Women all over the state are earning scrapes and bruises from roller derby. For many of the athletes, it’s a team building experience. Women who skate with the two Rapid City teams say the sport is empowering.
Roller skates hit a smooth gym floor as a group of women glides in circles. This is the Black Hills Wildfire roller derby team. Charlotte Walling is known on the track as Joan of Snark.
In roller derby, two teams skate in a circle around a track. Opponents use their bodies to block each other, even if it means slamming into the pavement.
“Every chunk of the game is divided into what’s called jams. At the very beginning of a jam you have two jammers and they’re lined up behind a line that’s over here called the jam line. Those are the people that score the points.”
There are two main positions in the game… jammers and blockers.
“The jammers job is to try to lap the blockers and they earn points for lapping the blockers. The blockers job is to try to stop her from scoring.”
Three blockers grab each other’s arms and form a triangle. The jammer skates past the group.
“And there she goes. So that’s her initial pass. Okay now she can start scoring points. Any pair of hips she passes on the black team will be a point.”
The jammer tries to pass the blockers again but instead slams into them and falls to the floor.
The team laughs and cheers every time someone falls. But they say the game isn’t all that dangerous.
-“This is a very rule heavy sport”
-“There’s a lot of technique. There’s a lot of strategy.”
-“Penalties, like pack definition.”
-“There’s like hundreds and hundreds of rules really.”
-“It’s athletic but it is also strategic. You can be as athletic as you want but if you don’t have the strategy, you won’t win. It’s like playing chess while somebody throws bricks at you.”
The players agree that roller derby builds confidence. As one skater jokes, there’s nothing better than hitting your friends.
-“Get rid of the aggression but still being friends at the end of the day.”
-“I call it ladies anger management.”
-“Yeah, it’s empowering too. Makes you feel strong.”
There are roller derby teams all over the state.
Vicki Urban’s track name is Pinkee B-witch. She skates with Rapid City’s Rushmore Rollerz team. Urban helped introduce the game to the Black Hills in 2008 after watching a match in Sioux Falls. She says roller derby caught on fast because there weren’t a lot of sports for women.
“Here’s a sport where we can be more than who we are. And back then you could have a persona. So you didn’t have to be you out there. Like if you were a lawyer, you could go out there and be Brutal Bama and be somebody completely different, which actually is where you started watching women evolve.”
She says the sport even changed the way women saw themselves.
“So if somebody was really shy and got into roller derby, you watched them become confident. And not afraid anymore because here ‘I am. You don’t like it? Oh well because I know plenty of other people who will’.”
Urban says women of all ages and backgrounds compete.
“All of us girls who are involved in it right now needed a niche just to do something bigger than what we are. And roller derby really was it.”
And for many women, it’s still an escape and great way to stay in shape. Both of the Rapid City teams compete across South Dakota and surrounding states. They have events scheduled throughout the summer.