There is a large building on Temple Street known as the Doll Factory. You might think that this factory manufactures porcelain dolls, but this factory creates dolls of a different kind, and they certainly are not made of porcelain.
The Doll Factory is the home of the L.A. Derby Dolls, SoCal’s all-female banked track roller derby league.
Roller derby goes all the way back to 1935 when Leo Seltzer, a sports promoter searching for a way to fill seats in the Chicago Coliseum, came up with the idea of holding a roller skating marathon called the Transcontinental Roller Derby. A sportswriter named Damon Runyon then revamped the rules to encourage physical contact amongst players. By 1937, high intensity, hard-hitting roller derby was born.
Nowadays, spectators drinking PBR while snacking on gourmet food truck cuisine fill the Doll Factory as the teams warm up by circling the track underneath a roller-skate-shaped disco ball, preparing their minds and bodies for an adrenaline packed evening. When it’s time to “jam,” all the players line up.
To score points in a match, a designated scoring player (a “jammer”) laps members of the opposite team while the opposite team tries to block them. This results in a fast-paced game of hitting and teamwork that is entertaining to watch.
When discussing her first experience watching roller derby, the captain of the all-star L.A. Ri-Ettes roller derby team, Fleetwood Smack said, “It encapsulates every athleticism I have.”
Smack discovered the Derby Dolls two and a half years ago when she tagged along with one of her friends to a match.
“As soon as I walked through the door I was like, ‘I need to be doing this,’” she said, and so she immediately tried out for the team.
Each roller derby player gets a special nickname that relates to her personality. For instance, Smack’s nickname came about because her real name is Rhiannon, which is the title to a popular Fleetwood Mac song. According to Smack, the nickname represents a player’s alter ego that exists when she is on the track. By day, the players are housewives, students, company owners or schoolteachers. But by night these women transform into tough chicks on wheels.
And they really are tough. Women fall down all the time during the jam, and get up immediately. According to Smack, getting up quickly is important because staying down or falling big creates a danger for the other players as well.
As for injuries, she said the adrenaline and focusing during the game distracts players from feeling hurt when they fall or take a hit.
“At this level you are used to falling, and you suck it up,” said Smack. “Then the next day you wake up feeling like you were in a car wreck.”
The Derby Dolls are flourishing today because of their dedication and passion. Since it is still a growing sport, roller derby relies heavily on committed volunteers and players who give time and money to keep the sport going. Their hard work is paying off as spectators fill the Doll Factory each match.
Now, the Derby Dolls are taking their current success and looking towards the future goal to heighten the popularity of roller derby and eventually get it recognized on the professional level.