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Modern Roller Girls Find Sisterhood at the Rink

Debbie Elliott gets into the swing of things with "Mercy Less," also known as Kristin Hendrick.
Petra Mayer, NPR
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Debbie Elliott gets into the swing of things with "Mercy Less," also known as Kristin Hendrick.

Roller Derby was one of the first sports on television. And it remained popular on TV into the 1970s, when it was still hot enough to merit a big-screen film, Kansas City Bomber, starring Raquel Welch.

Then it fizzled, at least as nationwide entertainment, and attempts to bring it back to TV were unsuccessful.

But today there's a grassroots revival of the raucous sport, and it's being led by women like those who are part of Baltimore's Charm City Roller Girls... one of dozens of all-female roller derby leagues popping up around the country.

The Charm City league has four teams: the pink-clad Junkyard Dolls, the Mobtown Mods in 60s minidresses, the Night Terrors in blue and black (or is that black and blue?) and the Speed Regime in olive drab. They practice at Putty Hill Skateland in Baltimore.

And it's not just the teams that have nicknames. The competitors trade in their pedestrian real names for more colorful monikers: Kristen Hendrick, a sweet-faced mother of two, becomes Mercy Less on the rink. This is, after all, a contact sport. And she's trading elbows with the likes of Lights Out Lisa Marie, Berzerker and Ivana E. Charbrains.

They've also got announcers: two guys who call themselves Colonel Kurtz and Dirty Marty. And referees: Justice Feelgood Marshall. A guy with glasses called Johnny Crash, the Man in Black and White. Colin Fouls. And a woman ref called Penaltina.

The first league game for the Charm City Roller Girls is Sunday night at the Putty Hill Skateland. If you've got skates and a surplus of attitude, they're holding tryouts in October.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.