I saw the Windy City Rollers for the first time two years ago. At the time, when I thought “roller derby,” I thought bad disco and sequins. But when I walked in, I flashed back to my teenage Riot Grrrl days. I found myself surrounded by women who exuded self-confidence and each had their own brand of style. Many wore their hair in pigtails, had tattoos, and wore crazy striped knee socks or torn, colorful fishnets. Their shirts proudly bore their derby names, many of which were feminine twists on something that sounded malicious or devious. Varla Vendetta was one I remember.

The first bout began and the girls skated around, colliding like football players … well, except they moved faster than any football player I’ve ever seen. Anyone who doubts women’s strength, toughness, and athletic prowess, get thee to a Windy City Rollers match, pronto!

My friend Amber remarked, “I want to be one of those girls, but I’m way too big of a wuss.”

“Me too,” I said.

Twenty-four year-old Forest Park resident Michelle Balogh – or Mickey Finn-isher Off as she’s known in the derby world – has more guts than we did. She saw a flyer last year, went to a bout and fell in love. In December she decided to try out for the Windy City Rollers farm team, The Haymarket Rioters.

Other than the occasional roller rink birthday party, Mickey didn’t skate much as a kid, though she did play softball and ice hockey for Fenwick High School. She’d only had her skates for a week before she tried out, so she didn’t expect to make it and she definitely didn’t expect to be called up to join one of the Rollers’ four home teams, the Hell’s Belles, just a few weeks later.

“They drafted me because I had heart,” she says. “No matter how many times I fell down in practice, I got right back up and tried again. I’m a loud mouth and have played team sports all my life, so encouraging my teammates also made an impression.”

Teamwork is definitely big among the Windy City Rollers. The league functions as a community. Everyone pays dues to join and has jobs within the league, aside from making practice four times a week. “Everything is done within the company,” Mickey explains. She works with events and marketing, which includes street teaming, where the girls plaster the town with “Talk Derby To Me” posters. You may have seen some of them in Forest Park bars recently.

Most of the Windy City Rollers live in Chicago, but Mickey is one of 10 suburban girls in the league. She calls them “a special breed.” Practice hours are already long and tacking on a commute makes for more of a time commitment. But she says, “We’re all troopers. I hope the further we go away from the city will only help spread the word about roller derby.”

Word is definitely spreading. Almost 4,000 people came to the home opener at UIC Pavilion this year. It’s a family-friendly environment, but at the same time, people in their 20s and 30s can come with their friends and have a beer. The players interact with the fans and there are two bouts a night, so you see all four teams play. You get more for your money than you would at most sporting events.

Next bout is March 27. You can find ticket and schedule info at windycityrollers.com. Get out there and root for our hometown girl, Mickey Finn-isher Off! You’ll fall in love with the atmosphere, I promise.

Stephanie is the author of “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” and “Ballads of Suburbia.” She’s a proud Forest Parker who holds a master’s in fine arts degree from Columbia College Chicago. She also works locally at the Beacon Pub and loves to hear from people through her Web site www.stephaniekuehnert.com.