Women's roller derby has had a resurgence since the early 2000s. What once had the reputation as a spectacle akin to professional wrestling is now seen as a respectable competitive sport. But it's not for everyone. Jennifer Pemberton sends us this report from team try-outs for the Junction City Roller Dolls in Ogden.
It’s Monday night. The Weber County fairgrounds are completely empty except for a few cars in the parking lot of the Golden Spike Arena Exhibition Hall. This is the kind of building that during county fair time would be packed full of jars of pickled vegetables or quilts, but the empty hall with its polished concrete floor is also the practice facility for the Junction City Roller Dolls, northern Utah’s flat track roller derby league.
The roller dolls are having a scrimmage. They’re doing some drills. And they’re recruiting for fresh meat, defined by the all-star team's co-captain, Canadian Bacon:
"Brand new to roller derby skaters. They have to go through a trial period where they try us out for size. We try them out for size. They go through the basic skills. We make sure they’re skilled enough to skate safely… to the extent that playing roller derby is skating safely.”
There are 2 girls here to try-out tonight. Kat from Clearfield already went out and bought skates. She’s staying away from the scrimmage but looks pretty steady on her feet already.
“I played roller hockey in high school and I was on a speed-skating team, so all of my experience is on blades, not quads….they’re a little clunky compared to blades.”
The freshest meat on the team is Veronica Vain:
“V-A-I-N as in conceited. I found out about derby in 2006. I was still living in San Diego at the time. I was immediately obsessed with it. Then I got pregnant. You can’t play derby when you’re pregnant. I had a couple babies. Then we moved out here. I came to a bout in August and asked them about it. It was a whirlwind. I came to a bout. 10 days later I was at practice. A month later I had my skills test….”
So, good attitude. Check. Some skating ability. Check. Not pregnant. Check. But why, of all sports, roller derby?
Mugsy Rogue is a graduate student at Utah State University. She joined the Junction City Roller Dolls in January of this year, but just got one bout under her belt and unfortunately can’t skate for a few months due to a broken wrist. But she comes to every practice and her enthusiasm for the sport is contagious.
“Derby is a sport for any girl. I played sports growing up and I never felt like I fit in certain sports. I’m 5 feet tall. I played basketball until I realized no, I’m just not cutting it. But in derby, anyone can do it. Any girl can do it. And the girls are here to support you and it’s girls from all types of backgrounds who I wouldn’t have met otherwise if I hadn’t played derby. As soon as you start, they’re instantly your friends.”
Still undecided? Scared? Roller derby is a little bit dangerous. Good health insurance is strongly recommended and extra Women’s Flat Track Derby Association insurance is required.
And derby is also a very big time commitment., as explained by co-captain Slayer Cake.
“My name is Slayer Cake, I’m the president of the league. I started the league in 2008. I’m the captain of the all-star team with Bacon. I’m on the training committee. I’m on our board. I do the money. And I do all those other responsibilities...just when I need to step up.”
Derby girls are expected to help out in any way they can: managing the website, making posters, organizing charities, selling tickets, cleaning up after bouts. They have to pay monthly dues to stay on the team and they have to show up to practice, because most importantly, roller derby is a competitive sport, according to Slayer Cake:
“It’s 100% athletic. It’s real. It’s not WWE. It’s not fake. We don’t punch each other. We don’t fight. It’s not your grandma’s roller derby that was on a banked track. It’s on a flat track. Rules are obviously different. There’s no clothes-lining or throwing people down and punching them.”
So, you think you want to be a roller doll? Assuming you pass the skills test and the written rules test and got your safety gear and your spandex, and you’ve paid your dues, you’ll need a derby name. It better be a good one. There’s an international roster of derby names and if you’re not feeling original, you’ll need to ask for written permission from the owner to duplicate…and even then you’ll probably be denied.
The Junction City Roller Dolls hold fresh meat try-outs on a continuing basis. Find out when the next practice is or where to watch them play.