Getting to know the Fort Wayne Derby Girls: Fort Wayne’s competitive women’s sport

When you think about winter sports in Fort Wayne, Komets hockey might come to mind. But they’re not the only team that draws crowds to the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum this season.

The Fort Wayne Derby Girls are another team offering family-friendly winter entertainment. But for a long time, they’ve been misunderstood, says Kellie Adkins, who has played for the Derby Girls for the last nine years. Kellie Adkins

When Adkins, a.k.a “Adkins Riot,” first started on the team, it was like most other roller derby leagues around the country at the time.

“I wore fishnets; I wore skirts; I wore game-day makeup,” Adkins says. “I had a derby name, and that was pretty common.”

Now, she says policies have changed and for good reason. The sport is becoming more athletic, and the girls are ditching the fishnets to make it a more family-friendly environment.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions about fighting and old-school roller derby where they’re throwing each other over the railing,” Adkins says. “A lot of people have seen Whip It, and that’s what they think we do, but it’s not at all what we do.”

Instead, Adkins says roller derby is a continuously evolving sport, and it’s the only competitive women’s sport in Fort Wayne.

A Fort Wayne jammer attempts to break through a block.

Flat track roller derby is an hour-long event, broken up into 30-minute halves. Each team has 15 players, and the objective is relatively simple. Five players from each team are on the floor at a time, skating around its perimeter while one point scorer (or jammer) on each team attempts to lap the opposing team’s players as many times as they can.

The four remaining players on each team are blockers, who try to stop the jammer from passing them. One blocker on each team also doubles as a pivot or backup jammer.

Adkins says points are scored when jammers pass opposing blockers within a 2-minute timeframe, called a jam. When the first jammer gets through the opposing team, they don’t get a point. Instead, they become what’s called the lead jammer, allowing them to call off the jam at any time for a competitive advantage.

Each jam in roller derby is about two minutes long, or until the lead jammer calls it off.

But while the rules of roller derby may be foreign to some, you don’t have to fully understand the sport to enjoy attending it. In fact, keeping up with all the changes in roller derby rules is an ongoing challenge even for regular attendees because the rules change each year, Adkins says. So you learn as you go.

One thing that makes the Fort Wayne Derby Girls special for Adkins is that its younger divisions introduce players to the sport at a young age and help them grow with it. These younger divisions are co-ed, too. There is the Tootsie Rollers for ages 5 to 8 and the Fort Wayne Derby Brats for ages 9 to 17.

“The wonderful thing about roller derby is you know women who wanted to be empowered, and women who empower one another started this modern day sport,” Adkins says. “Now we’re passing it onto the younger generations.”

Teams like the Tootsie Rollers introduce local girls and boys to roller derby at a young age.

Adkins says the team’s inclusiveness also makes it special. They accept women of all body types and backgrounds.

“We just want to know that you want to skate,” she explains. And this confidence and support helps young women grow strong. 

“They have a sport in which we raise each other up, even when it’s something as aggressive as knocking each other down,” she says. “The Tootsie Rollers play at our halftime, so they are playing to packed bleachers with upwards of a thousand people that are all banging on the bleachers and cheering for them.”

Fans crowd the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum for roller derby.

But despite the support from their fans, the challenges of being the city’s only competitive women’s sports team are still there, Adkins says.

“I don’t feel like we’re taken as seriously,” she explains. “People think that we should be back doing our jobs or with our families.” Having a mom on the Derby Girls team helps young women grow strong.

She says people have different expectations of women than men in professional sports.

“No one expects us to be strong,” Adkins says. “They don’t expect us to be laying each other out like the men do.”

This difference is also reflected in local coverage of the Derby Girls’ events.

“We don’t have our scores posted,” Adkins says. “Nobody treats us like any of the other sports, and we’re one of the major ones that play in the Coliseum. That’s been an eye-opener—that people just don’t cover us the same way that they would a men’s sport.”

Instead of talking about the game or the athleticism of its players, stories about the Derby Girls tend to revolve around their appearance or the charity work they do, Adkins says.

Since May 2006, the team has donated more than $60,000 to local women’s and children’s charities.

Adkins says philanthropy was one of the missions of the team’s founding members. Today, they accept applications from community charities, and four are chosen each year to receive $500 at a game, as well as a booth to interact with the public.

But the significance of the team’s charity work goes beyond numbers because the Fort Wayne Derby Girls team is solely run by volunteers, Adkins says.

“What’s overlooked about our charity work is that we don’t have to do charity,” she explains. “We could be putting this money back into our skaters. We could be buying them helmets and skates and paying them travel money, and not a single skater has ever questioned it. We are investing in the community because it supports us, and we want to be there to support the community back.”

The Derby Girls donate $500 to four charities each season.

To keep giving back, Adkins says one of the biggest challenges the Derby Girls have had to overcome is recruitment. The startup costs of playing roller derby were initially too high for many players between equipment, dues, and insurance.

So over the years, the team has started lending out gear to players until they can afford it and discounting their dues in order to grow.

Overall, Adkins thinks the biggest thing the Fort Wayne community and its visitors can do to support the Derby Girls is attending their games or volunteering with them.

“Tell five friends about us,” she says.

Follow the Derby Girls

Follow the Fort Wayne Derby Girls on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FWDerbyGirls/

The Fort Wayne Derby Girl’s next game is at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 3 in Cincinnati. Their season opener game is scheduled at 6 p.m. on Feb. 23 at the Coliseum. Their season runs until May 18.

For more information, fortwaynederbygirls.com/events/.

Read more articles by Sarah Ratledge.

Sarah Ratledge is a writer from metro-Detroit. She came to Fort Wayne in 2017 to attend school at Indiana Tech where she is working toward a bachelor’s degree in Communication. She is a pitcher on the school’s softball team. She loves to write and hopes to continue long after graduation. 
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