Meet Simi. She’s a young professional who lives in Savannah. She once might have booked your flight or cruise. Now she might put your call through to her CEO.
She’s polite and has a sweet telephone demeanor. Just don’t mess with her on the roller derby oval or she’ll hip-check you into tomorrow. And don’t dare call her Simi. When she suits up for the Savannah Derby Devils—when she armors up with shin and elbow pads, pops in her mouth guard and jerks the strap from her soup bowl helmet tight under her chin—the name is “Double D. Vour.”
Double D. and her friends love to raise mayhem on the track. But their matches, against rival amateur all-women’s roller teams from the Southeast, offer family entertainment and a unique alternative to conventional sightseeing.
The drawback for visitors is that the Savannah Derby Devils skate in only nine matches—called bouts—a year, and not all are at home. Nevertheless, check their schedule. Taking in a home bout at Savannah Civic Center is well worth the modest admission prices and 10-minute walk from the Bluegreen resort, The Studio Homes at Ellis Square. The novelty alone recommends the experience. And then there’s the all-out action.
About the Derby Devils
The Derby Devils have been skating since 2006 when they formed during a renaissance period for the age-old sport. Unlike most roller derby contests you’ve seen on television or remember from your youth, the track is flat, not banked. It’s 78 feet in diameter from north pole to south with twin straightaways that narrow in width from 15 feet to 13. Its perimeter is defined only by thick ropes secured in place by colored tape. There is no guard rail to keep you from flying out of bounds when a player like Double D. Vour crouches to lower her center of gravity and plants her cocked elbow into your midsection.
Which, by the way, happens all the time. And that’s not the worst
“Is there bad blood? Absolutely,” said Double D. Devour’s daytime alter ego, Simi. “We’re all really nice, for the most part. But we are competitive. And you do get caught up in things. And some people do play dirty.”
That’s part of the charm of the team and game. Simi, who joined in 2010, typifies the Derby Devils. By day, they’re ordinary women with names like Kate, Elizabeth and Maria. They’re teachers, nurses, pharmaceutical reps, even homemakers. But when it’s bout time, they make themselves up to look as menacing as possible, some going seriously Goth. They wear tank tops that reveal sprawling tattoos. They answer to aliases such as Felony Melanie, Violet Seizure, Bomb Deluise, Dirty Martina and Eva Lyn Twisted.
Well, not Eva Lyn Twisted. “She’s on maternity leave,” Simi noted.
Those aliases, by the way, are hard to come by. They must be registered among thousands in a national database to ensure no exact or near duplication. The database includes every skater, active and retired.
“In the history of the game, there’s no other Double D. Vour,” Simi said. “I’m Double D. Vour.”
Simi hit on that alias after testing others at a skaters’ website and finding them taken, including her first choice, “Daisy Dukem.” (Just for fun, visit www.twoevils.org/rollergirls/ and see if you can create an original name.)
Playing time is hard to come by, too. The Derby Devils’ overall roster pool, or league, includes about 50 skaters. But only 28 spots are available on two teams that dress for bouts, one essentially a junior varsity. These women practice for two hours three times a week for precious little track time once a month.
“You have to earn playing time,” Simi said. “It’s skill, first, but it’s also attendance. It’s commitment.”
The basic rules of the game haven’t changed. The team with more points when time expires after 60 minutes wins. Scoring occurs during timed units called “jams” that can last up to 2 minutes. Each team skates five players at time including a designated “jammer,” whose job it is to lap as many opponents during the jam as possible.
Each time also fields one “pivot” and three “blockers.” Simi/Double D. Vour is a blocker. It’s her job to help stop the other team’s jammer and stymie enemy blockers trying to thwart the Derby Devils’ jammer.
That means Simi, who said she’s 135 pounds, sometimes must take on skaters who outweigh her by almost 100 pounds. One effective strategy is to form combination blocks with teammates similar to offensive linemen in football.
“It’s all about timing, position and communicating,” Simi said. “You’re only as strong as your teammates.”
Roller derby is a game of timing and skill, for sure, but it’s also a game of roughness.
“It’s not set up and staged like on TV where they throw chairs at each other,” Simi said. “Our injuries are real. When you go out of bounds, you feel it.”
Simi said she’s never been seriously injured—she knows one skater who broke a leg—but bumps and bruises are another matter.
“We all have bruises,” she said. “We all go on Facebook and post pictures of them.”
The action can get overheated, and sometimes so can fans. But Simi said the Derby Devils take every step possible to promote a family atmosphere at the Savannah Civic Center. They’ve even set aside a section of seating in which cursing is prohibited.
The league is pursuing membership in the Women’s Flat Derby Association, which would bring prestige and other benefits. In the meantime, the women make significant sacrifices for love of the sport and appreciation of their fans. They practice through fatigue after working eight-hour day jobs. They carpool long hours to places like Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Auburn, Ala., where to save money they sleep sometimes six to a room.
Why? Why would women like Simi—a former travel agent serving high-end clientele and now an executive assistant in the corporate world—want to substantially complicate already busy lives? Maybe skating uncomplicates them.
There’s a phrase familiar to most members of the Devils. One skater (not Simi) even wears it as a tattoo:
“Roller Derby saved me.”
“It kinda makes you yourself again,” said Simi/Double D. Vour.
There may be more historically significant 18th-century sights to see during your Savannah vacation, more culturally enriching 19th-century exhibits.
But if you’re looking for something more contemporary, is there a story more compelling than the Savannah Derby Devils?