By Syd Stratman

Between the lighting and booming music, the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul, Minnesota, has the atmosphere of a concert venue. But, instead of a stage, the focus of the room is a flat, oval-shaped track on the floor. Dynamic announcers call the crowd to order—to welcome the Minnesota RollerGirls!

Thundering skates are matched by thundering applause as the women stream onto the track. It’s time for a bout unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Athlete entrepreneurs

The Minnesota RollerGirls formed in 2004 and were one of the first modern roller derby leagues to hold a private bout. Roller derby traces its history to Chicago roller marathons of the 1930s, which quickly evolved to include body contact.

In the early 2000s, roller derby reflected an amateur, athlete-owned sport. As of 2010, there were more than 450 flat track roller derby leagues worldwide.

The Minnesota RollerGirls in action. Photo by Brian James Macke.

Driven by a love of the sport and an entrepreneurial spirit, the Minnesota RollerGirls are unpaid, as are the volunteers who support the league. More than 80 skaters comprise four teams: the Atomic BombshellsDagger DollsGarda Belts, and Rockits.

The league also boasts two national teams, the All-Stars and the Minnesota Nice. The All-Stars have represented Minnesota at the World Championships seven times between 2006 and 2017.

Misconception vs. fact

To dig into the misconceptions about roller derby—Is the action real? Are these athletes or party girls?—we sat down with three members of the league. Meet Itches Be Trippin, Diamond Rough and Obscene Sheen.

This video is part of  “Living for the City,” a Rewire initiative made possible by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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