Blood on the trucks

Some of my favorite '80s movies featured Jean-Claude Van Damme as the lone kung-fu warrior pummeling his enemies to death in a ring surrounded by howling mobs calling for blood.

And now on one glorious day per month, I get to be a part of that mob.

But instead of watching a French musclehead attempt to act, I get to see women's roller derby action at Roller Odyssey.

I make no bones about my perpetual fear of change. I have watched my share of roller derby since being reintroduced two months ago by a friend.

The Southern Oregon chapter had a friendly competitive edge that didn't spill over into the cheap theatrics that plague some bigger-market roller derbies.

Some leagues stage fights between girls and incorporate theme costumes for teams. I'm not into that so much. I grew up a huge professional wrestling fan and would prefer those memories of the Junkyard Dog and Ric Flair remain firmly rooted in my childhood.

Our girls take a meat-and-potatoes approach to the sport, which suits the Southern Oregon sensibility, if I may be so bold.

We skate. We hit hard. We go home and do it again next month.

You can understand my fear when I learned Roller Odyssey would host Bend's Renegade Roller Girls. Coupled with the slight uptick in ticket prices, I was worried my beloved niche sport would go all corporate.

My stomach sank when I saw that for the first time in the Southern Oregon Roller Derby, men were allowed on the teams.

I'm not going to apologize. I don't want to see men roller derby. Football season starts in a little more than a month. I can watch sweaty dudes crash into each other then.

Roller derby, for me, belongs — and always will — to the ladies. Rarely are women's team sports so compelling to watch as when a group of hard-nosed women form a pivot to push through their lead jammer, oftentimes sending her to certain doom when the defense is able to smash through and introduce her to a wall of pain.

The Bend team featured two men. The sight of them filled me with a Tanya Harding-esque rage that nearly sent me into a club-wielding fury directed toward them both.

The dudes were good skaters, but they didn't dominate our girls.

The Bend team as a whole showed a more balanced attack that seemed to get in our Derby Queens' heads as the first bout wore on.

There were a few fights — I'm not naive enough to believe that there wasn't a bit of staging going on at times.

One of them, which occurred a mere four feet from where I was sitting, looked rather vicious.

Piranha, one of our best jammers, was rounding a turn when she was either hit in the back or smacked in the head. She went down hard and was tackled by a Renegade.

The fight was on. At one point it appeared one of the Renegade's fists collided with Piranha's face.

This prompted one of our girls to leave the bench area and join in the melee.

The awesomeness that ensued was worth the price of admission, as it took members of both teams to separate the warring parties.

The most interesting aspect of the night was our decision to play mostly by the Bend team's rules, which allow a more aggressive style of play.

Their league allows soccer tackles and a good amount of elbowing.

For the most part, our girls gave it as well as they took it, but it did seem to wear on both teams after a while, though I did hear a number of our girls talk about how much they liked the new rules.

Our skating ability, which improves with every bout, it seems, kept the match close, but we weren't able to close the gap. We lost by a few points, but were far from embarrassed by the more experienced team.

According to the Queen Mother, the Southern Oregon Roller Derby organizer-in-chief, many of our girls are fairly new to skating and it will take time before we become the well-oiled killing machine we are destined to be.

I hope the Queen Mother will ensure more bouts with other leagues. There are rumors that we might have our eye on teams in the Sacramento area.

If so, I pity the fools.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail

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