Roller derby: fun for girls and boys

By Marissa Novel

After its conception in 2009, the southern Illinois girls roller derby team can say hello to competing against its newer brother team.

The Brigade of Handsome Gentlemen roller derby team made its debut and played its sister team, Southern Illinois Roller Girls, Saturday at the Pavilion in Marion.


The brigade, created in January, is the area’s first all-male roller derby team. Seven southern Illinoisan men competed with seven skaters from Springfield and Bowling Green, Ky.

Matt Newhart, the brigade’s vice president, said male derby teams tend to take a few years to begin, as it is a typically female-dominated sport.

“It’s really amazing that we could get this many people together this fast,” Newhart said.

Newhart, also known as “Mattaconda” and “Spicy Crazy Legs,” said derby is a lifestyle.

“You wake up thinking about it,” he said. “You plan your vacation from work around derby. … We just love the hell out of it.”

Newhart, 39, of Alto Pass, said he was introduced to the sport by his girlfriend, Devin Kauffman or “AK-40 Devin” of the girl’s team. He said she tried out for the team two weeks after they attended their first game as fans in 2010.

“In the middle of the game she looked at me and she said ‘I have to do this,’” he said. “The only thing I could say was ‘Let’s go buy you some skates.'”


Newhart said derby helps him cope with personal issues, including divorce and unemployment. He said it also keeps him in shape and remain a “cool dad” to his children.

Derby is a common love for all who play, regardless of their team or gender.

“It’s better than therapy,” said Dana Newsom, a skater for the girl’s team who is also known as “Vindictive.”

Newsom, a 33-year-old registered nurse from Marion, said derby is a stress-reliever from her profession. Newsom said her derby friends have become her support system since she began skating with them in January.

“I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” she said.

Amanda Nelson, captain of the girl’s team, said the team’s camaraderie trumps the need to win.

“We’re really focused on bringing everybody up as a team, versus those skaters who are amazing and fluffing their ego,” she said.

Nelson, also known as “Splatter,” said prioritizing star players makes others feel replaceable and lowers team morale. She said the team dynamic has not always been this way, but has developed during the past year.

“It’s like another family; giant semi-dysfunctional family in the sense that every family has their dysfunction,” she said. “But you find the beauty within that.”

Nelson said all proceeds from the competition will benefit the Southern Illinois AIDS Holiday Project.

Marissa Novel can be reached at , on Twitter @marissanovelDE or at 536-3311 ext. 268.