Without league founder Tanya Hyde’s vision and hard work ten years ago, the Atlanta Rollergirls might never have come into existence. We shudder to think it! In the coming months, we’ll be talking to the founding members of ARG about how the league and roller derby have grown and changed over the last decade. Who better to get this jam started than Tanya Hyde herself?
Sports…I played one season of basketball in junior high and, well, I just wasn’t that good. I felt that if I wasn’t the best, it wasn’t worth doing. And with Mary Alice and Becky on the team, the perpetual all-stars, I was never going to be the best. I wasn’t the “athletic type” they were—you know, lean, fast, agile. I was the mediocre guard at best that played a couple of times a game. And I was short, so, you know, baskets were out of the picture for me. I went back to my piano and ballet classes—I just wasn’t built for sports.
But, then I discovered roller derby and that firmly held belief of mine started to change. I had a friend in Austin who was involved with the Texas Rollergirls. I watched as she trained, chose her “derby name,” and posted her adventures to her blog. I loved looking at the rollergirls’ Website and I saw so many not-your-typical-athletic-ladies participating. These women looked like me! I was ready to give team sports another shot. However, I soon discovered there was no roller derby league in Atlanta. “Well,” I thought, “I’ll just have to make one!”
The idea was frightening and exciting at the same time. I often worried if I was the one to do this job—something that I felt was so bold. Who was I to create a sports league? With no experience in sports, no real experience in business to speak of…and when was the last time I was on skates? Twenty years before? Sounds about right. What was I getting myself into?
I was only able to convince one friend to participate on this journey with me, Rollerhate (aka Diana Thoren), and she took some convincing. I soon met Hot Legs Hooligan (aka Sara Riney) through Myspace (remember Myspace?) and she was 100% on board. Immediately, she began further recruitment efforts, which included bringing Betty Boot (aka Amy Rose) to join the fun. Blackie Braless (who, back then was Dolly Dagger, aka Cyndi Pittman) and Pearl Reckless (aka Alexis Harvey) were both talked into joining by friends who were in other leagues—Kasey Bomber and Smarty Pants, respectively. We had 6 women, including me, who proved to be regulars, so we set off on our journey and never looked back!
Our group of adventurous women was filled with ideas and excitement. We slowly grew our numbers with recruitment nights, flyers, and by word of mouth. We trained with the help of drills given to us by other fledgling, but more experienced, leagues like Arizona Roller Derby and Texas Rollergirls. We worked ceaselessly. I think I speak for all of us when I say that we ate, slept, and dreamed roller derby. We were nothing if not persistent in our shared dream that we would be holding public bouts with several home teams within the year.
With no leagues in the near vicinity, it was rough going. The closest league was Carolina Rollergirls, 7 hours away in Raleigh. But we kept it up and practice after practice we learned the rules (which were so different than today’s ruleset!), we ran drills, we learned to block and jam, and skate for that matter, and we were having the time of our lives. And then, we had our first scrimmage.
Looking back, we were probably moving too fast with too much drive and not enough foundation. Tempers flared at that scrimmage—names were called, helmets were thrown. We had to stop and take a step back. It was hard, but what I knew was this: if we worked as a team and if we solved this problem together, then we would be even stronger on the other side. And that’s exactly what we did and what we continue to do in ARG to this day. We worked together, we talked, we reassessed, and we tried again.
Eventually our dreams were realized. On July 17, 2005, we held our first public bout. We skated slowly, we fell a lot, we wore fishnets, and there were lots and lots of elbows involved. Watching the video from that first bout…boy howdy, were we a mess! But we had such a great time it didn’t (and still doesn’t) matter. At the beginning of 2006, almost exactly one year after our first recruitment party, we played in the first roller derby tournament of this new era, the Dust Devil. We were out in the first round, Texas Rollergirls beat us 70-1 in a ten-minute round robin game, and we learned pretty quickly we needed to step up our game if we were going to keep up with things.
The sport has changed so much since that first season. I never would have imagined that the game we played would evolve into today’s roller derby, but I’m so glad it has. The game is so much fun to watch and play. And while the athleticism has definitely intensified over the years, we still encourage all types of women to participate. Atlanta Rollergirls Recreational Roller Derby League is a great landing spot for anyone who wants to start with the basics and build up to participation in our league. In a different life, that’s where I would have started. For the young’uns, we even have the Atlanta Derby Brats, for any girl who can’t wait to start her roller derby journey! And dudes! Have you heard of Atlanta Men’s Roller Derby? Well, you better look into that!
Starting ARG was grueling work, sleepless nights, arguments, tears, friends gained and friends lost, and more meetings than you could ever imagine. We were fueled by the love of the game and the love we grew to have for each other. We had grown from a group of women who might never have known each other into a family that we’ll have forever.
But, lovey dovey stuff aside, what I think was the most important part of this journey, for me, was that if you have the drive and you truly believe in what you are doing, you can make anything happen. It won’t always be easy but if you’re heart’s in it, the hard times will be overshadowed by the joy your journey brings you. Don’t let ideas about who’s “right” for the job get in your way. Be persistent, be strong, be confident, and you can do bold things.