'A community' on skates: FM Derby Girls kicks off 10th season with March 9 opener

Beth Ambrosio, a nine-year veteran of the FM Derby Girls, goes by her derby name, "Maulflower."  Here the team practices before its season opener bout.
Beth Ambrosio, a nine-year veteran of the FM Derby Girls, goes by her derby name, "Maulflower." Here the team practices before its season opener bout. Chris Flynn / The Forum

FARGO — For 10 years now, the women of Fargo Moorhead Derby Girls have continued to pursue a unique contact sport that is both competitive and theatrical — and they'll display their skills on skates during their season opener this weekend.

Each skater chooses a derby name that suits them. “Maulflower,” a self-described wallflower, is an almost nine-year veteran of FM Derby Girls, the league that formed in 2008. In everyday life, she’s Beth Ambrosio.

Roller derby saw a grassroots revival in the early 2000s, defying the odds as a violent, female-dominated sport consisting of vivaciously dressed players with stage names.

The group’s newest, and youngest, skater is torn between two derby names, “Smiley Cyrus” and “Smiley McGee.”

Riley Nowacki, 19, heard about roller derby from a co-worker and decided to show up to practice despite never having skated before.

“I just kinda seemed crazy that day I guess,” Nowacki said, and added that anyone can join. “Come to a bout, come to a practice, see what it’s all about.”

FM Derby Girls will go up against the Roller Derby Sugar Beaters, of Grand Forks-based Forx Roller Derby, at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 9, at the Fargo Civic Center in the team’s season 10 opener.

The Fargo Moorhead Derby Girls practice to get ready for their March 9 first bout of the season at the Fargo Civic Center. Chris Flynn / The Forum
The Fargo Moorhead Derby Girls practice to get ready for their March 9 first bout of the season at the Fargo Civic Center. Chris Flynn / The ForumChris Flynn / The Forum

They are looking for skaters and plan on setting up a “fresh meat” class in the near future that will be posted on their website at fmderbygirls.com.

“We have a lot of new faces. A lot of our players retired — life events, job changes — and others just felt they needed some time to step away,” Ambrosio said.

Those interested in joining roller derby can also follow FM Derby Girls on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/fmderbygirls for updates on upcoming classes.

The team has 10 active players now, and five are needed on the track at a time during bouts. Each roller derby bout lasts for two 30-minute halves, which are split up into two-minute jams.

“It’s really neat when someone really clicks — when they’ve been practicing with us, they know all the skills, but for the first time they’re really seeing it in action and the pieces start to fall into place,” Ambrosio said.

FMDG is entirely led by volunteers. Skaters pay dues each month to cover costs like uniforms and renting practice space.

“You see a real DIY (do-it-yourself) movement overall developing in Fargo,” she said. “We feel really fortunate that we’re able to continue.”

Riley Nowacki, 19, facing the camera, is in her first year with the Fargo Moorhead Derby Girls. Nowacki's derby name is "Smiley McGee." Here she practices with teammate "Jenni Mitts." Chris Flynn / The Forum
Riley Nowacki, 19, facing the camera, is in her first year with the Fargo Moorhead Derby Girls. Nowacki's derby name is "Smiley McGee." Here she practices with teammate "Jenni Mitts." Chris Flynn / The ForumChris Flynn / The Forum

Players on the team range in age from 19 to 45 years old. Skaters must be at least 18 to participate.

In addition to the team, there are plenty of other volunteers, including former player Carrie Wirth, or "Eileen Back."

Her passion for the sport was cut short by a severe leg injury incurred at roller derby practice.

Wirth, a former hockey player, attempted a “hockey stop” before realizing it was a big mistake.

“I just saw my whole leg bend,” she said. “It was a spiral fracture and double bone break.”

She still straps on her skates for recreational use, but no longer competes.

Jillian Coppin, or “Vanilla Jice,” is in her first year with the Fargo Moorhead Derby Girls. Chris Flynn / The Forum
Jillian Coppin, or “Vanilla Jice,” is in her first year with the Fargo Moorhead Derby Girls. Chris Flynn / The ForumChris Flynn / The Forum

“We do try to minimize injuries,” Maulflower said on the McFeely Mess Podcast by requiring padding like helmets, knee pads, elbow pads and mouthguards. “We also teach our players how to fall safely and how to deliver a hit safely.”

Another new skater, Jillian Coppin, or “Vanilla Jice,” was hesitant to join out of fear of injury. She would ask, “Do I want to jump into something like that as an adult?”

But she took the plunge anyway and will play her first-ever bout Saturday at the season opener.

Overall, the people are what have kept the league active over the years, according to the players.

“The girls are really great, there’s a big social part of it outside of practices,” Coppin said.

“It’s the people; the people are the best. It’s a community,” Wirth added.

2019 FM Derby Girls Roster

  • Head Coach: Thugz
  • Bench Coach: Cal Cutta
  • ArtaChoker
  • Abby
  • The UnderBreakHer
  • Mandie Stroyher
  • The Reaper
  • Maulflower
  • Sarin Dipity
  • Jenni Mitts
  • Pete
  • Vanilla Jice
  • Smiley McGee
  • AmErica the Brutiful

If you go

What: FM Derby Girls season opener versus Forx Roller Derby

When: 6 p.m. Saturday, March 9

Where: Fargo Civic Center, 207 Fourth St. N.

Info: $12 for adults, $7 kids 6-12 and $2 off for college and military