It’s an unassuming venue, hidden away from the bright lights of Corpus Christi, and, if it wasn’t for the huge “H.A.R.D. House” sign above the place, no one would ever think twice about it.
But it’s what’s inside the converted reception hall that draws hundreds of fans to its now-hallowed halls.
It’s the roar of the skates echoing against the concrete walls. The sound of bodies slamming into one another. The athletes smashing into the chairs and fans. The slap of flesh against the hardwood floor. The cheers. The jeers. The sweat and lack of tears.
And, of course, it’s about the girls. These brawling beauties are bad.
Michael Jackson bad.
But they’re bad for the better good as Saturday’s bout was the annual “H.A.R.D. for the Cure” recruitment event.
One of the veteran brawlers, Jo Anne Estrada, aka D’Manda Kiss, explained the event. “We’re here to try and raise awareness about cancer and make a donation to one of the local cancer charities. We usually donate about $500.”
The H.A.R.D. league invited roller derby girls from all over South Texas to participate in the event.
Estrada said, “We have a lot of different skaters here today. This a mash-up bout, so we invite skaters from all over the state of Texas to come down.
“I know for sure we have some skaters from Austin, San Antonio and McAllen.
“The fans really like it, because they never know what to expect when they have visiting skaters and they’re playing with us and not against us.”
Estrada joined H.A.R.D. in 2008 and can be seen in Beeville and the surrounding counties as she is the criminal justice advocate for the Women’s Shelter of South Texas.
A strangely fitting career choice to say the least.
“I’ve been skating since I was a child,” Estrada reminisced.
“I used to watch roller derby when I was a kid, and we’d go to the skating rink, because that’s what we did on Friday nights.
“When roller derby started coming back, I definitely wanted to be involved.”
And it does come with its share of perks.
“Of course, being able to booty block people and shove them out of the ring and into the chairs is always a lot of fun.”
When the girls rolled out from the dressing room that night, they all held signs with the names of family and friends that they had lost to cancer or were fighting the disease.
And the event held special significance for one of the rowdy rollers who had helped a complete stranger survive the illness.
Through tear-filled eyes, Brandi South, aka Becuz I Can, talked about her unexpected life-saving experience a few years back.
“When I was in high school, there was a young man that needed a bone marrow transplant and we could sign up to find out if we were a donor, so I did and forgot all about it,” South remembered.
“Four years later, I get a call that says I’m a possible match for this young lady, and it blew my mind.
“It was for a 15-year-old girl who had Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“I donated my bone marrow, and the last I heard anything about the girl, her body had accepted the transplant, and she was doing well.”
The “Be the Match” organization was on hand to encourage fans and skaters alike to sign up for their national registry and help make South’s tale a common one.
After the girls did their warm-up laps and stretched, the national anthem was sung with the skaters stomping their skates to the beat of the final lines, signifying the start of one electrifying night.
The rules are relatively simple for roller derby.
The sport is played by two, five-member teams skating around a track.
The game play consists of a series of two-minute jams in which both teams’ “jammers” score points by lapping their opponents team.
The “blockers” attempt to assist their own jammer while hindering the opposing team’s jammer.
Players can also receive penalties and must sit out for one minute, causing their team to play minus one person.
And when the first whistle blows, the blockers slowly roll off the starting point, their eyes honed in on the jammers behind them.
The two whistle blows following send the jammers off, and the game is on.
They furiously roll around the ring in dizzying speeds. Elbows fly, bodies are shoved, the girls slide all over the ring, and sometimes the fans get lapfuls of derby girls... or skates to their shins.
The women are heavily padded and don helmets and mouth guards, because they do get pretty rowdy, and, yes, fights do break out often.
And though the sport is constantly compared to the type of professional wrestling found on cable television, it’s more along the lines of Monday Night Football. It’s hard, fast and unrelenting.
These girls know how to take a beating and keep on skating.
“I think it’s very popular with young women, because it’s kind of an empowering feeling,” Estrada said. “It just makes you feel strong and powerful to be able to be on skates and play such an aggressive sport.
“Plus, we get to wear fishnets and tutus, and that’s always fun.”
The H.A.R.D. girls are always looking for new recruits.
They host a roller derby boot camp a few times a year before tryouts to make sure the young ladies know what they’re getting into.
They also have a junior league known as the H.A.R.D Brats.
For more information on how to join or schedule information, visit www. hurricanealleyrd.com and to sign up online for the Be the Match Foundation, visit www.bethematch.org.
Paul Gonzales is the entertainment writer at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 116, or at thescene@mySouTex.com.