Last Saturday, the Arkansas Killbillies clobbered the COMO Derby Dames 200 to 106. It was an intense and memorable bout, as they all are. The Professional, #73, set a new league record with a 20-point jam (that’s 4 grand slams, y’all).
But even more exciting than the stats is the sudden increase in popularity of NWA Roller Derby in general. Saturday’s bout was the third consecutive sold out bout of the season, something almost inconceivable this time last year.
Michelle Hedegard, AKA #7 Sin, describes the league at the end of last season as being not in the best shape. “It was hard to gain a lot of fan attention in Springdale and most of our sponsorship was in Fayetteville,” said Hedegard. Ticket sales were low and enthusiasm was dwindling. “We could have continued but it would have been difficult,” she said. The obvious solution was that the league needed to move to Fayetteville where it’s sponsors and fan base were. The problem was where? Luckily, Derby Girl Tiffany Caston, AKA #8 Apache Rose, was bold enough to open a skating rink.
Even with the bad economy, Caston’s Starlight Skatium is managing to thrive in an industry that is not always a huge money maker. The Starlight Skatium is located in the middle of College Avenue, between downtown and the mall area. It is an extremely attractive building with large windows and the word “STARLIGHT” written across the front in shiny silver futuristic letters. The inside feels very large and open, not cavernous and dank like most roller rinks. The huge network of rafters makes it seem like some kind of temple to roller skates. The lighting and sound systems are really top notch as well. However, the most striking thing about the rink is how clean it is. This is probably due in part to it being so new, but it’s also a testament to how much care it is constantly being given and to how Caston and crew must really, really love roller skating.
Caston says her main strategy was an overwhelming amount of research. She spent three years studying every facet of the buisness before they opened. She went to conventions and talked with other rink owners and after filling several notebooks full of notes, gradually the concept for the rink formed. “I wanted something up to date that would appeal to the younger generation, but also something nostalgic that would appeal to the older generation, so I tried not to veer too far from the typical roller rink model but also to have a really up to date sound and light show.” The rink had a massive grand opening and has been doing way more business than expected by brining all kinds of new people to roller skating and roller derby.
The Derby league has not only had record crowds at bouts, but also a massive influx of new members. “Everyone is encouraged to come try out,” says Christay Davies, AKA #666 Flyon Maiden. She is the Captain of the the Backwoods Betties who will be taking on the ICT Roller Girls Saturday, March 13. “That is going to be mainly a fresh meat bout, since we have so many new girls that haven’t ever played,” said Davies. When asked what it really takes to play Derby, Davies says it’s all about dedication. “Most girls just say they can’t skate and don’t try out because of that. When I first started, I couldn’t skate at all. I couldn’t even put them on. But if you come and really try, we will teach you everything.” Davies said the league needs more than just new players. “We need refs, and we need volunteers to help with other stuff. We need lots of people!”
New girl practice is from 4:30-5:30 p.m. Sundays at Starlight Skatium. If you’d just like to come see a bout tickets are available available at Starlight Skatium and nwarollerderby.com. Bouts are always family friendly, but beer is available in a small beer garden away from the track. The Starlight Skatium is open Wednesday through Sunday, and is usually packed.