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Roller Derby and Ladies Arm Wrestling Go Head to Head

Last month, the Big Easy Roller Girls (BERG) kicked off the season on their home turf at UNO’s Human Performance Center. While a frequent derby attendee may expect the Pussyfooter cheerleaders or house band to front the halftime show, this bout went beyond its typical bounds. NOLAW (New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling) stopped in to brawl in between halves, marking the first collaboration between these two alternative sporting leagues.

This Saturday is once again game night for both organizations, but in different locations.


In honor of these head-to-head events, NoDef sat down with girls from both squads for a BERG/Brawl face-off. The groups question each other about their differences, and find they have more in common than they may have thought. These ladies have quite the penchant for being brutal, and are quite alright with that.



NOLAW: So, BERG, how do you see yourself fitting into New Orleans?


BERG: I think we fit in because it’s very organic, just like much of what makes New Orleans; we’re sort of ‘balls-out’, just like the town. It’s the nature of roller derby and how we are as individuals, and as an alternative sport. It has a unique flare to it. Arm wrestling and derby go kind of hand in hand, because it’s all about self expression, and group expression, which I think totally fits in with New Orleans- it’s Krewes, it’s that ‘do whatcha wanna' mentality…it just fits.


NODEF: Do you feel like there is an alt-sports scene in New Orleans, and do you feel a part of it?


NOLAW: I don’t think there is a community, per say, it’s really just about alternate venues of expression. People in NOLA, especially in the south, are really into “community” and “group”…there are a lot of transplants in NOLA now after the storm, and so traditional neighborhood affiliations have been infiltrated with new residents. Creating a sporting league is a great way to create a de facto community. Since we’re not all from here, this is a way to have a physical tie to the city.


BERG Talks Derby by NOLA Defender


NODEF: You also both have National affiliates- what’s the relationship with the National Branch, and are there struggles grafting that national model?


BERG: Our National branch keeps us legit- we need that national WFTDA (Women’s Flat Track Derby Association) sponsorship, as an outlet to resources for the league.


NOLAW: We actually just started a national organization. We’re the opposite in that we had all of these sister leagues in different cities first, and now we’re deciding how we want the national charter to read, what we want to be provided resource-wise, etc. We also have a different ethos than some of the other leagues- many of which are more affluent, an older crowd. So there’s been a back and forth in finding our way towards a coherent national group. The different sectors do have different priorities, so communication and compromise is key in confronting this disconnect.


BERG: WFDTA has standardized rules, but y’all don’t- how would you ever have an inner league championship, when each city plays differently?

NOLAW: The other ones are a little more polished, more professional. We want to find a way to create one overall set of guidelines, but we kind of like to fly by the seat of our pants, are you surprised?


NOLAW loves buzzwords by NOLA Defender

BERG: How many people are involved, and is there training?


NOLAW: There are eight wrestlers per Brawl, and there’s no training…at all. We are the epitome of an amateur sport. There’s no practice or knowledge needed coming into it, which is why it’s so wild half of the time.


BERG: What makes it wild? I mean, we think our shit is wild, so how do you define that?


NOLAW: Y’all are wild, as an NFL game is- really high energy, high impact, but you have some sort of official framework around that. We’re more like a pickup game in the back of a schoolyard. You know, when you see someone do something really impressive in roller derby, it’s due to skill, agility, talent. When you see someone suddenly pull ahead in arm wrestling, most of the time you’re just like, how did that just happen?!


BERG: But you guys do have some great costumes.


NOLAW: And you guys have good derby names (case in point, interviewer/ee ‘Joan Couger Menstralcramp’…see for fill national derby name roster), but y’all don’t really get dressed up.


BERG: Oh, no, we do- we get sexed up in our ‘boutfits’! But yeah our nicknames are great, we’re really waiting for someone to take the name ‘Megan Groceries’.

NOLAW: We have names too, and that’s all we’ll know the wrestlers as, but only for this one night only, as these ridiculous personas, and then we never see each other again.


BERG: It’s the same with us, as close as we are, we don’t even know each other’s real names!


NODEF: NOLAW, How heavily do you rely on people being at a bar, and knowing that drinking is involved.


NOLAW: I think it would only affect the betting- people love it drunk or sober. It’s fun to watch it’s fun to do. It would just mean that people didn’t get wasted and throw $20 at a wrestler because they like their look.


Getting into NOLAW by NOLA Defender


BERG: In terms of your entertainment value, it seems limited, for if there are too many people, and you can’t see the two competitors sitting at a table, what’s the point?


NOLAW: Visibility is our biggest problem. We keep switching venues to find something that can accommodate the crowds. Maison (on Frenchmen) was good, because they had the second tier balcony, and Rusty Nail will be good, because we’ll be outdoors on the patio. But yeah, we need a stadium!


BERG: Amen.

NOLAW: It's true that visibility is an issue for us, but it seems that the level of commitment y’all put into Derby may force you to sacrifice other elements of your personal life. How do you reconcile that?


BERG: You do it because you love to play. It’s like your child, you know, you may not have the energy, but you must have the energy, because you have to do it. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what we even did before Derby, but it’s impossible to imagine not skating.


NOLAW: But it must create some serious bonding…


BERG: Oh man, we would break someone’s legs for any one of our girls. We’re not just friends, we’re teammates, and we’ve all got heart. Some of the women have kids, some are in full-time school, some work full-time jobs, and these working moms get out there on the track, and they’re scary, man. We can’t imagine y’all get as burnt out.

NOLAW: Yeah, I mean we’re not playing a physical sport… we do have meetings every two weeks, but that's probably how often you guys get to sleep.


BERG: It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.


NOLAW: How do dudes fit in to Derby?


BERG: It’s sink or swim baby! No, we have male referees, so there are male skaters on the track, but no players. And for the boyfriends…they’re Mr. Cougar, Mr. Slaughter, we don’t care about their real names either…I mean if you bring your boyfriend to the after-party, he’s really just there to take you home afterwards. There’s a phenomenon known as the Derby Widow; either you join derby with your partner, or, you break yeah, it’s sink or swim.


BERG as Role Models by NOLA Defender


NODEF: Do you guys feel competition with each other? Why are your events on the same night?


NOLAW: No, we have a lot in common, we’ve even had BERG girls sign up to wrestle, and we’ve served as the entertainment for their halftime show.


BERG: And we’ll collaborate again…maybe an exclusively Derby roster at the next Brawl?

NOLAW: We're down...this city’s definitely big enough, and quirky enough, for the both of us.


*BERG's bout rolls at 6:00PM, at the UNO Human Performance Center, and NOLAW's Brawl starts swinging at 8:30PM at the Rusty Nail. Katie Hunter Lowrey, a participant of today’s interview, and member of both BERG and NOLAW- will be at the Brawl this Saturday night- where will you be?

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