Physicality, fun mix perfectly for local roller derby team’s skaters

 Physicality, fun mix perfectly for local roller derby team’s skaters

Members of the Sideshow roller derby team battle for position during a recent practice at Livonia’s Riverside Arena.

As Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” streamed through Livonia’s Riverside Arena sound system Sunday afternoon, a group of padded-up women skated around an oval course, frequently colliding, occasionally tumbling and ultimately, well, just having fun.

Welcome to the Sideshow, a team of close to 20 action-seeking southeast-Michigan women who compete in the Quad County Roller Derby league.

Baby boomers may remember the early-1970s televised, collision-heavy roller derby matches – played on banked oval tracks with a generous dose of WWE theatrics sprinkled in to boost ratings.

No more acting

Fifty years later, there are still a lot of collisions, but nothing is staged – it’s genuine hell on wheels – and flat surfaces like the one at Riverside have replaced the banked courses.

Wearing pads on most of their major joints, helmets and mandatory mouth guards, the skaters get physical at two-hour, twice-a-week practices (in addition to bouts against other Michigan clubs) in a sport that often leaves them sore, but smiling at the end of the day.

“Epsom salt baths are my best friend now,” quipped Devon Kinney, a Brighton resident who works as a project manager for the University of Michigan’s Department of Family Medicine. “I was terrible when I first tried it, but I loved it right away. It made me realize how much I missed team sports.”

Fun nicknames

An example of the league’s fun factor is that all of the participants come up with alter-ego nicknames for themselves. For instance, Kinney’s is Dark Ayn Stormy, a combination of her initials, middle name and favorite drink.

“A lot of my coworkers tell me they can’t wait for the season to start again because they love watching us compete,” said Kinney. “It’s not just a great stress reliever for the competitors, but for the fans too.”

As its name suggests, the league’s skaters reside primarily in four counties: Wayne, Oakland, Livingston and Washtenaw. Several metro-Detroit communities are represented, including Livonia, Farmington Hills, Southgate and Brighton.

Roller derby players are padded up and wear skates designed for the sport
Roller derby players are padded up and wear skates designed for the sport

Diverse and inclusive

While the skaters’ backgrounds are often diverse, once their wheels hit the hardwood, an uncommon bond is forged amidst the hockey-like checking, scrums and strategic maneuvering.

“I love that I’ve met so many friends from different walks of life that I never would have met otherwise,” said Tenika Straughter, whose nickname is “Killa”. “Once I start skating and I get on the track, my adrenaline gets pumping and it makes me happy.”

Straughter said the cardio workout she gets during one two-hour practice is 100 times better than if she was competing in a less-intense hobby like, let’s say, bowling.

“Oh my gosh, when I leave here after a practice, I’m drenched in sweat,” she said, smiling.

Kinney admitted it took her a while to learn all of the sport’s rules, the most important being that teams are awarded points when their jammer (the skater wearing a helmet adorned with a star) breaks through the opposing team’s wall of blockers.

Each one-hour bout’s winning squad usually compiles approximately 300 points.

“My first couple of practices, it was kind of like controlled chaos,” she said, chuckling. “But the more you play, the quicker you figure everything out.”

The Sideshow is coached by the husband-and-wife duo of Joe “Ringmaster” and Mykel “Zaftig” Schultz, who live in Milford. Mykel and two friends — Lynn “Kahntract Killer” Kahn and Meg “Wicked Beddy” Christie — founded the league in 2017.

Joe Ringmaster Schultz officiates during a recent Sideshow practice
Joe Ringmaster Schultz officiates during a recent Sideshow practice

Along with serving as a coach, Joe Schultz is a roller derby official, with over 200 bouts under his belt.

He said there is one aspect of the sport that would no doubt surprise a first-time observer.

“I think they’d be shocked by how rough it is,” he said. “There is a lot of checking, like hockey, and a lot of other contact that falls just short of punching. You’ll see a lot of injuries — my wife has broken her ankle twice — and a couple of skaters had to sit out at a match I officiated in Lansing this month because they hit their head too many times.”

Overall, though, serious injuries aren’t commonplace, he added.

Schultz said new members to the program are required to reach an established skill level so their risk of injury is decreased.

Once the skates and pads are off, the atmosphere is extremely chill, Sideshow players emphasized.

“We share a very cool bond,” said Straughter. “We have get-togethers — we just had a Halloween potluck — and we’re all good friends. When you’re out on the track, it gets a little rough, but, hey, everybody wants to win.”

Sideshow players stretch following a fun and physical practice
Sideshow players stretch following a fun and physical practice

Schultz said the team is always accepting new players. There is a $10 fee for single-practice drop-in participants and a $45 fee if they’d prefer to pay up front for a month.

“We have equipment new players can borrow to see if they like it before they go out and spend $200 on their own,” Schultz said. “The only thing they need to bring is a mouth guard.”

If you are interested in giving roller derby a shot, visit the QCRD Facebook page and message Schultz.

If you enjoy camaraderie, contact and competition, you won’t be sorry.
If you have an idea for a feature article for, please contact Ed Wright at 734-664-4657 or

Ed Wright

Related post

Leave a Reply