Big hits, blinding speed, tons of swagger, cool nicknames and tights are just a few of the reasons to check out your local roller derby scene. In the 80 years since its creation, the sport of roller derby has risen and fallen in popularity, lived and died several times.
It has evolved from a simple race, spawned from culture of dance marathons and bike races, to something that resembled WWF professional wrestling to its own culture. The last 10 years has provided roller derby the biggest rise in participation the sport has seen. In 2005, there were roughly 50 all female leagues in existence in the US by February 2006. That number grew to 80 and by mid-August of that same year, the number of similar leagues grew to over 135. In 2006, the first all-Canadian league was welcomed, which was formed in Edmonton, Alberta, and became the first international league, though many other countries such as Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom and several others would soon follow suit.
Today, there are 1,000 amateur leagues in existence and membership remains dynamic due to the continued awareness and willing acceptance of new participants.
One such league is St. Cloud Area Roller Derby, or better known as the S.C.A.R. Dolls. The S.C.A.R. Dolls formed in 2011 and has successfully fostered in a challenging, exciting and empowering revival of modern roller derby in central Minnesota.
According the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), roller derby is still very much a grass roots sports and word of mouth is responsible for attracting the most fans, either by having a family member or friend involved, or by learning about it through a friend. Allyson Klenke, known on the track as A-Bomb has been a S.C.A.R. Doll for the past three years.
“I took my friends to an [North Star Roller Girls] bout, and they both said they could see me playing roller derby. I did some research and found the S.C.A.R. dolls, and I’ve been all in since then,” Klenke said.
Klenke, like most of other players, has made a room in her life for derby despite working a full-time job. “The hardest part of starting out in derby was getting my schedule to work out with practices. I worked nights. But I knew this sport was for me, and I made my work schedule fit my derby schedule.”
In 2012, a survey taken by WFTDA found that 35 percent of the active female skaters are salaried professionals, 15 percent are employed at a managerial level, and 5 percent own their own business. The most popular careers among current active skaters include education (11 percent), health care practitioners, technical, and support, (11 percent), and office and administration support (6 percent). Four percent of skaters report careers in accounting and financial operations, arts and design, food service, retail sales, and homemaking. Six percent are full‐time students, and 1 percent report as unemployed.
But, in case you are wondering if the women of derby are paid to play, the answer is no.
In fact, they are responsible for purchasing their own skates, protection, like pads and a helmet, and also pay league dues. With equipment costs and travel costs, and dues, skaters spend an average of $1,221 in year one of derby, yet the game continues its impressive growth to level of possible Olympic inclusion within the next 12 years. “I think having nationals in Minnesota on ESPN3 was a big deal! Now, let’s make that ESPN2 or even ESPN.”
Klenke’s path to S.C.A.R. is one of many stories circling the track. DeAnn Van Wechel, a.k.a. Goldie Stalker, had been a member of the Fergus Falls Roller Girls before joining S.C.A.R.
“I started roller derby six years ago in Fergus Falls, one of the founding members of the Fergus Falls Roller Girls. We tried very hard for three years to gain members and hosting bouts with about five of us doing it all,” Van Wechel continued. “A couple of friends of mine introduced it to me. I was there for the very first meeting. After three years of struggling, we decided to ask the S.C.A.R. Dolls if we could join them.”
“I have heard that some were apprehensive of us joining, but later they admitted this and she said she was glad we were there,” Van Wechel said. “The S.C.A.R. Dolls had about 40 members at that time, a very ‘healthy clan,’ compared to our five. I was scared to join them, but now I am so glad I did.”
When asked what her fondest memory S.C.A.R. is, Van Wechel referred to relationship between the events and the charities they benefit.
“The original dolls kept asking me to join every time they saw me visiting my friend Ann who works at the skating place. They would say, ‘we are trying to get you to join…you look like a derby girl.’ I was a bit cold to it and thought to myself, ‘I don’t want to be in something just because someone wants me to join because of my looks (Tattoos and dreads).'” Van Wechel explained.
“I’m a bit guarded about being put into any kind of category or people fixing labels on others to create some sort of illusion for a crowd,” she said. “Then a year later a friend of mine joined and I thought, ‘If a professional social worker can do derby then I guess maybe it isn’t quite what I had imagined it to be. Maybe they include everyone and it’s not directed at an image.’ I decided to jump in the car with Amy and try it out. Scared as hell, I got on the rink barely knowing how to stand on skates. Everyone was welcoming and I quickly found a new family of people from many walks of life. I was completely wrong about what I had imagined derby to be and wishing I had joined earlier.”
In interviewing for this article, not one skater regretted joining and the acceptance of people from different backgrounds and skill levels was a constant theme among the participants. Harmony Knowles (Fang) didn’t even know how to skate when she was convinced to join the squad.
Anyone interested in learning more about becoming a part of the roller derby movement in St. Cloud can visit scardolls.com and learn how to become a member of S.C.A.R. And for those looking for an opportunity to see this game up close and personal, you are in luck. There is a home bout at the River’s Edge Convention Center on Feb. 27.