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Sunday, November 18 , 2018, 8:47 am | Fog/Mist 52º


Roller Derby Elbows Its Way into Santa Barbara

The Brawlin' Betties get down and derby in a retro rumble on wheels

If you haven’t heard anything about roller derby since the 1970s, brace yourself.

As dozens of women — dolled up in makeup, fishnets and skates — appeared in front of several hundred spectators, thunderous applause ensued, meaning only one thing:

Roller derby is back in Santa Barbara, in a big, big way.

Santa Barbara’s first all-female, flat track roller derby team, the Brawlin’ Betties, proved its prowess Saturday at Earl Warren Showgrounds. The underdogs had been training almost four months for their match against a well-established squad from Ventura, the Derby Darlins’. The recession-priced $5 admission and strong word of mouth attracted hundreds of local fans, including retro rockers, bikers, friends and families, as diverse as the colorful characters on the team.

Anyone who’s watched any amount of roller derby knows the value of a good name. The Betties had to face Ventura players with such formidable names like “Vesuvius” and “Cloberella.” But in the end, the Betties were not to be reckoned with and eventually won their match against the Darlins’, 80-69.

Roller derby was forged in the Depression era, as a form of cheap entertainment, and peaked in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s as a nationally televised sport. After the din of Saturday’s match died down, several of the Betties gave some insight into why it seems to be catching on Santa Barbara.

One of the Bettie’s coaches, who goes by Dita de los Muertos, has been playing for three years but started the team about four months ago. She said she feel as if the group’s growing popularity can be attributed to the fact that it gives women a chance to be more aggressive than they’d be able to be in other sports.

“A lot of these girls couldn’t play soccer because they got too many red cards,” she said.

“There’s not a lot of female, full-contact sports,” she said. “It’s like football for women. They can get out there and be as aggressive as they want to be.”

She said prior experience is not required. Newbies are paired up with established players, who can show them the ropes until they’re ready to join the team on the track in practice.  Anyone wanting to get involved should e-mail her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

The team practices at Earl Warren twice a week. Its next tournament is Aug. 15 in Visalia.

One of the players, who goes by the name Stella, says she started skating with the girls at the end of February, but didn’t have any experience before joining the team.

“It’s the best group of girls ever,” she said. The sport’s aggression and the camaraderie of the women are the reasons she participates.

“There’s a certain type of girl that you think about when you think of Santa Barbara, so it’s cool to find some girls that you have something in common with,” she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). This story includes reports from Noozhawk contributor L. Paul Mann.

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