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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e  September 2010


Hell on Wheels

Crossroads City Roller Derby is skating into Las Cruces.

By Jeff Berg

In all of the interviews that I have done over the years, rarely have I met two women who were more energized, vivacious and enthusiastic about what they were doing than "Puncher Villa" and "hippie chEck." They are partly responsible for (soon) adding flat track roller derby to the list of things to do on a typical Las Cruces evening, in the form of the Crossroads City Roller Derby (CCRD).

roller derby
Photos by Marie McGrath
Screaming Light Studios

Off track, Puncher Villa is known as Charlene Bencomo and hippie chEck is Becky Hamling.

No, they aren't muscled and toothless women ready to tear your arm off at the slightest provocation. Rather, both are intelligent, fit and work as teachers at Las Cruces' Columbia Elementary School. Hamling is a bilingual special education instructor for preschoolers, while Bencomo works with kindergartener through second graders.

With bountiful energy Hamling starts the interview by proclaiming that she loves the athleticism of roller derby, an oft-maligned sport that has been around since 1922. Hamling, as "hippie chEck," got her start as a derby girl after a suggestion by her husband that they go check out the upstart derby in El Paso one weekend. The Sun City Roller Girls there won her over immediately. Before he knew it, Hamling's husband was a "derby widow," and her three-year-old daughter had her own derby moniker.

Bencomo recalls, "The next Monday she walked by my classroom and stopped and asked, 'Do you know what roller derby is? And I asked her, 'Which track?'"

It turns out there are two kinds of roller derby tracks — flat and banked. There is some debate about which is better and more authentic, but flat track is said to be cheaper to operate with venues easier to find. Crossroads City is a flat-track league.

"I lived in Austin for eight years and never saw flat track," Bencomo continues. She was impressed then by the women participants on the Austin teams, whom she describes as being "intelligent, fierce and sexy."

It didn't take long for Puncher and hippie to go out and order their own sets of derby skates and gear.

"We went back to watch the El Paso girls some more and I'd get so excited that I would stand on the chairs and imitate them!" Hamling says.

After that, her husband became her chief supporter again and asked, "Well, are you going to do this or not?"

Hamling and Bencomo organized the first meeting for the derby at Las Cruces' High Desert Brewery, which has become one of the group's important benefactors. To their surprise, "20 random people showed up."

"Some have stayed and some never came back, but now we are up to 55 women," Hamling says proudly.

roller derby

CCRD board members.

Top row left to right: Dred Fraggle, Evil Lucian, The Venomous Dimilo, Mary Queen of Bloxxx, Slammah Ho; bottom row: hippie chEck and daughter Trouble, Puncher Villa, Nicoleon Boneparts.

"It's a crazy band of girls who have bonded," adds Bencomo.

Ages range from 21 to 40. For various reasons, primarily involving the consumption of spirits after a meet or practice, no one under 21 is being recruited for the team. Occupations include teachers (of course), housewives, nurses (the squad has its own EMT now, Yunah Lee — appropriately, a trauma nurse) and two NMSU professors.

And don't think that all these girls/women/grrls do is skate around the track in fishnets and helmets, elbowing their opponents into oblivion. There is a lot of practice and conditioning.

Crossroads is also a business, which has applied for their official 501c(3) nonprofit status. "Early on we started making rules as we went along, but that didn't last long. We found out soon enough that we needed structure and dues," said Hamling. "We had no idea that we had to start a business."

Bencomo is the president at this time, but relies heavily on advice and support from Hamling and another derby girl, "Venomous."

"I'm more skeptical than hippie chEck," Bencomo offers. "She is all about love, but she is learning the difference between being honest and offending someone."

As a nonprofit business, the CCRD has held a number of fundraisers, including a recent screening of the high-energy roller derby documentary, Hell on Wheels. The screening went well, and filmmaker Bob Ray, who is touring his work in a hell-for-leather way, was on hand. A planned skate around the Mesilla Plaza didn't work out.

CCRD is divided into four teams: the Reguladies, co-captained by Puncher and Venomous; Spitfire Sallies, led by Evil-Lucian (an NMSU biology professor) and Slamma Ho; and the Rink Rash Revolutionaries, proudly and rowdily led by Mary Queen of Bloxxx and Hell Paseo. "Rink rash" is a hazard of the game and occurs when a girl in fishnets falls and slides across the rink — ouch. Both women wince at the thought.

A traveling team, which goes to El Paso and hopes to get involved in national competition, is called the Sucias (Spanish, meaning anything from "dirty" to "stained with sin" to "uncivil"). It's led by hippie chEck and Barbie Bombshell.

Yes, the monikers are great, but both Bencomo and Hamling warn again that the girls are not there just to look cool and have a great derby name. Practice makes perfect, and that happens three times a week, minimum. No slouchers here — you have to be able to keep up with the game and earn the name.

The women toss out some names that they considered before finally settling on one and knowing that they were going to stick with CCRD. Puncher Villa was once Malice in Chains, and really wanted to be Georgia O'Grief — honoring, of course, the renowned New Mexico artist in a way she probably never would have dreamed of. Hippie chEck looked at Amelia No Heart and Hippy Longstocking, until deciding that her current name had a good sound: hippie, for her peace and love side, and chEck for her ability to give an opponent a good body check on the rink.

Bencomo says, "You can't (officially) pick a name until you pass the initial skills test. In our bylaws, everyone has the same name until then: 'fresh meat.'"

All derby names everywhere are required to be registered, and a list of zillions can be seen at twoevils.org, the official registry site. A few that caught my eye include Jethro Skull (Duke City-Albuquerque), Joann Thrax of the Renegade Rollergirls of Oregon, Pickled Beats of the Sun City Roller Girls, and Zsa Zsa LaGore of the Mad Rollin' Dolls. Even CCRD's new official announcer, KRWG-FM's Carrie Hamblen, has an unregistered name, Biffy St. Marie.

Besides the exercise, camaraderie and fun that the women have with CCRD, Bencomo and Hamling have noticed additional benefits of being on the team. Bencomo says, "We see everyone realizing their own strengths and weaknesses as an individual and as part of a group."

Hamling adds, "So many women deal with depression and being closed down and so on, that we've had a number of girls tell us how much the social aspect and exercise has helped them."

"A while back," says Bencomo, "I needed to move out of a 'situation' and I sent a text message and within minutes I had seven women ready with pickup trucks to help me. These are women that I normally wouldn't have ever talked to otherwise if it wasn't for CCRD."

Sorry, CCRD is not recruiting skaters at this time — even though Hamling said she was driving down El Paseo Road a few days earlier and saw a girl at a gas station who almost made her flip a U-turn so she could go back and invite her to join. What they are in desperate need of right now is a warehouse in which to practice and have bouts in, along with other volunteers who want to learn to be officials, scorekeepers and other skating and non-skating jobs, plus of course sponsors.

To learn more about Crossroads City Roller Derby, visit www.crossroadscityderbydolls.com or email ccderbygirls@gmail.com

Senior Writer Jeff Berg skates through life in Las Cruces.

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