At 6:45 p.m., a crowd begins to gather in front of a building in Weslaco not many out-of-towners know.
It’s dark and the only light illuminating the dimly lit parking lot emanates from the gas station next door.
One by one, cars arrive and people grab their bags, and immediately rush to the door only to find that it is still locked.
By 7 p.m. a crowd of around 25 has congregated in the parking lot of the still-locked building. However, rather than wait for someone to open the locked doors, the people begin to put on skates along with other gear and roll around the dimly lit lot.
Finally, at 7:15 the owners of the building, which turns out to be a roller rink, unlock the doors and the skaters begin to flood inside, eager to get down to business.
But these aren’t just any skaters. They’re the RGV Bandidas — the only roller derby team in the Rio Grande Valley.
For those unfamiliar, the sport of roller derby dates back to the early 1900s, but didn’t make an impact until the 1970s when Hollywood films like “Kansas City Bombers” and “Unholy Rollers” thrust the sport into the spotlight.
Most recently, the sport was featured in the 2009 film “Whip It,” starring Ellen Page and, before that, in a 2007 documentary tilted “Blood on the Flat Track” that takes viewers into the world of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), which is roller derby’s international governing body and something the RGV Bandidas are working toward becoming a part of.
For now, however, the Bandidas are an independent team, playing the hand it was dealt and starting from scratch. In fact, this is the first season of the team’s existence as, up until this year, the Bandidas were two separate squads — the Mac Town Rebel Rollers and the South Texas Rolleristas.
However, to increase their odds of being accepted into the WFTDA, both teams decided to band together and become one.
“It was more advantageous for us to get together,” said co-president Berina Beltran Sanchez. “We were both working toward a common goal and it’s been beneficial to both sides.
“We shaved both names and came together as a group of skaters to form a brand-new name, create a color and logo for the league, and basically start from square one again.”
With a sport as unique and colorful as roller derby, the personalities of the skaters have to match.
The Bandidas consist of women between the ages of 18-45 and come from all walks of life, including college students discovering their passions, business professionals wanting to experience a different side of life and mothers who are looking for some stress relief.
“I’ve traveled, I’m educated, I have a great job, I raise kids and now I’m thinking, ‘what next?’ I’ve done everything already,” said Rena Vela, a second-year skater. “For me, it was a chance to do something that women sometimes don’t get a chance to do.”
As unique as the sport itself, the names the athletes choose for themselves while they are on the track are just as imaginative.
One-of-a-kind names include, Flying-Hellfish, BEAT-e Smalls, Ann Hooligan, Shockira and Diablo Blanco.
No two monikers are alike. In fact, to prevent skaters from copying each other’s names, players must register in an online database.
“Your derby names are kind of your alter ego and they are supposed to be fun and catchy,” said Beltran Salinas, aka, JalapenYoAzz. “Nobody in the world can have the same derby name.”
Perhaps the biggest issue for the Bandidas since the merger has been adjusting to the team’s size. Going from two separate, smaller teams to one big unit has raised a few concerns.
“On a personal level, I think we were all skeptical of merging because we thought maybe we would loose the friendships that we gained or lose people because perhaps they didn’t want to merge,” said Anazette Cano.
“For me, it was more of a question of ‘Am I good enough?’ We were a small team and now some were wondering if we were still going to be able to play or maybe lose our spot,” added Yaritza Hernandez. “Were we still going to have that sisterhood bond? I believe that on the Mac Town Rebel Rollers we all loved each other and we were scared of losing that bond.
“But I can honestly say that merging was a good idea because it brought a lot of us out of our shells more, and it made us stronger and more motivated.”
For others the merger brought more than just numbers to the squad.
“There’s been more positive energy because everybody is on the same page and we all have one goal, and it’s an awesome feeling to have all these girls with the same goal,” said Heather Moreno, a six-year veteran.
“I don’t know what it is, but I feel it. Instead of having two girls on the same page we have 40 girls that all want the same thing.”