By Michael J Weigand
Photos by Melissa Muehlbauer
It’s a scene straight out of a 1970s movie. A group of colorfully dressed women in helmets and padding racing around a flat track trying to knock each other on their behinds. It’s also one of the hottest tickets in town.
The Fargo Moorhead Derby Girls started in 2008 with modest goals.
“We just wanted to put people in the seats and be able to pay the bills,” says Dawn Mertz who is also known by her Derby Girl name “D’niiied.”
The Derby Girls held their first bout on Nov. 7 with no idea what they were getting into.
“I remember being backstage and the other girls kept looking out, watching the stands fill up,” says Nicole Guidry aka XSASSerbate. “We were all so nervous and excited at the same time.”
In all, 1,300 people showed up at the Fargo Civic Center to watch the Derby Girls in their inaugural run. Three-hundred had to be turned away at the door.
“We never could have imagined that happening,” says Mertz.
The Civic Center was understaffed for the event and extra police had to be called in. Also, the concession stands ran out of beer, and one of the girls ended up flagging down a Budweiser truck in the street to buy additional alcohol.
Love paved the way
The Derby Girls success continued into further matches, along with more sellouts. In fact, the Derby Girls have sold out every bout since their first. Before the Derby Girls, the Civic Center had not sold out an event in more than 10 years.
“With the popularity we’ve experienced, people ask us why we don’t skate in the Fargodome,” Guidry says. “We’d rather sell out than not fill the dome.”
The success of the Derby Girls is one that was paved with hard work and love.
“I would call it a miracle story,” says Guidry.
Several of the Derby Girls put their own money into the fees and costs associated with starting the league.
“We didn’t want to take anyone’s money,” says Guidry. “The people involved with this really wanted it to happen. There’s a lot of love that has gone into this. People think there’s some secret owner who pays for everything, and there isn’t.”
The Derby Girls held several fundraisers in order to help raise money for start-up costs, including bake sales, garage sales and even a topless carwash.
“The carwash was funny,” says Guidry. “What we did was we would wash the bottom of cars for free. The top was extra. That was a fun day. The cops even got called after they heard it was ‘topless.’ It was all guys who showed up except for one mom with her son, which was kind of weird.”
Giving back to the community
The Derby Girls are a not-for-profit organization. They don’t make any money for the training, work and effort they put into their bouts. The money made at bouts is cycled back into the Fargo-Moorhead community.
“We use the money that we need to cover the costs and fees associated with putting on bouts, but all the rest is given to local charities,” says Mertz. “The girls pick a different charitable cause each time.”
Some of the charitable causes the Derby Girls have donated to include the Dorothy Day food pantry in Moorhead and the F-M Humane Society. Proceeds are sometimes given to more personal causes. For instance, the money raised for one bout was given to help one of the Derby Girls’ mothers, who was battling a brain tumor.
“The Derby Girls are all about the Fargo-Moorhead community, and really they’re all about downtown,” says Guidry.
“It’s bringing a lot of business downtown,” says Keith Gordon, Guidry’s boyfriend who is what’s known as a ‘derby widow.’
The Derby Girls frequently stay at the Howard Johnson Inn downtown, and host after parties at different bars downtown each time they have a bout. Fans 21 and older are invited to the parties and encouraged to meet and greet the girls.
“We’re all about the fans,” says Guidry.
A family friendly sport
On the surface, roller derby may be seen a women’s sport, but Guidry emphasizes the role that the women’s husbands and boyfriends play.
“There are a lot of guys involved,” says Guidry. “Everyone’s family is so supportive, and they help this happen.”
“I see it as a sisterhood of women trying to better themselves and each other,” Mertz says.
“Really, we want this to be as family friendly as it can be,” says Gordon. “This is an aggressive contact sport and we don’t want it to lose its edge, but we want it to be something that everyone can enjoy.”
Hopes for the future
Guidry and Mertz both add that they would like to see roller derby in Fargo expand. They hope the FM Derby Girls will one day be recognized by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association and also hope that roller derby will one day be included with other extreme sports, perhaps on a national stage such as the X-games.
The FM Derby Girls have two more home bouts this season: April 25 and May 22. Tickets cost $12 if you purchase them at the Fargo Civic Center box office, which is open from noon to 4 p.m. An additional $5 service fee is charged if tickets are purchased through Ticketmaster.