Keep on Rolling
Jax RollerGirls survive the bumpy road to national playoffs
It's the biggest achievement yet in local roller derby: The Jacksonville RollerGirls all-star team, the New Jax City Rollers, qualified for the 2013 Women's Flat Track Derby Association Division One Playoffs in Richmond, Va., Sept. 13-15 as the No. 30 seed. Teams from around the world will compete. And the New Jax team will be there, thanks to its hard work and dedication. And those fans who can't make the trip to Richmond can still view the action on WFTDA.tv.
Keri "Fancy Schmancy" Lewis, fresh off a tournament in Tampa, fielded some questions by email.
The first question that bears reflection: Is roller derby "feminist"? Her answer might surprise you.
"I don't think roller derby is a feminist enterprise. It takes a village to run a roller derby league. Flat-track roller derby was founded in Austin, Texas, in 2003. It was started as a female-only sport, but there were men that played an integral part of the league function, ranging from coaches, staff, referees, bout announcers, photographers, videographers, volunteers to fans. Derby leagues become a big family."
Supporting her contention that roller derby is of equal importance to both genders, Lewis mentioned that the local men's team — the Magic City Misfits — is the fourth-ranked team in the United States.
Even with all that love, it's difficult for athletes, who must hold down day jobs, to find time to practice and compete.
"It is a challenge getting a practice and bouting venue that accommodates our league's needs," Lewis said. "Can we get enough practice time at reasonable hours for the skaters? Finding bout venues that are affordable and give us the opportunity to put on a good bout for paying patrons [is a challenge]. We also struggle making it affordable for skaters to compete on our traveling team, especially the all-star team. New Jax travels at least five times a year to out-of-state bouts, and getting the money and time off work to compete can be taxing on skaters."
Indeed, no one goes into roller derby for the moolah.
"Each active league member pays monthly dues to be a part of our league, whether they are a skater, referee or non-skate official [NSO]," Lewis explained. "These dues help pay for our monthly expenses as a league. We also sell tickets for all our bouts, but those proceeds go right back into our league. We pay for all our practice and bout spaces, women's flat-track derby association fees, tournament fees, miscellaneous expenses to operate the league, and we try and give some financial assistance to our travel teams when we can."
As scrappy as the Rollers are on skates, they have to be equally scrappy to make the model work. It might be hard for those whose first (and only) exposure to roller derby was the old California stuff ESPN used to run as filler programming in the 1980s to understand how much a derby squad endures. Injuries, as you might expect, are always a concern.
"As competitive athletes, we condition on and off the track to keep our bodies in shape to prevent injury. With that being said, injuries can still happen, and the most serious injuries are often leg [ankle or knee], arm or collarbone and shoulder injuries," Lewis said.
Those who've seen the routine bumps skaters take understand that — as with so-called major sports — playing hurt is part of the game. So are tryouts. With each passing year, skating for Jax gets more competitive.
"Tryouts are very intense and nerve-wracking for skaters. Tryouts are done separately for each team semi-annually. We definitely have to make cuts, and each year the competition gets tighter. We even had four transfer skaters from other cities this year. Two skaters drive from as far as Ocala to train and skate with us."
Still, it is a game; played seriously, but fun at the heart of it all.
"Most skaters take each bout pretty serious. We have fun while competing, but each skater is determined to take home the win. The announcers can be very funny and entertaining while calling the bout. We also have an annual charity bout in December for Toys for Tots, where we mix the men's team and the women's all-star team onto two different teams Naughty vs. Nice. We all get festive with our jerseys and have a lot of fun skating on a co-ed team."