Phoenix's only men's roller derby team speaks out

June 16, 2013

By now, doesn’t everyone know about roller derby? It’s famous, maybe as much for its fast skating as its free spirit, but it’s not so well-known for its men. This contact sport is dominated by women. Though derby guys are getting more popular around the world  and right here in Phoenix.

derby Phoenix Rattleskates men's roller derby at practice. (Photo by Stina Sieg - KJZZ)

The Phoenix Rattleskates practice like any other derby team. They block and break, shout and sometimes crash around a nondescript warehouse, but in the Valley, they do stand out. The Rattleskates are the only men’s team in Phoenix and one of a handful in Arizona.

"And in fact, one of the most common jeers that you hear on the men’s side is that you 'hit like a girl,' from the fans," Fred Deprez said.

Deprez is known as Fred Nutz on the track. He has been at this nine years, after being introduced by his wife.

In both men’s and women’s derby, points are scored by a skater lapping opposing team members on a small, fast track. Brightly colored costumes and kooky nicknames are the norm, but men’s derby is still building its mystique, and the Rattleskates often have to make long road trips to find other guys to play against. Nutz said people have to see men’s derby to really understand it.

"After the initial surprise of seeing guys do this wears off and they realize that we’re playing a real sport and really trying and there’s actually a lot of skate skill that they’re much more interested through any description I gave them, even if I said it was like 'Fight Club,'"Deprez said.

Deprez does not feel weird doing what is long been considered a women’s sport. No one on the team does. For lawyer Mark Tallon, who goes by Quad Pro Quo, derby is a chance to be briefly transformed.

"At work, I have to be “upstanding citizen," and here I can be a rebel. Here I can have fun," Tallon said.

For John Joos or Squeezen the Joos, it’s a time to live dangerously, if just for a couple of hours every week.

"Like, the possibility of getting injured, I guess, kind of, it doesn’t really appeal to me, but it does, in a way." Joos said.

And for most everyone on the team, derby is a way to be part of a community. That can be hard to find in Phoenix, or anywhere, really.

Dale Thompson, aka Fuzzy Naval, says derby bonds all players, even if they’re not the same gender. Even if they’re not in the same country, even if they’ve never met. Thompson said he became friends with derby guys from England after just one bout with them. In this sport, that’s no surprise.

"It is a giant family, no matter where you go," Thompson said.

Do you think you could get there anywhere else?

"Only from family, blood family," Thompson said.

Thompson gets both worlds, as his blood family is enamored with derby, too. His wife refs, and his four children skate. Actually, many Rattleskates have derby wives or girlfriends, but Thompson said those who do not are still part of the team.

"One, two, three, Rattleskates!" the men yell.