They’ve bashed bodies to the ground. They’ve bruised tailbones, broken noses and bloodied lips. And a small band of hard-core fans have cheered the mayhem on. Saturday, May 12 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, the Naptown Roller Girls race onto the track for one last chaotic skate against Louisville’s Derby City Roller Girls. At stake: a winning record in their inaugural season.
Competition has been as fierce off the flat track for this fledgling league as on. “Indianapolis really took a chance on us,” says Smackie Onassis, who plays the jammer position on the team. “We were able to gather enough sponsor support to host our premiere bout. To kick off a first season in a large format is pretty unique for such a small and young league.”
But teams need more than sponsors to thrive. If fans don’t buy into the product, there is little chance of survival. Onassis reports over 2,200 fans attended their debut and attendance has remained steady since. Dedicated fans have helped the league with word-of-mouth advertising while the Roller Girls utilize a DIY approach to marketing their events, hanging posters around the city and creating a strong team presence on MySpace.
But how does a team stay in the public eye when competing just once a month? “To reach new people, we participate in organized events,” Onassis says. “Last month we attended the Damian Center’s Dining Out for Life. It allows us to give back to the community while gaining exposure.” They also organize post-bout parties for their fans. “The parties have been a learning experience. After our first bout, we invited 2,200 spectators to Local’s Only for a beer. Not 20 minutes after the game, the bar was at capacity and hordes of people were turned away.” She recalls describing the finish of their last bout — a 100-95 overtime win against Tennessee’s Hard Knox Roller Girls — to fans who left early and missed the thriller. “People gathered around me like campers to a fire and listened to my re-telling of the final two minutes. It was a cool moment. Very intimate.”
The victory evened up their record at 2-2, and with a few more vicious blocks left in them, they look to give their fans one last win. “You will see some moving signs of elation, but not necessarily surprise,” Onassis says of the possibility of finishing above .500. “While every game is a learning experience, we believe we are a strong league and very capable of winning when our hearts are as committed to the game as our bodies. We train hard and we go in ready to play hard for a win.”
Tickets for the final bout are $10 in advance; $15 at the door. Doors open at 6 p.m. with a 7 p.m. start time. On May 20, members of the team will be at Birdy’s Bar and Grill for a benefit raffle to help Jennifer Stephenson, a breast cancer patient.