Skaters from across the state were in Nikiski over the weekend for the Heroes versus Villains roller derby mixer. Some players donned costumes and played as their favorite good or bad guy. Kenai’s own Far North Derby Dollz hosted the event, which is now in its second year.
Skaters with the Denali Destroyers, the North Pole Babes in Toyland and the Rage City Rollergirls were among the gaggle of girls who rolled their way onto the track at the Nikiski Ice Rink. What was different about this bout compared to others was that it was a collection of players that was split down the middle. There was the Black Team, and, of course, the White Team.
Even though the make-up of the teams was different, the game was still the same. Here’s a brief tutorial: The ladies huddle into what’s called a “pack.” Behind the pack are two girls who are known as “jammers.” There’s one for each team. These girls are trying to bust through the pack and score points.
Whoever is the first skater to break free is considered the “lead jammer” and she collects more points each time she makes her way through the pack. Each jam lasts two minutes and the lead can call it off at any time. She might be especially inclined to do that if the other team’s jammer is a little too close for comfort.
If you’ve ever seen a roller derby bout, you know that it can get pretty aggressive. Tiare Hansen, who is better known by her derby name “Keelah Hurtz,” said she enjoys explaining derby to people.
“Every time I get asked ‘what’s derby all about? Isn’t that kind of like wrestling on skates?’ I kind of laugh because that’s what I thought of when I didn’t play. But it’s not. It’s legal hitting. We’re not hitting people with chairs, or pile-driving them,” she said.
She’s been with the Far North Derby Dollz since April. Her costume for Saturday was “Beast” from X-Men. Hurtz has already made quite an impression on her team. As well as anyone who happens to get in her way.
“I keep getting told that I hit really hard and that I’m tough. I actually had a couple of girls squeal and run away from me on the track when they saw me waiting for them,” she said.
So what is it about roller derby that draws people in?
“It’s a huge question. Have you got an hour,” Eamonn Shute said.
He said a reason for the increased interest could be because derby is one-of-a-kind.
“This sport is something where you get to see an energy and drive in women that maybe you don’t get to see in other sports,” he said.
Although he doesn’t skate with the girls during bouts, there are roles for men within derby.
“For the team I am a referee in training and also the bench coach when we have bouts,” he said.
Monica Fincher, aka “Skittles” is one of the founding members of the team and is the league manager.
“I just make sure everybody’s going off in the right direction and making sure everything gets delegated so we can get all the stuff done,” she said.
She said when the team first started there were about 30 girls who came out to learn the sport.
“And nobody really had skates… we were just having off-skate practice and trying to get in shape. And then things started getting a little harder and all of a sudden we had a lot less people. They get on their skates, fall down a couple of times and then ‘oh there’s too much involvement and this takes up a lot of my time.’ We constantly going through that motion and recycling and starting over,” she said.
But Skittles said there is a solid group of about 15 girls now. They practice a few times a week and are always looking for new recruits.
“Not everybody can be a baseball player or a cheerleader or play really good basketball. Roller derby is all about your balance and how hard you try. Everybody can learn to do this. I have seen girls put on skates and hang onto the walls forever that our now all-stars,” she said.
She says anyone who has ever considered skating should do it. You have to be 18 to play with the Far North Derby Dollz and there is no age cap. If you missed Saturday’s mixer, there will be another chance to see the girls skate around the track. The next bout is scheduled for Sept. 14.