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Roller Derby Wed Apr 14 2010

Ready or Not, Here Comes the Chicago Outfit


It's natural that an upstart sports league to feel a bit, well, overshadowed by the older and more established leagues in town. Althea N. Hell, bench coach for the The Chicago Outfit, looks at being the newer and thus lesser-known roller derby league in Chicago from a more pragmatic point of view: "Frankly, I love being the underdog. It keeps the fire under your ass."

That keeper-of-the-flame (albeit under one's ass) attitude fairly sums up the Outfit, which started in 2007 after a previous roller derby league, the Chi-Town Sirens, imploded. Today the Outfit boasts about 30 skaters from Chicago and the surrounding area. The league is currently revving up for their third season, beginning with a double header home bout on Saturday, April 24 against the Paper Valley Roller Girls of Appleton, Wisconsin.

Killamazoo Derby Darlins vs. The Chicago<br />
Outfit - June 6 2009 (54 of 72)
Jammer Queefer Sutherland (in the grey, starred helmet) speeds through the pack with some help from Daddy's Girl in a 2009 bout vs. the Killamazoo Derby Darlins. Photo courtesy of colin e. johnson.

"It was magical"

Althea (aka Erin Nelson), a former skater with the Sirens, is about as aggressively supportive of the Outfit as one can get, and she isn't at all reticent about how the Sirens' downfall spurred the creation of the Outfit. "The Sirens were just not run properly," she says. "I skated for them, but that was because I didn't want to play for the other league [Windy City Rollers]."

One day she got a call that the Sirens' entire board of directors quit. She was told that many of the girls were going to skate for WCR, but there were still 15 players who had at that point been skating for only three months but really wanted to continue playing. Althea, who was unable to skate due to an injury, took over training. "We started the Outfit literally within a week we had a name, in two weeks we had a logo, and in three we had t-shirts. And we just kept training," she says. "It was magical."

Chicago Outfit Roller Derby low res

A League of Their Own

The Chicago Outfit operates differently than the Windy City Rollers in that the league isn't split into separate teams that play one another. Instead, they focus on playing out-of-town teams throughout the nation. "Playing each other wouldn't work with our dynamic," says Jabs (aka Janelle Parsons), referring to the Outfit's "close-knit, family organization."

New skaters are kept to the sidelines, where they train and learn the game. Once their skills are deemed up to par, they're moved into scrimmaging and bouting with the rest of the league. At that stage, a skater's involvement is up to her: The set-up is such that the skaters who are more involved earn their place on the roster. They have A and B teams, based on skill. In the B team (which operates as a farm team), if two girls are at the same skill level, the skater who has been to more practices and is more involved in the league is going to have priority another skater. The A team still has to make practice and involvement requirements, but skill level and speed play more of a part in deciding the roster.

Set-up aside, The Chicago Outfit also just feels a bit different. Their fund-raising events are a bit crazier, a bit dirtier (case in point: One recent event featured derby girls engaged in spaghetti wrestling). But Althea is quick to point out that the Outfit's loosey-goosey public persona doesn't mean they don't take their sport, or their league, seriously. "We don't skate three nights a week plus speed skating practice; we don't eat, sleep, and shit roller derby for fun and show, says Althea. "Maybe we're even more serious [than WCR], because we have something to prove."

For Jabs, it was the sense of inclusiveness and opportunity that attracted her to the Outfit. She originally began skating with Derby Lite out of Oak Park, but she knew that ultimately she wanted to skate contact derby. When she was introduced to the Outfit, she knew she'd found her league. "It wasn't about 'Are you good enough to be on this team?' but it was more like, 'You want to do it, then we'll give you the opportunity to do it.'"

In addition to skating, Jabs is the league's marketing manager and on the board of directors. The time commitment involved in playing for a roller derby league is enormous, but Jabs brushes it off. "I get to play on a team. I get to travel. I get to meet other roller girls. It's amazing."

Kim Mortal-jam Pain Gwen v Toronto Roller Derby - photo by Uncle John
Kim Mortal (Jammer, left) and Pain Gwen put the hurt on a skater from Toronto Roller Derby's B team. Photo courtesy of Uncle John.

It's On

In previous seasons, The Chicago Outfit primarily played other B teams, and considering their 10-0 2009 season, they're not doing too shabby. But currently the Outfit is working under the WFTDA apprenticeship program (Women's Flat Track Derby Association, the national organization that sets the rules and regulations for member leagues). The game is about to change for the Outfit.

The program is fairly new--prior WFDTA rules held that a prospective league would have to secure a letter of permission from the closest member league. However, the new program does away with all that. Now fledgling leagues can go through the apprenticeship program--a WFTDA 101, if you will--during which they are sponsored by a sister league and undergo a process to show they're WFTDA compliant. After the apprenticeship period, the league is then able to apply for membership. Once accepted, they'll be considered members and will finally be able to take the next step and bout more A teams.

More importantly, they'll finally get nationally ranked for their games--which means more than likely they'll bout against the Windy City Rollers' travel team, the WCR All-Stars. "I would love to see a professional working relationship with the other league. I think that once you are a WFTDA team, you are to be respected by all WFTDA teams, and that's what being a part of an association is all about," says Althea.

"I definitely know that the Outfit has what it takes, and that once we get WFTDA [membership], it's gonna be on. We'll be coming for everybody. It's those thirsty, hungry little teams that pop up that surprise people."

Chicago Outfit vs. Paper Valley Roller Girls
and Outfit Shade Brigade vs. Flyin Squirrels

Saturday, April 24, 7 p.m.
Windy City Fieldhouse (2367 West Logan Blvd.)
Tickets: (ages 10+) $15.00 in advance, $20 at door. Check here for more information.

The Derby Dame is Gapers Block contributor Kara Luger, who skated as Typhoid Mary with the Windy City Rollers and the Pikes Peak Derby Dames.

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Caspar / April 16, 2010 8:07 AM

Very appealing,,very lady-like.

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