By STEVE EIGHINGER Herald-Whig Staff Writer
About five minutes into my first taste of women's roller derby, three words were running through my mind.
"This is great!"
I was part of a standing-room-only crowd of about 500 at Scotties Skateland for the debut of Quincy's Dark River Derby Coalition and its bout with the St. Louis Arch Rivals. Billed as "Red, White and Bruised" last Saturday, the event was a perfect accent to the weekend-long Fourth of July celebration.
While many local sports fans are worried about Albert Pujols' wrist, the NFL lockout or the Quincy Gems, I now have some new sports heroes to follow. They're not household names -- yet -- but remember these monikers:
Little Miss Vicious.
Those girls are with the Dark River Derby Coalition, who didn't win their opening bout against a seasoned St. Louis squad but earned the appreciation of a fan base that -- I predict -- will continue to grow by leaps and bounds.
Not one person left the slam-bang opener until the end. That's a testament to the potential entertainment value of this product. Dark River got blistered 177-59 on the scoreboard, but won over the hundreds of fans on hand, including those in the "suicide seating" nearest the track.
It was obvious the Quincy girls were in over their heads and had no match for St. Louis stars like Ryno-Might, Rock'm Block'm Fembot, Shell Soxx or The Oregon Betrayal, but what they lacked in experience, they more than made up for with sheer determination.
And the fans loved it.
This was a night when the Dark River girls and their fans both learned a lot. It was the first live action for most of the Coalition, and the first time most of the fans had seen roller derby up close and personal. Once those in attendance --myself included -- got a hang of how the scoring and penalties worked, the action became a seamless flow of jammers, blockers, elbows and tumbling bodies.
I sensed the Quincy fans truly enjoyed this, and all of those I talked with realized the Dark River girls will have a building period to go through before they can compete with some of the region's established franchises. It didn't take long for the love affair between local fans and players to develop, which was evident when the Coalition found itself down 51-5 a few minutes into the bout. Moments later, Felony O'Connor, who has already mastered the art of playing to the crowd, busted her way to a four-point jam and the place went crazy.
(By the way, Felony's "number" on the back of her Coalition jersey is "20 to Life.")
A roller derby match consists of two 30-minute halves with a running clock that stops only for injury. Including the pre-bout hoopla and halftime entertainment, a trip to the roller derby lasted about 90 minutes. Action started a few minutes after 8, and I was in my car about 9:45.
I can see a great future for the Coalition. A few years down the road, there could even be Dark River collectibles. Better get that Felony O'Connor rookie card as soon as it's available.
The Coalition returns to action Aug. 13 when it hosts the Bloomington Misfits.
I can't wait.