North Texas Roller Derby looks to grow with Prancing Unicorns

North Texas Roller Derby looks to grow with Prancing Unicorns

North Texas Roller Derby looks to grow with Prancing Unicorns
February 06
20:25 2018

Outside the Lone Star Indoor Sports Center is an eerie-looking warehouse. But inside, it houses a starkly rowdy group of people — roller derby players.

On the track, the skaters form a tornado of legs and wheels, some whizzing by and others petering out to a slow roll.  

“Push! Push! Push!” co-captain Biana Stein shrieks with one cast-bound leg hoisted onto a metal folding chair. 

Stein is bench warming today due to an injury she suffered at practice. Her attention, however, is fixed on the track where her players, the Battling Mermaids, are skating.

It’s assessment day today, which means they’ll be tested on certain skills and workouts to be on the team.

“Otherwise, it’s a safety issue,” Stein said. “It’s a dangerous sport in some ways.”

Located along South Mayhill road, North Texas Roller Derby (NTRD) is home to the Fighting Unicorns and the Battling Mermaids, the A and B teams respectively. NTRD was founded in 2011 and has been drawing in all kinds of skaters in the DFW area ever since. 

Photo by Sara Carpenter

“When I moved to Denton for grad school, I was looking for something fun to do outside of school to relieve some stress,” Jessica Dietche, Fighting Unicorns blocker and UNT Ph.d student, said. “It was such a great community, I signed up the first day I came. I felt like I had to become a part of it.”

Newcomers go through the Rising Phoenixes training program and can later join the Screaming Medusas, which is reserved for mashups and more “low-key skating.” Then, they can be drafted into the upper level A and B teams. While a majority of skaters are in their 20s and 30s, the teams maintain a significant percentage of older players as well.

But regardless of age, Denton’s roller derby community is tight-knit and welcoming of new skaters.

“It was not like riding a bike again,” recruiting director Jennifer Roseberry said. “It took a lot of practice. Sometimes you would get defeated but the people here are great and you always have veteran skaters helping out and showing you different things.”

This year, there is an added spunk to the games — an all-male dance team named the Prancing Unicorns.

The idea originated from a joke about gaining better fan engagement for the games. Roseberry said crowd turnout hits around 200, but could be boosted by a fun performance to get the audience excited. 

“When I think rowdy, I think ‘Rowdy, Loud & Proud’ like the Mavs,” Roseberry said. “When I think of the Mavs, I think of the Mavs ManiAACs and I [said], ‘You know what we need? We need dancing men.’”

Few actually came out, but to fill the spaces, dads and husbands of the Fighting Unicorns and Battling Mermaids teams have joined to cheer on their skaters. They plan to create a dance routine for the first home game in March.

“I’ve embarrassed myself several times in my life, so I’m kind of used to that,” Prancing Unicorns member Bill Bowles said. “Just having fun is the main thing.”

While membership can fluctuate, NTRD hopes to expand beyond their original two teams.

“Right now we’re just trying to grow our membership so that we can grow our league as well,” Roseberry said. “We’d like to get up to four or five teams in the league. We just want to get the word out that ‘hey, we’re here in this little abandoned warehouse in the corner, please come see us.’”

Members say roller derby is more than the portrayals that are seen in movies and TV shows. In fact, for skaters, there is much more substance in modern-day practice and hopes for roller derby to be seen as a real sport involving strategy and skill.

Photo by Sara Carpenter

“The early revitalization of derby was all about being alternative with piercings and fishnets and tons of makeup,” Dietche said. “That definitely used to be accurate, but now we’re taking ourselves more seriously as a sport.”

However, they insist the community does not involve the typical crowd of angry parents that pop up at your standard Little League games.

“You interact with several of the adults from other teams, and we’ve been doing this for a little over a year, so it’s been a lot of fun,” Bowles said. “It’s a very different environment and at least for the younger group, this isn’t like any other sport. The parents aren’t angry, we don’t get mad at the coaches and everybody is very supportive.”

For married couple Megan and Aldo Olivas, who are in the Marine Corps, roller derby has been a place they can come for support and socialization.

“For the 16 years we’ve been married, we’ve moved around because of the Marine Corps and never found a community,” Aldo said. “It’s always been out there but it’s a matter of finding a group that you fit in with and feel comfortable with and they feel comfortable with you.”

Whether you’re 19 or 59, there seems to be a place for everyone on the track.

“Everybody’s so different from one another — different bodies, heights, personalities, jobs, ethnicities,” Stein said. “You can’t get a more varied group of people, yet there’s always a commonality through the different groups and it’s not just the roller derby, it’s the human experience.”

Featured Image: Prospective members of the Fighting Unicorns roller derby team practice at the Lone Star Sports Center on Jan. 31. The Fighting Unicorns are a team part of the North Texas Roller Derby league. Sara Carpenter 

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Amy Roh

Amy Roh

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