Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette Tracie McBride, left, Maddi Yoder, center, and other members of Fort Wayne Derby Girls work on a blocking drill at Bell’s Skating Rink in New Haven as they prepare for their upcoming season.
Kelly Adkins, left, looks up as Amber O’Daniels describes a drill.
Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette Erin Salyers, left, works on drills with teammates in New Haven. The Fort Wayne Derby Girls will compete Feb. 11 at Memorial Coliseum.
Thursday, January 05, 2017 8:01 pm
Derby Girls on a roll
Charlotte Stefanski | For The Journal Gazette
After Tonya Vojtkofsky and Danielle Abbott saw the Rat City Rollergirls in Seattle in 2005, a plan began to take shape. They would bring roller derby to Fort Wayne.
Vojtkofsky was drawn to the do-it-yourself feel of making their own outfits, styling their own makeup and the rough-and-tumble nature of the game.
"They showed feminism, they showed heroism and all these different types of personas they had," says Vojtkofsky, who later skated under the name "Minx." "I grew up on skates, so being able to incorporate the whole sport of it. Plus, I already knew how to skate, it just kind of fit me personally."
Within two weeks of their weekend trip to Seattle, Vojtkofsky and Abbott, who skated by the name "Little D. Evil," began passing out fliers for the Fort Wayne Derby Girls.
At 32 years old, Vojtkofsky and Abbott created Indiana’s first all-female, flat-track roller derby league.
Now, 11 years later, the team is getting ready to open its newest season Feb. 11 at Memorial Coliseum.
After stories began to run in local papers about the new roller derby league, the Derby Girls fielded a team of 10 and started to skate at Roller Dome North.
Nothing could prepare Vojtkofsky and Abbott for the landslide attendance at their meet-and-greet though, with more than 150 people packed into the "Original" Munchie Emporium, the current Mad Anthony Brewing Company.
The league grew to 30 skaters and adopted what Vojtkofsky called the traditional persona of derby, including skaters wearing fishnet stockings, tube socks, tutus and creating team names such as "Maddie Warbucks" and "Ziggy Scardust."
Despite the large interest in the Derby Girls, getting the league started in Fort Wayne was no easy task.
"We heard, ‘Strippers on skates.’ Nobody took us seriously," Vojtkofsky says. "We were a little more rough in the beginning, too. A lot of our events were at a bar. It was for girls 21 and over. It was just getting the public to accept something different."
Lahapa Brown, who started out on the coaching staff and transitioned to player, says it was still difficult to get businesses around Fort Wayne to sponsor them, due to the stigma against roller derby.
"That was a big hurdle to overcome. We just had to say, ‘OK, well, we’ll find someone who’s interested in working with us,’" says Brown, also known as "Kona Krusher." "A couple years later was when they realized their perception of us was incorrect."
With a shoe-string budget, minimal sponsors and a few skaters who were just learning the ropes of derby, the Derby Girls’ first season began in May 2006, according to their website.
Vojtkofsky says the league was split into two exhibition teams, Team Good and Team Evil. There were more than 1,200 people in attendance at their first bout.
Original member Jennie Oetting, skating under the name "PushyCat," says she was on Team Evil.
Oetting had never skated before she joined the league and showed up at the first practice in jeans and a T-shirt.
"Everything back in that time frame was very much still your mom’s roller derby, I guess you could call it," Oetting says. "It was from the ’70s and it was very rough and violent. People were getting clotheslined and there was blood. It looked very rough, so I was very nervous going into it."
Despite being nervous, Oetting continued going to practice three times a week and joined the speed team in order to learn how to skate better.
She described the bout as a "heck of a production," with Team Evil entering the floor carrying pitchforks and wearing devil horns.
As their first few seasons progressed, Team Good and Team Evil would cause division among the skaters, because of jealousy and conflict between the two co-founders.
Brown says once Team Good and Team Evil started to fall apart, the league separated into four home teams, but this only complicated things more.
"The chemistry was not good for us as an organization, to have those four separate teams and pitting ourselves against each other all the time," Brown says. "So we just did away with them. That was the best move for the health of our league, I believe, to just get rid of those and just be the Fort Wayne Derby Girls."
In 2007, the Fort Wayne Derby Girls became members of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, and by 2010, the team was skating at Memorial Coliseum.
The league now has both an all-star team, the Bomb Squad, and a second group, the SWAT Team.
After 11 years of roller derby in Fort Wayne, Vojtkofsky says a lot has changed in both the game and persona.
The world of roller derby has moved away from the production aspect and is now more uniform, leaving the fishnets and tutus behind.
"Even though there was still an athletic feel, it could’ve been your neighbor girl. She might’ve not been your best skater, but dammit, she gave a lot of heart," Vojtkofsky says. "Now it’s all about the win. It’s not about building the girl up."
Another new aspect is allowing the junior league, the Derby Brats, to start skating with the adult league at age 18.
Tessa Marshall, who graduated from the Derby Brats and transitioned into the Derby Girls, began skating with the league in 2015.
Marshall says she is excited to have more of her junior team play with the Derby Girls.
"This season we’re really focusing on the basics and trying to get everyone on the same level," Marshall says, "So that way we can build up as a team, not just individuals."
Vojtkofsky left in 2013 due to family issues but continued to teach the Derby Brats. She went back to the Derby Girls in 2014 and later retired from the sport completely in 2015.
"That sisterhood, there is something about it. I’ve never had a sister, and all of a sudden I had 40 sisters," Vojtkofsky says. "All these girls, everyone came together. They have stories and so much to share, because we all come from a common cloth. There was something common in who we were."