Roller derby bouts aren’t your everyday sporting event, but according to some members of the Mississippi Valley Mayhem roller derby team, they should be. Besides helping keep the sport of women’s flat-track roller derby in the Midwest alive, the Mississippi Valley Mayhem also aims to help local charities and organizations and create positive female role models in the community.

The Mayhem, part of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association since 2008, charges admission for bouts, as competitions are called, including Saturday night’s bout at the Onalaska OmniCenter. But it’s a nonprofit enterprise, and 30 percent of all proceeds go to area charities and other nonprofits, including Fire & Iron Ride, Galaxy Youth, the Coulee Region Humane Society, Smile Train and The Warehouse.

Mayhem team member Amanda (Assassinatrix) Laube – Mayhem members all have nicknames – was a “rink rat” growing up, spending many days at the local skating rink. For her, roller derby is a sport like no other. “It takes communication and teamwork,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun, and the adrenaline rush from scoring points is a great feeling. I know that my team has my back out there.”

Mayhem teammate Lisa (Crash) Leisgang, agreed that the sport is a little different. “It’s a group of women who are different ages, come from different environments, and they come together to have a good time. It’s also a great exercise because it’s so physical,” said Leisgang. “It’s a good feeling being able to set aside outside worries and just have fun with friends on the rink.”

Leisang said she wishes more people could see the real reason the team participates in bouts. “I wish people knew more about this sport. We’re not just crazy women in fishnets, we do this to help other people,” said Leisgang. “It’s not about who wins and who loses, honestly. When you’re on the track, it’s all about playing as a team and raising money for charities.”

Laube also said the women don’t fit the derby stereotype many people have. “The family atmosphere that the team provides is indescribable. I know that if I ever need anything, on or off the rink, these women would be there for me,” said Laube, one of the newer team members. “I haven’t known them for long, but these women are already some of my best friends.”

Leisgang said the camaraderie was one of the reasons she joined the Mayhem. “When I was a kid, I used to watch roller derbies with my grandma. Then, as I grew older, I met some of the team members and I saw how close they were,” Leisgang said. “They really are like another family. You really feel like you have a place to fit in.”

The Mayhem accept all women who are interested in roller derby, regardless of experience level. “I hope more people give derby a try,” Laube said. “They should try something new.”

Keeping the sport alive means continually recruiting new young members to roller derby. The Mayhem holds a youth program for area boys and girls ages 3-17 every Thursday at La Crescent Community Arena. The kids do a no-contact version of roller derby until coaches think they are ready for a little rougher play. They begin by teaching the basics of skating and by talking about the rules of the sport. They work their way up to gameplay and strategy as they become stronger skaters.

Youth program coordinator and Mayhem team member Kelly (Blunt Force Mama) Davis said there’s a misconception that the sport is dangerous. “Roller derbies are actually one of the safer sports to participate in,” she said.

Davis said kids get a lot more out of the roller derby sessions than just learning a new sport. “I noticed with my own kids that they really came out of their shells,” she said. “I watch the kids’ self-esteem grow through encouragement. They learn how important the team is. It’s a really good family environment.”

That kind of camaraderie and confidence boosting can be really important for kids. “Derbies are a way to give these kids a place to fit in when they feel like they have nothing else,” Davis said. “That’s what this sport can do.”

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Entertainment and county government reporter

Randy Erickson covers arts and entertainment and county government for the La Crosse Tribune. Contact him at 608-791-8219 or randy.erickson@lee.net.

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