WATERLOO, Iowa --- Roller derby arrived in the Cedar Valley on Saturday night to thunderous applause.
The Push-Up Brawlers hoped the area would embrace them. They got a bear hug.
More than 2,300 people cheered as the first team in the Cedar Valley Derby Divas' roller derby league was introduced. One-by-one, the 14 members took a ceremonial lap around McElroy Auditorium's flat track.
Intro music blared. Lights flashed. The energy level intensified.
"It hypes me up even more," said April "April Reigns" Robinson, just before the inaugural bout with the Cedar Rapids Roller Girls' Bombshell Cartel. "This is way over our expectations."
No one -- derby officials, skaters or spectators -- expected women's roller derby to have such a successful debut in Waterloo. League officials hope it's a sign of good things to come.
Alyssa "The Warden" Becthold, a skater-turned-coach-and-emcee, said when the idea to bring derby to the Cedar Valley unfolded more than a year ago, organizers hoped 500 people would show up.
"We thought that would be a success ... we arrived," Becthold said.
Derby not only arrived, it showed up in shock-and-awe fashion.
All 950 advance tickets sold at $8 each. Another 400 tickets at the door -- all that were printed -- sold out in 40 minutes at $10 each. Several hundred more spectators got their hands stamped as proof of admission. That's not counting the kids 12 and younger who got in free.
The goal was to introduce derby, with its colorful nicknames, outfits and athletic moves, to the Cedar Valley. Mission accomplished.
"We're blown away. Everyone is so excited," Becthold said.
Ken Shock of Waterloo didn't know what to expect, but he knew he didn't want to miss it. He and 20 friends spent his birthday watching the Brawlers.
The 43-year-old remembers watching roller derby on TV with his dad as a kid. In those days, women would fly over rails circling an elevated, banked track.
Flat tracks don't offer that brutality, but there's still plenty of bumping and pushing, and falling, as the teams' jammers attempt to pass the pack for points.
Shock arrived early to get a front-row seat only yards away from the action.
"I just thought it would be cool to watch," he said.
Five skaters per team compete against each other. Each team has a jammer, whose goal is to pass opposing blockers. Each time she laps the field and makes a pass, she scores a point. The most points win.
Since roller derby isn't exactly a household sport, spectators admitted they didn't always know what was going on.
The rules, and even the score, weren't important to many. New derby fans said it was just fun to watch 20- to 40-something moms and professional women crash into each other wearing crazy outfits.
"Most guys watch to see a bunch of girls beating the crap out of each other. I'm here for the competition," said Courtney Schmidt, with a sly smile on his face.
Even some female spectators liked the rough-and-tumble action.
"I want to see a girl fight," said Christy Cromwell of Waterloo. "I like the action and trying to figure it out."
Stella Mitchell drove 12 hours from Columbia, Tenn., to cheer on Robinson, her daughter-in-law. Even the tornadoes that ravaged the southern United States recently couldn't keep her away.
One twister severely damaged her daughter's house in Huntsville, Ala. Mitchell said her daughter and her three children are staying with her for a while, but she made the trek to Iowa anyway.
"I couldn't miss it. I'm so proud of her," Mitchell said. "It's good, clean fun we don't have anymore."
The fledgling Cedar Valley Derby Divas' league is a member of the national Women's Flat Track Derby Association. There are about a dozen leagues in Iowa.
The Push-Up Brawlers' season runs through November, with two bouts a month. The next home bout -- all held at McElroy Auditorium -- is May 21 vs. the Old Capitol City Roller Girls from Iowa City.
"Hopefully we've started our own tradition at McElroy," Becthold said. "We're on our way."