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Maryland Roller Derby Team Rallies For 'Whip It'

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The biggest movie this weekend was "Zombieland." It took in about $25 million at the box office. Drew Barrymore's directorial debut "Whip It" made a fraction of that, but the film was killer with one demographic: roller derby fans. The movie follows Ellen Page as she becomes a member of an Austin, Texas team, the Hurl Scouts, and that brought real roller derby teams out in force.

Zoe Chace caught up with the Mason-Dixon Roller Vixens at the theater.

ZOE CHACE: Robin Weegan(ph) and Amanda Kerstetter(ph) are accosting people in line on their way to see "Whip It" at the Valley Mill Mall in Hagerstown, Maryland.

Unidentified Woman: Hey guys, do you like chicks and men who wear fishnets? You should come see us.

Unidentified Man: Sure.

Unidentified Woman: Yeah.

CHACE: They're passing out flyers, hoping the movie drums up local interest in their team. Amanda's in a tutu. Robin's in rainbow tights. They're explaining roller derby to a group of guys who have never heard of it. They informed the guys that roller derby's all lady.

Unidentified Woman: Rolling around, beating each other up. It's good entertainment.

CHACE: Players race around a track on roller skates and occasionally knock each other out of the way to get ahead. They dress campy, a ton of makeup and sassy pantyhose, and they use pseudonyms.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHACE: I can't say Amanda's over the radio, but Robin goes by Switchbladie(ph). Sydney Harbaugh(ph) goes by Liz Dexic.

Ms. SYDNEY HARBAUGH (Mason-Dixon Roller Vixens): Mostly we get a new audience because people still - we've been here two years and people still don't know that there's derby in Hagerstown.

CHACE: There's about 20 derby girls here to see the movie tonight. Liz Dexic heads to the box office. She's got a reflector roller skate the size of an apple hanging around her neck.

Ms. HARBAUGH: Can I use a card? Okay. Can I get a ticket for "Whip It?"

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHACE: The theater feels like it's chockfull of Mason-Dixon Vixens, including captain Fanny Harmher.

Ms. KATIE LEATHERMAN (Captain, Mason-Dixon Roller Vixens): I do feel bad for the other people that just came to watch the movie. We've kind of taken over and I really don't think they're going to get any peace. Well, they'll see what roller derby is really about.

CHACE: Not sure if the team is winning any hearts and minds here. Poli G. Gammy's throwing popcorn at Liz Dexic.

POLI G. GAMMY: No necking.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHACE: And even after it starts, Cykosis and Fanny Harmher can't stop themselves from debating the film's accuracy.

Ms. AMBER MURRAY (Mason-Dixon Roller Vixens): Well, you have to boil them outside and fit it around your teeth so you couldn't (unintelligible).

Ms. LEATHERMAN: …because Shannon forgot her mouth guard one time and she wore mine.

Ms. MURRAY: That's gross.

CHACE: By day Fanny Harmher is Ms. Leatherman a first-grade teacher. Cykosis is Amber Murray, a stay-at-home mom with three kids.

(Soundbite of applause)

CHACE: But they cheer like a class of eight-graders at the end. They totally love the movie. Really, they love everything that has to do with roller derby. And for Cykosis, it's been transformative.

Ms. MURRAY: I was a very shy person. Just very, you know, I've been home for 13 years with my kids. I have a 13-year-old son, so I was real sheltered and real at home, and I found this group of girls that I always had the voice down in me. It just was brought out, and hallelujah for that because, you know, it's time. It's time.

CHACE: It's time for roller derby to take off in Hagerstown. Cykosis thinks they'll be a "Whip It" bump at the team's next home bout on November 8th.

For NPR News, I'm Zoe Chace.

(Soundbite of song, "Lollipop")

CHORDETTES (Band): (Singing) Lollipop, lollipop, lolli, lollipop, lollipop…

MONTAGNE: There are about 400 roller derby teams around the world. As for the cast members of "Whip It," they got their training in the rough and tumble sport from one of the L.A. Derby Doll. Her pseudonym is Axles of Evil, but here in Los Angeles she's better known to public radio listeners as host of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED for member station KPCC - that would be our own Alex Cohen.

(Soundbite of song, "Lollipop")

CHORDETTES: (Singing) Call my baby lollipop. Tell you why. His kiss is sweeter than an apple pie and when he does his shaky rockin' dance. Man, I haven't…

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Zoe Chace explains the mysteries of the global economy for NPR's Planet Money. As a reporter for the team, Chace knows how to find compelling stories in unlikely places, including a lollipop factory in Ohio struggling to stay open, a pasta plant in Italy where everyone calls in sick, and a recording studio in New York mixing Rihanna's next hit.
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