FORT POLK, LA — During the 1970s, one of the more popular Saturday afternoon television programs was "Roller Derby," featuring both men's and women's teams in action akin to championship wrestling, where skaters flew around an arena, bashing into each other and sending athletes - along with their blood - flying into the stands. Often foreign objects such as chairs or tables would be used to add more "violence" to the festivities.
The men usually would kick off the fray, followed by the women. While the men appeared athletic, the women often seemed to be shady characters on wheels, chomping their gum, dressed more for the beach than a roller rink and doing their best to play the role of "Bad Girl." By the end of the show, viewers would likely see both men and women on the banked oval attempting to bash each other into submission.
The fad eventually died away, but now at least the female version of the sport has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts. However, this time the competition is real and the skaters are out to prove they are true athletes.
Mike Gildwarg is head coach of the Cenla Derby Dames, a roller derby squad out of Pineville that includes three members of the Fort Polk community: Erin "Floggin' Maully" Fahlsing, Jessica "Pink Freud" Horton and Sonja "Wilma Flinchstone" Cruz. Gildwarg said he's a longtime fan of the sport.
"When I was younger I watched roller derby on TV and really got into it," he said. "Then it kind of went away. But about four years ago my girlfriend was invited to play on a team that was just starting and I got interested again."
Gildwarg said he learned the rules and got involved with the team.
"I started out as the sponsorship coordinator for the team, moved to assistant coach and finally head coach," he said.
In the beginning there were few teams to play against, but Gildwarg said that has changed.
"Roller derby is the fastest growing women's sport today," he said. "We play in a league that has 45 teams across the South, with some cities having more than one team. The gals really enjoy it."
Count Fahlsing among those who enjoy not only the companionship of like-minded ladies, but also the physical contact of the sport.
"We had been stationed here (Fort Polk) about a year and I started to get stir crazy," she said. "I had played adult soccer but there were no teams
Fahlsing said friends told her roller derby was big in Southern states.
"I Googled it, found this team and it turned out to be the perfect thing at the perfect time for me," she said. "I love the competition; I'm very competitive in my personal life and this is a great outlet for someone like that."
First Lt. Ted Fahlsing, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, is married to Floggin' Maully. He said he supports his wife in her roller derby endeavors.
"I'm proud of her," he said. "I believe this is a great tool for the more active wives in the area and helps with community relations."
Fahlsing said his spouse has always been athletically inclined.
"She was an athlete in high school and already has a torn ACL, MCL and two compressed discs in her back," he said. "But I don't worry about her -
that's the good thing about TRICARE."
Erin said her husband's support of her roller derby career extends to their private time.
"Our date night is now going skating," she said. "He puts up with me and is a good sport; he's my biggest cheerleader."
The second member of the trio, Horton, is a stay-at-home mom who is no novice to the roller derby scene.
"I had actually been a member of a roller derby team in California," she said. "I had to stop when I was pregnant - they frown on pregnant women
falling down and getting bashed in the stomach."
After she and her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Horton, Alpha Battery, 3rd Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, 4th BCT, 10th Mtn Div, were transferred to Fort Polk and she gave birth, "Pink Freud" said she searched Facebook for a local team to join.
"I like being active," she said. "It's a good workout and mentally challenging."
Horton's rink name comes from the fact that she is working toward a degree in psychology. But don't let that fool you into thinking she's mild mannered while competing.
"I like the physical part of roller derby - beating people up," she said.
Like the Fahlsings, Horton said her husband fully supports her play.
"He's watched a few of my games and gives me tips," she said. "He says I should hit people more."
The third Fort Polk team member, Cruz, is also a stay at home mom. She said her entry into roller derby came by chance.
"I was talking to a friend of mine and roller derby came up in the conversation," she said. "It had always been a dream of mine to participate,
so I got in touch with Erin, came to practice and stayed."
Cruz, who is married to Ivan Cruzcastro, 115th Combat Support Hospital, said she enjoys the sisterhood she gets from her teammates.
"Plus, it's an awesome workout," she said. "It comes naturally to me - I've always been competitive. It's kind of neat to skate up close to someone and say, 'How's it going?' with an elbow to the chest."
Like her Fort Polk teammates, Cruz said she receives nothing but support from her husband.
"His is 100 percent behind me playing," she said. "We're both still learning the game, but we love it."
Gildwarg said he is excited the Fort Polk trio decided to join the Cenla Derby Dames.
"Not only are they great players and good gals, hopefully they give our team more exposure and bring a bigger fan base to games," he said.
The next opportunity to support the Fort Polk derby athletes is May 11 at 7:00 p.m. when the Cenla Derby Dames square off against the Cajun Roller Girls at the Rapides Parish Coliseum Expo Hall in Alexandria. Ticket prices are $12.00 for general admission ($10.00 presale) and $7.00 for ages 6-12 ($5.00 presale). Children 5 and under are admitted free. Those with a military ID card can purchase tickets for $10.00 ($8.00 presale).
For more information on the Cenla Derby Dames visit www.cenladerbydames.com or search Cenla Derby Dames on Facebook.