Women in Wrangell are strapping on roller skates and heading to the rink.
Wrangell’s Garnet Grit Betties meet Wednesday and Sunday evenings at the skating rink inside Hope Community Church. Ten women showed up during a recent practice. They took a few spins around the track, practiced skating fundamentals and learned some derby techniques.
“It’s a big difference than just your average, every day activity for sure. I think we’re probably all going to have one big leg from going the same way around the track all the time,” Shawna Buness said.
Buness is one of the founding members of the Betties. She, along with Mikki Kauppila and Jennifer Wiederspohn, decided to assemble a team for Wrangell.
“None of us know what we’re doing. None of us have every played roller derby. We’ve seen it. We’ve watched it, but we’ve never been any part of it. So, that’s been a real challenge with all the research and in contact with other leagues trying to learn and figure out what we need to do to start,” she said.
When playing roller derby, two teams of five players compete in a series of races. The individual races are called “jams” and the whole match is known as a “bout”. Points are scored by players called “jammers” who take laps around the track while busting their way through the opposing team’s “blockers”. Roller derby is a full contact sport. The use of arms and elbows is strongly encouraged.
Buness said they had their first official practice in the beginning of October. As many as 20 people have shown up to skate. But Buness admits that so far there have only been a handful of women who are able to consistently take part.
“Roller derby’s a big commitment. It’s a huge commitment. I can’t tell you the hours I’ve spent dedicated to this in the last three weeks. A lot of people just aren’t quite ready to make that commitment. We’ve tried to be good with working into everybody’s schedule, but not everybody can be here every night,” she said.
The Betties join a small, but growing list of Derby teams throughout the state. According to AKRollerDerby.com, there are nearly a dozen active leagues. Two of those are located in Juneau. Buness said a friend of hers is in the Juneau Rollergirls league and she attended one of their bouts in September to get a better feel for what to expect. She said those Derby Girls have showered the Betties with support.
“They were so excited. They have so few teams in Southeast Alaska to play that immediately they have just been on the Facebook page: ‘What do you need? What do you need?’,” she said.
April Rebert is president of the Juneau Rollergirls. But she prefers to go by April Mayhem.
“I was a part of the inception, and I’ve been addicted and a prisoner and slave to its purpose ever since,” she said.
She said she is glad to hear about Wrangell’s attempts to form a league and can’t wait to skate with them. Mayhem said the best part about roller derby is that all are welcome.
“One of the things I love about this sport is that it’s new enough, at least in its most recent resurrection, that women who weren’t necessarily athletes before or don’t have the experience are still very much welcome in the sport,” she said.
The Juneau Rollergirls league has two home teams: The Kilkats and the Raven Lunatics. They also have a traveling team. Mayhem said the league has 45 active skaters and their bouts often sell out.
“It’s out of control. It’s wonderful. People come from all walks of life. We get sports fanatics in there, we get the football fans. We get punk rock girls who are just kind of in it for the culture, but they also fall in love with the sport. We get kids and families because they want to see Mommy on the track throwing hits,” she said.
Mayhem suggested the Betties work out a mission for their league, start fundraising and volunteering throughout the community. Buness said the Betties have been volunteering in Wrangell to get their name out. The group has a few fundraisers coming up including a kids’ photo booth on Halloween and a rummage sale and lunch set for Nov. 3. Buness said she expects it will take about a year to establish a league. For now they are looking for more skaters and non-skaters alike to build up a team.