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The little team that could: Dark River Derby Coalition skates toward success in five years

Posted: Aug. 26, 2015 10:03 am Updated: Sep. 9, 2015 1:25 pm

By STEVE EIGHINGER
Staff Writer | 217-221-3377
seighinger@whig.com | @StevieDirtWHIG

QUINCY -- Their derby names are marvelous, their athletic abilities impressive and their concern for the community inspirational.

It's been a wild and crazy five-year journey for the Dark River Derby Coalition, Quincy's nationally ranked women's roller derby team. It has evolved from little more than a curiosity in 2011 to a highly popular organization that is as well known off the track for its charitable heart as it is on the track for its well-placed elbows and jet-like jammers.

All proceeds from every DRDC home bout go to a Quincy area nonprofit, ranging from food pantries to humane services. That was a goal from the team's inception, along with building a nationally recognized roller derby program.

The DRDC is successful on both fronts.

"It's amazing to see how far we've come," said Jessica Patel, known as Patella Crusher.

Only a handful of the girls have lasted through those first five years. Being a roller derby gal is a year-round commitment to practices, bouts, bumps and bruises. Working personal and family time into the schedule can sometimes be a problem.

"Sometimes I have to miss a practice, and sometimes I bring the kids to the practice," said Heather Sommers, a 31-year-old single mother of four who has been with the DRDC since its beginning.

Sommers, known as "La Frostina," has no problem sizing up the team's first five years.

"Oh my goodness, it has been ... revolutionary," she said. "Seeing how far the team has come from that first year is incredible."

Sommers said in 2011 the DRDC had to watch YouTube videos to become familiar with drills. They now work with world-class teams from connections they have, she said.

The DRDC is affiliated with the Women's Flat Track Derby Association. When the next WFTDA rankings are released in the near future, Patel says the Quincy team will be No. 228 out of thousands of teams across the country.

The DRDC is 9-0 heading into its Aug. 29 home bout at Scotties Fun Spot, 8000 Broadway, against the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Roller Girls. Proceeds will go to the Quincy-to-Peoria St. Jude Run.

That 9-0 record is a long way from a 1-8 finish in that inaugural season of 2011.

"We are no longer recreational. We are a professional skating team," Patel said. "It's a major commitment. We practice two or three times a week, and there are scrimmages along with all of the bouts.

"We're like the little team that could."

Sommers has also started a junior roller derby team, which will some day occupy most of her time. Any thought of retirement is likely at least a few years down the road. She would like to play for Team USA.

"Some women stay involved in roller derby until they are 40 or 50, and I still have goals," Sommers said.

Donnie Bloyd, known as "Bloyd On D Track," is the DRDC coach. A list of all team members and other information can be found on the DRDC website at www.darkriverderby.com.

"This team is like another family for us," Patel said.

Oh, and something else about the roller derby.

"It's a blast," Sommers said.

Season Records

2015: 9-0 (going into Aug. 29 bout vs. Cedar Rapids Roller Girls)

2014: 9-2

2013: 9-4

2012: 5-3

2011: 1-8