The following series looks back at the ten -year history of the Arch Rival Roller Girls, St. Louis’ first women’s flat-track 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 the league, can be read by CLICKING ON THIS LINK. Part Two, which features the ARRG 2006-2014 local seasons, can be read by CLICKING ON THIS LINK.
At the conclusion of the Arch Rival Roller Girls’ 2014 local season, which saw a league-record breaking 2,000 spectators at March’s championship finale at Chaifetz Arena, the flat-track franchise, per custom to history, found itself at a crossroad.
Much like it affects every league that competes on either an international scale or localized level, season-end retirements created a sudden impact. Specifically for ARRG, 20 skaters hung up the quads following the March 2014 double header, which equaled roughly 25% of rostered participants.
As a result, the St. Louisans modified and reconfigured its intraleague complexion to ensure balance among teams. Heading into the upcoming 2014-15 campaign, the four-squad make-up that had been a fixture over the prior four seasons was reduced to a trio. The legacy teams of the M-80s, the Smashinistas and the Stunts Devils were retained while Rebel Skate Alliance was temporarily suspended and prior RSA skaters were drafted by the survivors.
Although this seemed like a quick fix, this created an immediate void for the make-up of local ARRG presentations. Since 2010, fans were used to seeing double headers on event nights and now, with the subtraction of the RSA, a solo ARRG game at Midwest Sport Hockey could only be guaranteed per event.
What to do in a situation like this? ARRG created a partnership with its “brothers in derby,” GateKeepers Roller Derby.
The St. Louis-based men’s league, which also competes its local season with three franchises, also held its events at Midwest Sport Hockey that incorporated many ARRG skaters, referees, non-skating officials and support personnel.
To streamline operations for both franchises, a joint presentation of events was put into place for both leagues for their respective 2014-15 local seasons.
Put it this way. It was not uncommon for national derby leagues to present “All-Star” games with women’s and men’s travel squads, but never before had separate women’s and men’s derby leagues held an intraleague campaign that solely featured local squads across the board. In short, ARRG and GKRD were contemporary derby pioneers with the concept.
“Our league is really excited about it,” said ARRG’s Shimmy Hoffa of the newfound set-up on an October 19, 2014 episode of the Derby Deeds Podcast. “It’s something new and it’s something fresh. We were looking for a way to revive our local season. This will be a really great jump start for that.”
Conversely for the GateKeepers, who were entering in its fifth year of operation in 2014, the pairing provided immediate exposure for those unfamiliar to the men’s game.
“I think for new fans, if you’re looking for a game to go to, and you have the opportunity to see both men and women playing in the same evening, I think it’s really an attractive thing,“ said GateKeeper co-founder Magnum P.I.M.P. on the aforementioned podcast. “You get to see what St. Louis derby is all about. It’s strengthening our derby community.”
The dual ARRG/GKRD local campaign, launched on November 14, 2014 at Midwest Sport Hockey, consisted of a six-game regular season at Queeny Park and a championship finale at Chaifetz Arena. The end goal was to strengthen both local brands.
“Women’s roller derby seems to have a really strong niche in St. Louis, so it’s great to expose our fans to men’s roller derby,” said Hoffa. “They will get to see what they’re all about and the GateKeeper fans will get to see what we do. We’re hoping that consolidating the two premiere leagues in the area will help bump up attendance.”
For the GateKeepers, the joint-venture resulted in a groundswell of spectators and the possibility of future league growth.
“This is a great recruitment opportunity for us,” said Magnum. “The fact that we have a bunch of guys who get together to play roller derby, which they love, in front of larger crowd now is definitely a plus. Knowing that it’s in conjunction with a women’s league that we’ve got great ties with, it’s just an attractive thing for any new skater to come into.”
The two leagues’ Championship series, held at Chaifetz Arena on June 13, 2015, saw the Stunt Devils win its first ARRG trophy since 2010 with a duke over the Smashinistas while the South Grand Slammers claimed back-to-back Turf Wars titles with a victory over the Riverfront Crimes.
The competitive local season was just a taste of things to come as the calendar year continued for ARRG’s primary travel team.
The Arch Rival Roller Girls All-Stars, who churned a dozen straight wins and a 13-1 regular season record in travel team play, were achieving newfound heights within the scope of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) post-season complexion. Historically, the league had never finished higher than sixth at a particular post-season tourney.
As a number three seed heading into late-September’s ten-team Tucson, Arizona round of the WFTDA 2015 Division 1 international playoffs, ARRG knew that it had to opportunity to write a new narrative. If it finished the weekend tourney with at least a bronze medal, it would earn automatic entry to the WFTDA D1 Championships held in November. That would be an inaugural, and eye-opening, appearance for a franchise that only scored 11 points against Chicago-based Windy City in its travel team launch back in 2007 and historically finished its tournament Sundays with a loss.
