Roller Derby Boot Camp set for skaters in Pearland

By Lindsay Peyton | August 13, 2013 | Updated: August 14, 2013 9:47am

The Pearwood Skate Center is closed during the week - but just before 7 p.m. on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, cars pile into the parking lot.

Local women, mothers and their children, a few husbands and friends come into the room. The women strap on roller skates, and the others stick to the sidelines.

They call themselves the "South Side Girls" - members of the South Side Roller Derby.

The league is made up of two teams - the Cutthroat Cupcakes and the Maidens of Malice. There are also two rookie teams - the Pushy Cats and the Dark Side.

The South Side Girls have aspirations to expand the league, find new member for the team and turn more local residents into roller derby fans.

Brenda Holley first had the idea to start the group. The former figure skater was not deterred when she did not make the roller derby league in Houston. She just decided to start her own.

She formed a "roller derby boot camp" in 2006. The workout on wheels doubled as a training session for the competitive sport.

There was only one problem - Holley did not know much about derby. She had to figure it out as she was coaching.

"We all learned how to play together," she said.

Holley taught them all the basics of skating - while the group researched the rules of the game.

Finding members who wanted to compete was also a challenge.

Esther Conolly was one of the first to sign up.

"I was exercising at home on the elliptical, and I was just done with that," she said. "I came to the roller derby boot camp and just never went away."

Mary Jo Gould of Clear Lake joined the group soon after. "Someone bet me I couldn't skate," she said. "I said, 'Yes I can.' I came and I never stopped. It was fun, and everyone had a lot of energy."

Gould, Holley and Conolly became the founders of the South Side Derby league. They soon learned all the rules of the game and had their first competition later in the year.

"For the first couple of years, all we were doing was raising money until we had enough to build the track," Conolly said.

In 2010, they purchased a banked track - an angled course used by derby skaters. They signed papers for a building in Texas City and called it the "House of Derby."

Six months later, the South Side league had its first game on its new track.

The derby girls stayed in the space for two years - but the cost for rent was taxing.

"It was a nightmare," Holley said. "We couldn't pay the bills."

Last January, they made a move - back to the roller rink where Holley learned to skate as a child - Pearwood Skate Center, 1230 Broadway.

Having a league in Pearland allows the women to practice and compete in their own backyard.

"We're all moms, we have husbands and jobs," Holley said. "We can't travel."

The South Side Girls keep the tracks in storage until the day of the derby. They compete at the Pasadena Convention Center. All of the members join together to build and take down the track.

Members can sign-up online or call to join the boot camps and work their ways up to the derby teams. The monthly membership fee is $65.

Holley said anyone can join. "We make sure they can stand-up on skates, but we take girls that are still hanging onto the walls," she said.

Gould said she had not skated since middle school when she signed up.

"About 99 percent of the girls haven't skated since junior high," Conolly said.

Conolly is a dental hygienist by day, Gould works as an accountant and Holley designs websites.

When they get their skates on, however, they are serious competitors. "That's why to do all of this is for - scrimmage night and game day," Holley said.

Joining the boot camp is good exercise, but those who become team members have to be committed to derby. "You practice two to three hours a week - at two hours a pop," Conolly said.

The women say they enjoy the workout. "You're going to get fit, and you're going to totally enjoy it - unlike the Stairmaster or elliptical," Holley said.

"It's great exercise and you can make lots of new friends," Conolly added. "It's cool to be a part of something."

Gould said, above all, joining the derby is a good time. "You come here, and it's just fun," she said.