be done.”
And it didn’t take much to convince others from within the league to jump at opportunity, given its past attendance success. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presented few risks and potentially numerous rewards. The idea to pursue the mid-town venue was met with almost no resistance.
If ARRG was to make a splash in the city, then it would do it cannonball-style.
”So I made some phone calls (to Chaifetz) and sent many e-mails,” said Hoffa in a 2012 interview. “With a lot of work by a lot of dedicated league members, it’s now on our schedule.”
The league proceeded with its 2011-12 four-team local campaign with the opportunity to compete in the Chaifetz trophy game as the main prize. The Stunts and the M-80s advanced to the champs’ finale and the league resonated with both pride and nervous anticipation in advance of the April 2012 event. This was especially true for those that had been skating with the league since its 2006 exhibition game in Columbia.
“This is what we’ve inspired to do from the beginning so this is all about bring our dreams to fruition,” said former skater The Educator, who had been with the league since its 2005 founding. “I will be very nervous. I still get nervous coming to Queeny Park, so I’m going to be very nervous there.”
“It’s a really amazing day for us from where we started and all the work that we’ve gone through all through the years,” added Mayor Francis Slayer, who had also been with the league from its inception. “It feels that we are on the map as a real legitimate sport in St. Louis.”
“As one of the ‘original’ Arch Rival Roller Girls, the championship at the Chaifetz is ridiculously exciting,” said Miss Lippy, another one of the ARRG OG’s. “I remember when we were excited to fill that little roller rink in Columbia for our first ‘pink and black bout’. I remember thinking, ‘Whoa! People are actually paying to see us play our sport.’”
As the one who was instrumental in the booking of ARRG’s largest venue historically, Hoffa beamed with pride mere days away.
“It’s a big deal for us,” she said. “We’re a roller derby league representing the city of St. Louis on a national level and now we’re getting to play in St. Louis City.
“Playing at Chaifetz feels like a homecoming of sorts.”
Bracketed by a proclamation from St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay that designated April 28, 2012 as “Arch Rival Roller Girls Day” and a M-80s’ title victory over the Stunts for its third league title, the flat-trackers held its marquee event at Chaifetz in front of 1,500 spectators, a new league record for attendance. Mission accomplished.
The 2012-13 ARRG local campaign returned to Queeny Park and, after a competitive regular season and playoff round, the Smashinistas claimed its first-ever trophy with a 179-177 victory in front of 1,000 at Midwest Sport Hockey.
Even with the strong show of support, ARRG still craved the highs that were experienced at Chaifetz the prior season.
Seemed like the perfect moment to rekindle the fire, right?
With its 2013-14 local season, ARRG decided that it would once again hold its title game at Chaifetz Arena. The Smashinistas would defend its trophy against the M-80s, who craved for its second straight champs’ win at Chaifetz and fourth overall.
There was, once again, nervous off-track tension heading into the high-profile event. Sure, ARRG proved two years’ prior that it could draw at the venue for its initial foray into the city, but would the audience return for the second go-around? Would it suffer the trend that was unfortunately beginning to affect some long-time derby leagues nationally…a drastic dip in attendance?
High drama unfolded on March 14, 2014 and in the annual trophy tilt, the Smashinistas topped the M-80s, 157-145, for back-to-back league championships.
And for the league that played its 2006 inaugural exhibition in Columbia in front 160, the attendance at Chaifetz that night was 2,000, another new milestone.
For most stories, this would be the perfect time for a conclusion…but there was another new and dynamic chapter to write the following season.
COMING UP IN OUR FINAL INSTALLMENT: A look back at the 2014-15 ARRG season, which saw the league become a pioneer in one area and reach historical achievements in another.
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