What You Don't Know About Mayor Daley, Roller Skates, and Derby Burns

Nothing livens up one of Mayor Daley’s dull City Council meetings like a troupe of badass women wearing jackets with the names “Shocka Conduit,” “Karma Geddon” and “Juanna Rumbel.”

They didn’t wear roller skates and knee pads when they arrived at City Council Wednesday, but in full regalia the members of the Windy City Rollers probably could have overpowered the sergeants at the metal detectors outside the chamber.

The Rollers, the women’s roller derby revivalists, finally got their due from the city of Chicago on Wednesday, when 48th Ward Ald. Mary Ann Smith introduced this resolution honoring the team: “WHEREAS, the sport’s popularity lost momentum after the 1970s until two women, Elizabeth Gomez a.k.a. Juanna Rumbel, and Kelly Simmons a.k.a.Sister Sledgehammer, founded the Windy City Rollers in 2004 and revived the sport in Chicago.”

Smith’s son, Matt, is a roller derby fan, and the alderman was looking for a group of strong women to recognize on a day the council was honoring breast cancer survivors.

Also, Smith noted, “Who knew that the roller derby came to be in Chicago in 1935?”

It’s a fact. Roller derby was invented during the Depression by Leo Seltzer, who staged marathon skating races at the Chicago Coliseum. Sportswriter Damon Runyon suggested turning the event into a full-contact sport. The professional roller derby league folded in 1973, but a hipster revival began in the early 2000s, leading to the formation of the Rollers.

“My assistant, Elizabeth Gomez, is actually one of the team founders, so don’t mess with ’em,” said 32nd Ward Ald. Scott Waguespack, who represents Bucktown and Wicker Park, strongholds of the Rollers’ fan base.

Gomez decided to form the team after admiring a “Derby burn” on the thigh of a “confident, cocky” waitress in Austin, Texas. From humble beginnings at the Congress Theater, the team now skates before 4,000 fans at the UIC Pavilion.

“For most sports, it’s male dominated,” Gomez said. “This is kind of flipping sports on its head. “We made the rules, we decided the track size, we created the governing body. There’s not another sport that was created by women.”

You gotta be tough to play. It’s a “no-holds barred” sport that has resulted in broken arms, broken legs, broken collarbones. A Roller named Tequila Mockingbird was paralyzed from the shoulders down after her neck landed on another woman’s skate.

This November, the Rollers will host the national championships, “The Uproar on the Lakeshore,” returning roller derby to the city where it was born.

Mayor Daley and all 50 alderman have now been invited.

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