With the shrill blow of a gym whistle, the women of the Renegade Rollergirls of Tucson transformed into finely tuned, wheeled weapons of mass destruction during a heated match in June with their Los Angeles counterparts.
Dressed in green T-shirts sporting skeletal rib cages, fishnet stockings and riding on classic four-wheel skates around the baby-blue rink of the Tucson Indoor Sports Center, team members used fists, elbows, knees, legs and various other body parts to keep their opponents from scoring points.
The crowd of nearly 200 fans, sitting in a fenced upper deck area, behind a wall with plastic windows surrounding the rink and in the rink itself, mere inches from the action, cheered loudly with every punch thrown, every shove and every burgeoning brawl that erupted.
No penalties were called because no penalties existed.
"Karma is the law around here," said local league founder Suzi Berrie. "We don't have penalties, but if you are punching people in the face, you can expect to get it back in return."
No-holds-barred play is the name of the game for the Renegade Rollergirls of Tucson.
The basic rules still fall inline with traditional roller derby when it comes to scoring points.
Each team is made up of one jammer and four blockers who travel around an oval track for minute increments over the course of three 15 minute periods.
The goal is for one team to keep the opposing team's jammer from lapping its blockers and scoring while the other team does the same.
A solid formula, but that is where the similarities end.
In more traditional leagues, certain moves might get you sent to the penalty box, but anything goes in the Renegade league.
Elbowing, tripping, wrestling your opponent to the ground. All is allowed.
Berrie, whose league name is too risque for print, said she tries to set a good example for the girls by not picking fights.
But every once in a while something happens "to myself or one of my players and I get protective," she said. "It makes me want to send a message that I am not cool with that."
It's the way roller derby should be, Berrie said.
Berrie, 28, was an early member of the Tucson Roller Derby, back when the league was getting its bearings.
A knee injury obtained outside of the sport took her out of the action for several months, but the increasing number of rules and regulations within the league kept her from coming back.
"I tried to return to practice and I was told I wouldn't be allowed," she said. "They made me test and go through 'newbie' training again. The whole thing was a bummer. I said screw it."
Berrie, who works as a manager at Silver Mine Subs, realized the rules were put in place for safety reasons.
"The regular roller derby has been doing all they can to make this a recognized professional sport and I applaud them on that," she said. "I just missed the way things were and I think a lot of old school fans feel the same way."
Frustrated and eager to get back in the game, she contacted the Renegade Rollergirls league in Phoenix, a team dedicated to the old ways of roller derby, and asked organizers if they might be willing to start a branch in Tucson.
They told her she should do it.
"I never even considered myself," Berrie said. "I started recruiting the next day."
She enlisted some of her fellow former Tucson Roller Derby members, sent messages on Facebook to every female friend who she thought had the guts and blanketed Craigslist with want ads.
Berrie said getting things up and running was a challenge.
"Finding a venue was probably the toughest part," she said. "Most people aren't down with having a 'no rules' derby league in their places of business."
Sponsorships also were difficult to obtain. They still are.
"We don't have the cash to be registered as a nonprofit," Berrie said. "Some businesses won't do it because they don't get the tax write-off."
Yet, the league has survived.
The Renegade Rollergirls of Tucson currently has 16 regular players. It is one of eight sister leagues, spread between Arizona, California and Oregon.
Team seasons last from March until November, and feature monthly home and away games against sister league teams.
Its next big match will take place at the Tucson Indoor Sports Center, 1065 W. Grant Road, against Phoenix on Aug. 31.
The Tucson Rollergirls practice four times a week in a roller hockey rink next to Catalina Magnet High School on East Pima Street.
For some members, such as 27-year-old Amanda Jardee, the league has been a welcome return to the roller derby days of old.
Jardee has been skating with the league for two years. Before that, she was a member of Tucson Roller Derby for four, with a two year gap between play.
Jardee fell in love with the original league from the first time she saw its players in action.
"It was incredible," said the call-center employee. "It was vaudeville, burlesque, athleticism. They were superheros beating the snot out of each other on roller skates."
The Renegade league gives Jardee, or Death Blossom during play, that same feeling.
At 6-foot-2, 6-foot-7 on skates, Jardee is far-and-away the tallest member of the team and a formidable opponent.
A blocker, she calls herself a rolling wall who loves having less rules and less penalties.
During games, she can be downright intimidating.
At the June match, Jardee was brought down during a jam by a smaller member of the Los Angeles team.
"I threw her off of me and screamed at her, two inches from her face," Jardee said. "I was in a crazy, angry, intense mode. I was told that I made her cry."
By the end of the game, all was forgotten and forgiven.
The league prides itself on its unity and camaraderie.
"I hugged her at the end," Jardee said. "The women of this league are all friends again when the matches are over. The after-parties are incredible."
While some of the league's players are veterans of Tucson Roller Derby, other members are newer to the sport.
Taylor Duran, 25, is one of the league's newest members, having joined the Renegade Rollergirls in February.
She was raised on skates, honing her skills at Skate Country on East 22nd Street and working in her teens as a carhop for the Sonic fastfood chain.
Rollergirls was her first formal exposure to roller derby.
She answered an ad for the league on Craigslist and was in her first match, a grueling home game against the Outlaw Renegade Rollergirls of Orange County a month later.
"It was a rough game," said Duran, a pet groomer on Tucson's eastside. "Everybody told me to picture it like a practice. It is nothing like practice. I didn't expect to get hit as often as I did."
Several games in, and Duran feels she knows what to expect. She is not one for altercations.
She won't throw punches unless punches are thrown.
But she has experienced her share of injuries.
She hurt her neck during the last home game against Los Angeles, resulting in a trip to the chiropractor, and has hyperextended one of her knees to the point that any time she falls on it causes aggravation.
Players aren't provided health insurance as members of the league, but Berrie said she always recommends they get their own before joining.
Duran, who goes by the name Brew Sin Betty during battle, hasn't let the injuries deter her.
"I always feel like I'm going to throw-up before a game," Duran said. "It is a huge rush."
After a little more than two years in existence, Berrie said the league continues to grow.
Her ultimate dream is to one day open a venue called The Scar Bar, with a banked track in the back, where her team can compete.
"I love that I am part of something again," she said. "Whenever I am stressed about work, car troubles, my family, I go to practice and sweat out my anger. I'm going to roll until the wheels fall off."
Slam. Slap. Shove.
If you go
• What: Renegade Rollergirls of Tucson vs Renegade Rollergirls of Phoenix.
• When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 31.
• Where: Tucson Indoor Sports Center, 1065 W. Grant Road.
• Tickets: $10 at the door.
• Info: Find out more about joining the league, games and sponsorship opportunities at rrot.weebly.com or facebook.com/ rrotucson
Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at firstname.lastname@example.org or 807-8430