When I first started writing part time for The Free Press more than 30 years ago, I had hoped that it might lead to a full-time job. A few years later it did and I began my tenure as the No. 2 sportswriter in town.
I knew we’d be covering a lot of high school and college sports and I was fine with that. Never in my wildest dreams, however, did I see myself covering roller derby.
But there I was, Saturday night, in the press box at the Verizon Civic Center watching the Mankato Area Derby Girls make their home debut in front of more than 1,600 fans. While many of the people in attendance, including this sports reporter, had to familiarize themselves with the rules of roller derby on the fly, it was obvious most of the spectators were having a good time.
Slamra Sue (Tamra Sundboom, Mankato) is the media liason for the MAD Girls and she admits just about everyone was caught off guard by the number of spectators. She knew they’d have more than the 400 people they needed to break even on the arena rental, but not nearly as many as showed up.
“The girls on the team had their own advance tickets they had to sell and we were up to about 600 early last week,” Sundboom said. “When I checked with the Verizon Center on Tuesday or Wednesday we were at about 700 total advance sales.”
What nobody expected was the amount of walk-up sales the night of the event. By Saturday evening, more than 1,000 advance tickets had been sold and then 600 more bought tickets at the gate.
“The people at Verizon told us it’s the most walk-up sales for any event they’ve had at the Civic Center,” Sundboom said. “They were caught a little off guard by it and that’s why the ticket lines were so long. When they announced they had to delay the start of the bout by 10 minutes because there were still people in line, all the girls on the team just got pumped.”
Apparently the excitement in the stands wasn’t limited to simply watching roller derby. There seemed to be a lot of interest in actually participating in the sport, as well.
According to Sundboom, team members started fielding questions about how women can get involved in the sport as soon as the bout was over.
As a result, the MAD Girls are expecting a pretty good turnout for what they’re calling the Fresh Meat Locker on Sunday.
The Fresh Meat Locker is an eight-week training course that runs every Sunday at the YMCA for prospective skaters. The three-hour sessions run from 2-5 p.m. and it costs $30 to take the eight-week course.
“After the eight weeks the participants are evaluated to see if they can make the team,” Sundboom said. “Ideally we’d like to get three or four teams going right here in Mankato so we could have some bouts internally. If it really catches on, we’d like to get a junior program going, too.”
However it plays out, the MAD Girls are already busy preparing for their next home bout on May 4. Even if a significant percentage of spectators came out last Saturday simply for curiosity’s sake, Sundboom believes they’ll be back.
“I wouldn’t expect much of a drop-off in attendance at all,” she said. “I think we showed we’re more than just entertainment, we’re a legitimate sport. And I think the fans proved that Mankato is ready for roller derby.”
Jim Rueda is the Free Press sports editor. Call him at 344-6381 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.