Ladies, lace up your skates. Roller derby competitions are making a comeback. After an almost 35-year hiatus, women are taking to the rink to play a new version of roller derby.
Two women in the La Crosse area are trying to form a league of women who want to be on competitive teams. They need 60 to 65 women to form four teams for a league in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.
Stephanie Powers of West Salem, and Amanda Boucher of La Crosse hosted an information/skating session at High Roller Skating Rink in La Crosse last week, where they plan to have practices. Right now, High Roller, on the south side of La Crosse, is allowing the women to use the rink for practice free of charge as the league forms.
Boucher said the roller derby bug bit her when she was visiting friends in Austin, Texas. “Ever since then I’ve been obsessed,” she said. She didn’t know Powers at that point, but Boucher started talking to folks about it and a mutual friend got her and Powers together.
“What I like about this is it promotes independent, strong women and healthy exercise,” Powers said. “Any woman of any ability, weight and size can join.”
The sport doesn’t look like the 1930s or 1970s when players (both women and men, but not on the same teams) beat each other up pretty good. There’s still some body blocking and other strategies, but the violence of the most recent version of roller derby is gone.
The newer version got its start in 2004 in Austin, Texas. There are two major differences in how roller derby is played now. Boucher said now the majority of roller derby teams are self-owned and operated, instead of the money going to managers who worked their skaters to the bone. Women play now because they love the sport.
The second big difference is most of the U.S. teams play on flat tracks as opposed to banked tracks of old. There are more rules and regulations to protect skaters and make competitions uniform and there is more safety equipment.
The basic idea of the sport is that one skater from each team (called a jammer) tries to pass players on the other team, racking up one point per person passed. The other team members (called blockers and pivots) try to prevent the opposing team from scoring (by checking or blocking) and assist their teammate in scoring.
Having your own skates is helpful, although no inline skates are allowed — roller derby has changed but not that much.
Boucher said she has visions of the league being able to give back to the community. “We want to use the league to help nonprofits, spread awareness of their causes,” she said.
Boucher hopes future activities include hosting benefit matches and donating a portion of ticket proceeds to organizations, having canned food drives or collecting personal care products for women in shelters or pet care supplies for the humane society.
About 15 women signed up at last week’s introductory session, and they hope to start practicing in about a month. However, a lot more women are needed to form a league of four teams with 15 players per team. Players can live anywhere in the greater La Crosse area, which includes the Minnesota side of the river.
In addition to skaters, Boucher and Powers are looking for folks who would be interested in learning to referee competitions as well as coaches. Boucher wants to play; she’ll start out coaching but would rather be on the track.
Nicole DiDomenico from Onalaska said she is looking forward to joining. “I haven’t skated in five or six years,” she said. “But it’s coming back.”
DiDomenico, 21, is signing up just for the fun of it. “I’m looking forward to just getting out, meeting people, having fun.”
Rachel Myers of the north side of La Crosse said she is excited, but she can’t join right now. “I was a roller skating fanatic when I was a little girl. I’m expecting now, Dec. 18. I’ll join after January,” she said.
“It’ll be fun and good exercise,” said Katie Stevenson of La Crosse. Stevenson, 31, said she is signing up for the fun, exercise and friends.
“Roller derby girls are awesome,” said Libby Hembd of La Crosse. Hembd, 27, had a friend who skated with the Mad Rollin’ Dolls of Madison.
There are currently 300 women’s roller derby teams in the world. Wisconsin has leagues in Appleton, Milwaukee, Madison, Duluth/Superior and Beloit.
Madison is one of the top-ranked leagues in the country. The Mad Rollin’ Dolls are currently ranked 15th in the nation. Madison will be the site of the Eastern Regional Tournament Oct 10-12.
Current teams are made up of women from all walks of life, from lawyers and accountants to teachers and stay-at-home moms. They are also made up of any women over age 21 of any skating ability. The critical ingredient is passion for fun.
“Size and skill are not an issue,” Boucher said. “All you need is will.”
— JOIN THE CLUB: Anyone interested in joining the La Crosse area women’s roller derby league as a skater, referee or coach can e-mail Amanda Boucher at email@example.com or Stephanie Powers at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Stephanie at 608-796-2533.