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Men form their own roller derby leagues alongside women’s leagues
Roller derby may be a woman’s world, but for Geno Guerrero, of Bremerton, there is room for men in the fast-paced contact sport.
And in the case of the state’s first flat track roller derby team, the Puget Sound Outcast, the men are learning from the women, joining forces with the Oly Rollers, a female league from Olympia.
“Camaraderie between the men and women is so tight knit, you join the roller derby and you gain that many best friends,” he said last week. “It’s your new group.”
Although men have historical precedent in the sport, Guerrero said, women have dominated roller derby for generations. The latest incarnation of the sport has been exclusively women, with the exception of some men in the roles of coaches and referees.
“Physically we are different, but the rules are still the same,” he said.
Gino Guerrero’s wife, Kessara Guerrero, or “Knocker Socks Off,” is a member of the Oly Rollers’ Drop Kick Donnas. She agreed that men are a positive addition to the sport. But she said when men first began competing, many women were opposed to them joining.
“It felt like roller derby, this latest evolution of it, was our sport,” she said. “It felt like they were stepping on our turf.”
Kessara Guerrero added it was especially embarrassing when the men would put on dresses.
But today, after consulting with the women’s organizations, the mens’ leagues have evolved into something that can be taken seriously, she said.
“I like to see the growth. I think there’s a lot of collaboration and a lot of positive movement in making our sport a bigger deal,” she said of the men’s, women’s and junior associations.
Not everybody sees the men’s teams as being able to draw fans over the long haul.
While Kindra Robb respects men who compete in roller derby, she adamantly believes that it’s a women’s sport.
“The men don’t fill up the stadiums. It’s the girls who get the stands filled,” she said.
The 24-year-old paraeducator hails from Kitsap County’s own roller derby league — The Slaughter County Roller Vixens.
Robb, or “Isla Eat Yo Babies” as she is referred to on the track, has been skating for the league for a little over one year.
“It’s entertaining because they are more aggressive,” she said.
Phillip Whatley, a coach in Kitsap’s league, echoed Robb’s sentiments.
“The ladies bring a lot of class to the game. It’s more graceful to watch,” he said.
Whatley added that the men tend to focus less on strategy, and more on aggressive hits, which often leads to more fouls.
Whatley, who has been coaching for five years, was previously a men’s and women’s referee. The 45-year-old from Bremerton finds coaching the team much more rewarding than reffing bouts. He especially enjoys helping his players use the sport as a means of empowerment.
“I think they take away some of the strength they learn on the tack to their real lives,” Whatley said.
“It’s like a sisterhood,” he said later.
He added that for now, this interconnectedness is unique to the women’s sport.
“Gosh, how come guys can’t do this stuff?” he said.
But according to Geno Guerrero, the guys can.
“The only difference is we use ‘he’ and ‘him’ instead of ‘she’ and ‘her,’” he said of the men’s sport.
Geno Guerrero, or “G. No-Evil,” has played on the Puget Sound Outcast for the past four year, when the team formed. The first two years, the team was more of a spectacle than an athletic team, Geno Guerrero said. The team would most often perform at half time shows, where team members would perform stunts like jumping over one another, he added.
But their “ears perked up” when they heard about competitive roller derby on the East Coast, he said. Team members contacted the coalition of four teams that existed at the time, to talk about how to form a competitive men’s flat track team in Washington.
Today 15 teams make up the Men’s Roller Derby Association. The Puget Sound Outcast is the only Washington-based team.
While Geno Guerrero lives in Bremerton, the team unites players from all over — from Bellingham to Tacoma he said.
Geno Guerrero said working with the women’s team proves to be an excellent learning experience for the men, who try to mimic the teamwork and footwork the women have brought to the game.
“It keeps us grounded,” he said.
For the Guerreros, roller derby has become a family affair. Despite the difficulty to listen to a spouse critisize the other on their hour-and-a-half drive home from joint practices, Kessara Guerrero said she has seen their participation in the support strengthen their relationship.
“I like it because its something we can encourage each other with. We can support each other through it,” she added.
The two have two kids - Julia, 6, and Antonio, 11. Kessara Guerrero said they will probably join a roller derby team one day, but for now they just compete in speed skating. Next the kids will play hockey, she added, to give them an advantage for when they start roller derby.
The Men’s Roller Derby Association hosted its first tournament last year in New York. Geno Guerrero hopes to bring the next tournament to Kitsap County.
On July 2, the Kitsap County Fairgrounds hosted a men’s and women’s roller derby bout where the Puget Sound Outcast competed alongside the Oly Rollers’ Drop Kick Donnas.
The men’s team hosted the tournament as a fundraiser to attend the national competition, but let the women compete as well because of the Oly Rollers’ support, Kessara Guerrero said.
Both teams defeated their respective opponents, Your Mom Men’s Roller Derby League and The Dockyard Derby Dames.
The Oly Rollers Drop Kick Donnas won 198 to 61, and the Puget Sound Outcast won 273 to 143.
Although it is mainly known today as a female sport, the roots of roller derby are male.
Starting in 1922 with six-day races and 24-hour championships, the sport focused on endurance, Geno Guerrero said.
“It was basically a marathon on skates,” he added.
Women began competing alongside the men in order to sell more tickets, he said. But the outlandish costumes turned roller derby more into a spectacle than a sport, so it slowly died out.
Women brought the sport back into action in 2001. Men began coaching and reffing, but did not initially compete. Geno Guerrero said it wasn’t until about six years ago, when male referees started scrimmaging one another for fun, that men began to compete again.
While from the start many women respected the men as coaches and refs, and husbands, Kessara Guerrero said now that they are mirroring the women’s leagues they are earning the respect of the women as fellow athletes.
“They are more of a brotherhood than a pestering younger brother,” she said.