Saturday, June 30, 2018

INTERVIEW: Atlanta Rollergirls

I recently experienced the awesome excitement of an Atlanta Rollergirls bout, a double-header actually, which was my first-ever roller derby! 

If you even modestly like sports in Atlanta, you've probably been at a United, Braves, Hawks, Falcons, Dream or Blaze game, but I'm here to tell you that Atlanta Rollergirls is in a league of its own. This wholly unique experience is f-u-n...FUN! 


Atlanta Rollergirls | Photo: Jeremy Wren
Atlanta Rollergirls | Photo: Jeremy Wren

Did I know the rules of roller derby? No. Did I know how scoring works in roller derby? No. Did I even know any skaters or personalities in roller derby? A friend in Arizona is a roller derby coach, but that's the extent of my connections to this mysteriously alluring sport. I could hardly wait! 

I went with my friend Nikki—you know her as @atlantafoodie (on Instagram) when we did our "By the Numbers" restaurant series—and a few other mutual friends, including her husband Dan. I'd wanted to go for years, so the anticipation was ultra high.

Nikki and I decided on the May double-header and our friends would join us for one or both. You can bring in your own food an drink—no glass, though!—so we packed up our coolers and headed to the Yaarab Shrine Temple on Ponce de Leon Avenue, the temple the Shriners built after moving from what today is the Fox Theatre. There's ample parking and it's easy to find one's way to the arena.


Atlanta Rollergirls | Photo: Jeremy Wren
Atlanta Rollergirls | Photo: Jeremy Wren

Nikki explained the basic rules of the game to me—there's nothing like learning in real-time!—but they also have an "Ask Me" skater (wearing an "Ask Me" badge) walking the seating areas just for people like me...clueless yet having a grand time, but knowing that knowing how the game works would intensify the experience.

Making it a totally awesome evening, Atlanta Rollergirls WON BOTH bouts! There was so much adrenaline in that arena—coming from the rink and the audience—it was absolutely electric! 

Between bouts, while enjoying a performance by Seed & Feed Marching Abominable (video)—and there are drinks and food trucks and art vendors, too—I introduced myself to one of the skaters and asked about getting an interview. Every Rollergirl I met was awesome...these ladies not only love the sport and camaraderie, they're wholly dedicated to giving their fans an exciting, unforgettable experience.

In short order after that night of roller derby fun, I heard from Gucci Maim (how they get their names if fascinating!) who graciously granted me an interview. 

Enjoy the interview below and get your tickets for the playoffs and championship games!


Atlanta Rollergirls | Photo: Jeremy Wren
Atlanta Rollergirls | Photo: Jeremy Wren


wanderlust ATLANTA: What's the tradition for how an Atlanta Rollergirl gets her name? 

Gucci Maim: Some names are given to skaters by friends or family members and others skaters choose for themselves. The one thing that is fairly consistent across the board is they are earned - whether it be you have volunteered with Atlanta Rollergirls (ARG) to the point of earning a name, or you've gone through a fresh meet/rec league program and passed the minimum skills tests to become a full-fledged skater - at that point you earn you wings, er, name. For an example, my name is Gucci Maim. When I first passed all the skills tests and it was time to pick a name, I consulted with a friend from middle school to help me find the perfect fit. Atlanta-based rapper, Gucci Mane, has always been one of my favorite humans, so it only felt right to take a play from his name to make it my own.

wanderlust ATLANTA: Camaraderie seems to be an important part of the Atlanta Rollergirls. It seems you've elevated teamwork to a Sisterhood? Tell us about that and does that translate across the sport as a whole?

Gucci MaimAbsolutely! Not only do you form lasting bonds with your team, but also you build derby relationships when you play against other teams or go to tournaments. You'll see all the time when someone lays out a major hit on another, one of the first reactions is to give her props for that hit while laying down in pain. Beyond that, in my last job they did a write-up about me and of course derby came up. When the article was released among the group, I had a woman who worked in one of the Chicago offices reach out to me because she too plays - in fact next time I'm in Chicago, I hope to actually meet her in person.


Atlanta Rollergirls | Photo: Jeremy Wren
Atlanta Rollergirls | Photo: Jeremy Wren


wanderlust ATLANTA: Personally, now having been, I'd recommend a double-header for a first-time roller derby spectator. What else can a first-timer do to prepare for the absolute best experience?

Gucci Maim: Oh man, preparation-wise that one is a tough one since roller derby isn't readily accessible on TV like most other sports. Whenever I have friends who are coming to watch me play for the first time I tell them to make a friend with someone there who looks like they know the game as most derby fans are awesome and want to share the word of derby. Or I tell them about the 'ask me girls' that our league has that they can talk to in order to figure out what is happening. The WFTDA (our governing body) also has some great videos that describe the fundamentals. In all honesty, just showing up excited and with an open mind is your best bet.

wanderlust ATLANTA: You have male cheerleaders (they were awesome!) for your all-female league. Tell us a little about them?

Missel CrisisI wouldn't say that having all-male jeerleaders was intentional, but it's a neat dynamic. The guys that do it are all true feminists just celebrating the sport with us, as jazzed about it as we are. 


Atlanta Rollergirls | Photo: Jeremy Wren
Atlanta Rollergirls | Photo: Jeremy Wren


wanderlust ATLANTAWhat do the Atlanta Rollergirls do in the off season? Any special events throughout the remainder of the year? 

Gucci Maim: Off season? What's that? In all honesty our off season is only about two months long. We continue to practice and play bouts even when our home schedule is done. This year, Atlanta is the only North American team hosting playoffs, which is in September, so our focus will be to that and then the Dirty South Derby Girls (our all-star team) will continue to train and play hard in order to make it to champs in November. As you can see, it doesn't leave us with much of an off-season! As for special events, you'll usually catch us at various community events such as marching in the pride and lantern parade or cheering on runners during the PNC Atlanta 10 Miler.


Atlanta Rollergirls | Photo: Jeremy Wren
Atlanta Rollergirls | Photo: Jeremy Wren


wanderlust ATLANTA: Rollerderby is a high-energy sport and the crowds are highly responsive. What are you hoping for audience members to take away after a bout? To tell their friends?

Gucci MaimWe just want them to have a good time. The sport itself can be quite confusing for someone who has never been before but we have skaters who will walk around and answer any questions. Plus we have food trucks, drinks, vendors, and half-time acts in a family-friendly environment to make this more than a game, to make it an entire evening dedicated to entertainment across the board. I really want people leaving there saying 'wow, that was amazing' while yearning to come back for more or, even better, leaving saying how they want to become a roller derby athlete and joining our league, the junior derby league, or even the men's league.


Atlanta Rollergirls is the Atlanta's first flat-track roller derby league and they're here to stay! You can still get TICKETS to this season's playoff and championship games.

Now, enjoy this brief video of some of the fun you'll be having...





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