Roller Derby: more than just a sport

Women skating for the roller derby teams Rage City Rollergirls, Boom Down Derby Dames, Denali Destroyer Dolls and Far North Derby rolled around the track in the Kenai Multipurpose Recreation Facility on Saturday.


Many had painted their faces, like war paint before a battle, and all the skaters were dressed in the common Derby garb — knee and elbow pads, helmets, and mouth guards.

The scrimmage — a first home field bout for Kenai and Soldotna’s Far North Derby girls — was an effort to raise awareness about violence against women and bullying, and to raise funds for the team.

The idea started with the team’s president, Monica Fincher.

On Sept. 18 the Far North Derby girls were at the Duck with the Gold Rush Rollers, another Kenai based derby team who had just merged with Far North Derby. They were waiting for premier of “Roller Baby,” a Derby documentary.

Just before the movie, a group walked through the door. A man in the group was yelling at a women, Fincher said.

“I didn’t like the way he was talking to her,” she said, “and I made a point of saying to him as he walked by, ‘Do you really think you’re in the best place to be yelling at women with a bunch of Derby girls nearby.’”

The man asked her to repeat what she had said, and she did.

He then rushed at her.

“He probably ran at me from 10 feet and shoved me with both hands,” she said.

She said she fell back and cracked her head against a poll.

Later that night an Emergency Room doctor sewed 16 stitches in the back of her head.

“And then as we started doing research,” she said. “The only thing that is down here is the LeeShore Center.”

But the center is for domestic violence and sexual assault, and she had never seen the man before who had attacked her.

“Then there’s really no Big Brothers and Big Sisters,” she said. “There’s not a lot of stuff for people to go around if they’re being bullied.”

Fincher said after being attacked at the Duck and after her research, the idea for the scrimmage “just kind of fell into place.”

More than 100 people had come to watch the scrimmage, and referees from the Rage City Rollergirls came to help with the bout.

“I just thought I’d come and check it out, see what it’s al about,” Sterling resident Mike Moore said, eating popcorn from at the edge of the skating rink.

Behind him about 70 people sat in the bleachers watching the Derby girls warm up before the bout.

Inside the rink, mobs of women buzzed around a circular track marked with lengths of rope taped down with Duct Tape.

Before the bout started, all the skaters lined up on the side of the track so the referees could check their pads. Some skaters had to replace pads that were too beaten and no longer provided protection.

It’s a physical sport, and Robert Langley, a 39-year-old EMT, said “it’s a good idea” to have medical personnel on scene.

“Concussions and sprains and lots of bruising,” the Kenai resident said, listing injuries he thought would be common.

Skaters accumulate these injuries as they spin around the track, smashing into each other.

They also accumulate points this way.

When the bout starts, the two five-person teams separate on either side of the track.

Four of the skaters from each team line up on the pivot line. They are called blockers.

Behind them, two jammers, one from each team, line up on the jam line.

When the skaters kick off of the lines, the blockers clump together to cut off access of the other team’s jammer. This prevents the other team from scoring points, because that is the jammer’s goal; they score the points.

Every opposing blocker the jammer passes earns the team a point. When they pass all four of an opponent’s blockers, they earn their team five points.

On the back of all the skaters’ jerseys they have their derby names.

Fincher’s name is “Skittles Skarazab Itch.” Others included “Shove and Tell,” “Battle Jax,” “Demonik Dalek” and “Curl Up N’ Dye.”

Even the male referees had Derby names. Anchorage referees Pete Gavtreau is known as “Repeat Offender,” and Kevin Bonney calls himself “Brohican.”

“I always rock a Mohawk, and I’m a guy in a female sport — so ‘bro’ plus ‘Mohawk’ equals ‘Brohican.’”

Boom Town Derby Dames’ Tina Clifford, also know as “Valkyries Hammer,” said their names are “extremely important.”

“I would say a Derby name reflects either your journey through life, something you’re very passioinate about or exactly what that Derby girl may be.”

Once Derby girls tie up their skates and step on the track, they often exclusively refer to each other by their Derby names, the 45-year-old Wasilla resident said.

“Something happens when you lace up your skates and your wheels hit the track,” she said. “It is very empowering.”


Dan Schwartz can be reached at