With names like “Krystal Deth,” “Sookie Smackmouth” and “Texas Chainsaw Mascara,” they circle the track like prowling sharks or birds of prey, a wheeled tableau of grace and imminent violence. Recognizable by their colors—red and black—the Bradentucky Bombers skate the rink, practicing crossovers and hip whips, pivots, panty swaps and blocks, preparing for an upcoming season as trying as it will be triumphant. Roller derby’s no sport for the meek at any level, and this year the Bombers are going pro. 

It began 12 years ago with a dozen girls and roller derby dreams, but today the Bradentucky Bombers count near 40 titans of the track on the roster, and a growing hunger for a shot at the pros. This past November, nearly a year ago from today, the Bombers took the plunge and began their apprenticeship year, pairing with a professional team out of Melbourne, the Molly Roger Rollergirls, and bearing scrutiny from the sport’s governing body, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). With the year almost up, judgment awaits. “So we haven’t gone pro yet,” cautions team captain Sarah Bikos, who goes by the Bomber moniker “Dita Von Cheats,” but the prognosis undoubtedly looks good.

Throughout the course of the apprenticeship, the Bombers prove themselves active in the roller derby community by participating in forums and voting on proposed rule changes, which happens a lot. “The rules book used to be like nine pages,” says Bikos. “It’s 200-something now.” But it’s a contact sport on skates, she continues, and striving for inclusivity as well as safety. The team faces the Molly Rogers Rollergirls twice, once at home in a sanctioned match that the Bombers run like a professional bout, paperwork and approved refs and all. “We won both,” says Bikos, “which is very exciting.” Because going pro means more than bragging rights—it opens up a whole new world of competition and camaraderie. The Bombers will join an international club of around 400 professional teams, all ranked and ready to test their mettle against worthy adversaries. “We’ll get to play teams from all over the world,” says Bikos, “Teams that won’t play us now because we’re not ranked.” An invitation has already been extended from a team up in Alaska. The Bombers can’t swing it this time, says Bikos, “but it’s cool to be invited.”

And if the team has long been ready, says Bikos, it now has the venue to match as well, having moved this year to host bouts and practices at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex. “It’s been amazing,” says Bikos, with more and better seating that has helped double the fanbase, and locker rooms for competing teams. “So once we do become pro,” Bikos continues, “we can hold tournaments.” For now, they skate, rolling in circles on a palimpsest of potential energy, waiting for the judgment that will set them free and loose upon the world. “We feel pretty good about it,” says Bikos. “We’ll be a pro team.”