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A groups photo of the Fighting Suzies, an intraleague team of the FM Derby Girls.

Derby Girls take Fargo-Moorhead area by storm

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If the winter doldrums have got you in a funk, some much-deserved excitement may be the ticket out.

Look no further than roller derby.

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Yes: that roller derby. The all-female sport that became wildly popular in the 70s before fizzling out has made a recent resurgence, and Fargo-area fans are flocking to events in droves.

Maybe it's the whirlwind pace? Or the athleticism of the participants? Perhaps it's the chance to see grown women crash into one another in a no-holds-bar free-for-all whilst speeding centrifugally about an oval track?

"They've definitely worked hard to make it a legitimate contact sport," said Cinde Moris, a 38-year-old skater with the Fargo Moorhead Derby Girls, mother of one and West Fargo resident. "I think that's what makes it so appealing."

Whatever the case, fans love it, as evident by the unprecedented number showing up to the FM Derby Girls' inaugural bout Nov. 7. The event packed the Fargo Civic Center and filled roughly 1,700 seats, while more then 300 hopefuls were turned away at the door. Their most recent bout Feb. 9, also sold out.

"It was a big shock," Moris said, of the first match. "They were just hoping and praying to break even, which I think was something like 500 people.

"So when they had to actually turn away people, they were pretty excited."

Fellow Derby Girl Cassy Felton, a 31-year-old daycare provider and mother of three living in West Fargo, mirrors Moris' sentiment.

"I started with the Derby Girls like two weeks before" the first bout, Felton said. "It was just amazing to be a part of it."

What's especially amazing is the amount of interest shown in such a short period of time. Prior to the event, not many tickets had been sold, Felton said. It wasn't until the day of the bout that the surge happened.

"We couldn't' start on time because of all the people waiting to buy tickets," she said.

Growing ranks

Interest has not only come from fans, but from curious women wondering what roller derby is all about - and wanting to take a crack at it for themselves.

"Showing up to that practice the Tuesday after (the first bout), instead of 25 women like normal, there were, like, 60," Felton said.

The Fargo Moorhead Derby Girls have an open invitation, and won't turn away women wanting to give roller derby a try. There is a skills test to pass, however, that proves to the team you can block, stop and do other basic derby moves, Felton said.

Even your ability to roller skate doesn't have to be perfect.

"I hadn't roller skated since a third-grade field trip," Moris said. "I could hardly stand up at first. And that was the exhilarating thing; that's the great thing about derby because they're very patient and want you to succeed.

"It's a very close-knit, family-oriented type of thing where they really help each other."

Both Moris and Felton have a somewhat varied athletic background. Moris ran track in high school for a year and just recently started running 5Ks around West Fargo. Felton, on the other hand, is a seasoned marathon runner who has competed in the Fargo Marathon twice and Twin Cities Marathon once.

Still, a participant's athleticism before derby isn't what counts. It's their drive during derby that the team is looking for, and developing core and leg strength is key, Felton said.

"We have core training once a week and endurance training varies," she said. "Or we'll do other types of strength training with our skates on. Every practice is a little different."

Besides the physical benefits, women hopefully will become stronger in other ways, too.

"Derby is about empowering girls and women, and being a good role model," Felton said.

The women who go by the "Derby Girl" moniker don't fit a specific mold. They come from every walk of life: some are single, some have families; some work and some are stay-at-home mothers. But no matter what, when they put on those roller skates and uniforms, they transform into something more.

The change to Derby Girl is complete when a skater picks out her game name. For example, when donning their skates, Felton goes by "Willow Beatin" and Moris by "Chronic Masterskater."

"That's the fun thing," Moris said. "Women can come out here and join derby and be the meekest thing; but once they get out in the ring, they totally change."

Common reaction

When initially mentioning they had become roller derby skaters, Moris and Felton had similar experiences.

"At first, people at work and some friends were like, 'What? You?' " Moris said. "But most of my friends were like, 'I'm totally not surprised. That's you."

Support by others for any athlete is key to their success. The same goes for roller derby.

"My daycare families love it," Felton said. "They can't wait until I skate. All my little kids want to see me skate."

Family support is important, too.

"I have three kids who saw the first bout and loved it," Felton said. "They all want to grow up to be zebras." By "zebras" they mean referees, she said.

"I'm pretty lucky to have a spouse who watches the kids so I can beat up on other people."

"My husband and my son have been really great about it," Moris said.

The Fargo Moorhead Derby Girls are a non-profit organization, and proceeds from events go to local charities. Their most recent bout was last Saturday, when they hosted an intra-league game pitting the Fighting Suzies against the Monkey Wenches. Final score: Suzies 131, Wenches 107.

Their next bout is Feb. 6, at home against the Harbor City Roller Dames of Duluth, Minn. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. with the bout slated to start at 8 p.m.

"I think it's a great thing for the Fargo-Moorhead area," Moris said of the Derby Girls, "and definitely a great thing for women."

Tshoberg@westfargopioneer.com.

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