By Angela Hernandez
LOGOS OPINIONS EDITOR
Only a derby girl would be able to juggle two kids, a husband, and school all while looking fierce on a pair of skates along with having to be an unbiased referee for the sport.
Lancia Stewart, a senior majoring in English at the University of the Incarnate Word, entered the world of roller derby her last year in the Air Force after seeing a sign advertising tryouts while stationed in Augusta, Ga.
“I wanted to try something new, and roller derby was that thing,” Stewart said. “The concept of a contact sport that depended on team participation didn’t seem unfamiliar to me since I used to play rugby, even though I wasn’t that good at skating.”
After retiring from the Air Force with 23 years’ service, Stewart enrolled at UIW.
“I loved my military career and the people I served with, but it was time to concentrate on my family and personal goals,” Stewart said.
Stewart said she decided to attend UIW because her mother got her nursing degree from the school when it was still known as Incarnate Word College. Stewart will graduate with a bachelor’s in English in May and has been accepted to a Master of Arts program in Technical Communication at Texas Tech University in Lubbock this fall. But she still plans to stay on her skates and participate in roller derby.
Stewart, better-known as “Chop Stewie” on the derby circuit, quickly understood roller derby was her passion and joined the Alamo City Roller Girls. Though the physicality of the sport was getting to her, she still wanted to be a participant in the sport.
“My body wasn’t taking it and instead of giving up altogether, I decided to become an official. If there is one thing derby has taught me, it would be that all you need is skates and drive.”
So Stewart became a referee or “ref” in derby competition. Referees also are known as “zebras” in the world of derby due to their black-and-white striped uniform, she said.
But being a referee doesn’t mean the job on the rink is any easier.
“Zebras do everything skaters do,” Stewart said. “(Refs) aren’t any less than the skaters. If anything, referees are a finite resource. Skaters even come to us for help to become better at their craft.”
Another part of the ref’s requirement is to be completely unbiased, she pointed out.
“There are very few refs in the league so we will travel and help ref other matches, so it’s a very tight-knit community.”
The training to become a ref is the same as skaters. Everyone has to learn how to skate in the derby way: how to block, how to fall, as well as learn the rules of the sport that ensure safety and fairness at all times.
When making calls, referees need to be able to watch each skater during the
“jam” when chaos is going on in order to make the correct calls. Each practice refs want to refine their craft.
“My personal goal — as for every other ref — is to always become better on my skates. I want to be able to skate 10 laps in a minute and a half. When I’m practicing, the skaters are always cheering me on, so I try to do the same for them during practice.”
Stewart, now in her fourth year with the Alamo City Roller Girls, said the team is one big family.
“The team is super-supportive of everyone. We all understand that we have lives off the skates, like jobs, school, and family. Everyone understands that life gets hectic especially when derby is thrown into the mix.”
And their families such as hers also need to be supportive since derby is time-consuming, she said.
“We have skaters that have their spouses and significant others show up during practice. That way everyone spends time with their loved ones while doing the thing they love. My husband and kids support me. In fact my husband encourages me to get out there.”
With a growing interest in roller derby, many people are trying to find ways to become part of the community even if the physicality is too difficult, Steward said. Derby can be harsh due to the toll it can take on a person’s body; there are still ways to show your support.
“The team holds tryouts twice a year and the (starting) age is 18 and there is no age limit. We have had people of all walks of life — military, high school students, mothers, businesswomen, even breast cancer survivors,” Stewart said. “We also look for non-skating officials that can help with keeping score and helping in the penalty box. Then there are the volunteers that help organize, sell tickets and cater our events. So no matter what, there is always a way to be involved in derby.”
Roller derby can involve those interested as a spectator, volunteer, skater or “zebra.”
“The beautiful thing about roller derby is that it doesn’t take much,” Stewart said. “And there isn’t a stereotypical ‘derby girl.’ You can come from any walk of life and as long as you’re willing to put the work in, you are accepted.”
Alamo City Roller Girls will be host Saturday, April 12, to two teams from Austin at Carmack Event Center, 1948 Austin Highway, with doors opening at 5:30 p.m.
At 6, ACRG’s Las Tejanas (traveling) team will take on Austin’s Honky Tonk Heartbreakers. That game will be followed by ACRG’s Las Pistoleras (non-traveling team) vs. the Bat City Rebellion.
Presale tickets priced at $12 for adults are available through Lancia Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org
At the door, tickets are $15 for adults. Admission is $8 for children 5-10 and free for children 4 and younger.
Proceeds will help sent Las Tejanas to the Beach Brawl Roller Derby Tournament in Florida. Contributors may find more information at gofundme.com/69BWPW