“I would describe the team as excited and determined,” then assessed ARRG All-Stars co-captain Bricktator of the squad’s mindset heading into the pivotal Arizona docket. “If we walk away from this weekend with medals around our necks, we will sleep with them on.”
Arch Rival, with its 224-185 victory over Rocky Mountain in the weekend’s bronze medal game, achieved its first-ever berth to the WFTDA International Championships. Another major milestone achieved as St. Louis was now one of the remaining twelve teams competing in the WFTDA D1 post-season.
Under a global spotlight, the locals competed mightily but fell in its first-round opener by eight points to the Jacksonville Rollergirls in front of 3,000 at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul, Minnesota on November 6, 2015. The loss stung at the moment but the league realized the newfound heights that were obtained.
The 15-3 breakthrough season helped the ARRG All-Stars push its WFTDA rank, out of 274 international leagues, to tenth overall, a designation it holds as of this writing.
Licking its wounds from the Jacksonville loss, Arch Rival launched its 2015-16 local campaign, co-presented again with the GateKeepers, one week later at Midwest Sport Hockey. The league’s hard charge over the calendar year resulted in renewed interest as veteran skaters returned and new transfers from Bi-State-area franchises came along to bolster line-ups.
This led to the most competitive ARRG local series in its ten-year history. Heading into the final game of its six-event regular season this weekend, all of the games on the local regular season cycle were not claimed by victors until late and three of those five contests had differentials of five points and under.
It is apropos that the ARRG 2016 Local Championship, which will be held at Midwest Sport Hockey on April 2, will feature a trophy tug-o-war between the M-80s and the Stunts Devils, the two squads that were present in its intraleague infancy.
This series has primarily focused on the league’s game-day activities but there have been additional anecdotes for the league. Arch Rival has always made it a point to return St. Louis’ support with community outreach efforts that have raised awareness and donations for area non-for-profits.
“We like to give all the girls the opportunity to contribute and give back,” says ARRG’s EnYa Nightmare, who serves on the league’s Charity Committee. “We do this by setting up and supporting all sorts of different opportunities each month. Everyone has a chance to find something that may interest them.”
Since 2010 with monthly raffle drawings at events that benefit the league’s yearly-designated charity partner, ARRG has collectively raised over $10,000 in donations for Safe Connections, Girls on the Run, Meals on Wheels and Girls, Incorporated.
The 2010-11 season charity partner, Girls, Incorporated, a North St. Louis County-based non-for-profit that offers after-school educational and cultural programs for girls aged 5 to 18, performed a step-dance routine to a crowd of 1,000 at ARRG’s December 2010 event. Five months later, ARRG presented the group a check for $2,600.
“Our overall experience with the Arch Rival Roller Girls was amazing,” said Girls Inc. Program Director Elaine Lee of the partnership. “We got a chance to enter a world that we would not have otherwise been introduced.“
This year’s charity campaign with St. Louis Ovarian Cancer Awareness continues that trend and will achieve additional donations at the March 12 ARRG/GKRD event at Midwest Sport Hockey.
Additionally, ARRG has participated in the Missouri Department of Transportation’s “Adopt-A-Highway” program since 2012. Its designated area, located on Interstate 55 at Germania Road, sees the rollers collect debris on a monthly basis.
The league has also participated in activities that benefited Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, Food Outreach, Stray Rescue, Heat Up-St. Louis, KDHX Radio and other non-profit organizations.
“I think that the overriding philosophy of roller derby of ‘for the skater, by the skater’– that grass roots philosophy of helping yourself and helping your neighbor – is infused throughout all roller derby leagues,” said former ARRG skater Biohazard Betty, who served on the league’s Board of Directors in 2012. “That sense of community service has been with the Arch Rival Roller Girls since its inception.”
ARRG has also been an active participant in numerous Gateway City-based public parades, such as February’s Mardi Gras Parade, March’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, June’s Pridefest Parade, July’s Fair St. Louis Parade and November’s Thanksgiving Parade.
In summation, and to put the conclusion to this three-part series, there were numerous short stories written during the past ten years for the Arch Rival Roller Girls. Truth be told, the prior 6,000 words published over the past week didn’t cover every minuscule aspect of the league. Perhaps that’s the result of so much perpetually occurring during ARRG’s existence and a sport that really doesn’t have an off-season.
When ARRG founder Mary Manglin’ first envisioned roller derby as a sport locally in 2005, one couldn’t quite confidently predict that it would still be around in 2016.
Yet, the Arch Rival Roller Girls continue today, thanks to the dedicated efforts and sweat equity invested by those, past and present, who hold the sport dear to their hearts.
There is a prediction that can be guaranteed…there will be new pages written to ARRG’s incredible derby diary as it proceeds in its next decade of operation.
We know you’ll be along for the ride to see how its future unfolds.
(Series constructed by Brian Ledford. Photography courtesy of Bob Dunnell and Jim Koclanes.)
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