Roller derby: the hardest thing on wheels

Two junior division skaters from Seattle and Edmonton, Canada vie for positioning during a bout on Saturday. The players with the starts on their helmets are called jammers. - Photo by Wes Morrow
Two junior division skaters from Seattle and Edmonton, Canada vie for positioning during a bout on Saturday. The players with the starts on their helmets are called jammers.
— image credit: Photo by Wes Morrow

Last weekend the Slaughter County Roller Vixen hosted their fourth annual Wild West Showdown at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds. If the only thing you understood from that last sentence was the fairgrounds, then make sure to read on.

The Slaughter County Roller Vixen are a league of women who compete in the sport of roller derby. They take their name from the former name of Kitsap — the county used to be known as Slaughter County, after a local soldier, Lieutenant William Slaughter.

The spirit of Slaughter lives on in the roller derby women of Central Kitsap. Roller derby is a tough sport. It’s a bit like rugby, only without the ball and played while zooming around an oval track on roller skates.

It’s a contact sport — and it’s a women-only club. Men often volunteer as referees or coaches, but can’t play. Slaughter County’s coach is Phil The Pain (not his real name — every derby player chooses a derby name, often tongue-in-cheek).

“The hits are real,” Phil said. “I’ve seen broken bones at practices and at games.”

Phil got involved with derby just after his wife, whose derby name is ReeArrangher. That was seven years ago. He acted as a referee for a while, and when the team’s old coach left, he stepped into the role he’s been playing ever since.

There are more than a hundred roller derby leagues in the country sanctioned by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, the sport’s main governing body. Teams are split into four divisions.

When the Slaughter County Roller Vixen’s hosted their Wild West Showdown last weekend, 16 sanctioned teams came from all around the western United States to participate.

Roller Derby works on a ranking system. Teams rise or drop in division ranking based on their performance in sanctioned bouts against other teams.

Most leagues have a sanctioned team and a development team. The Saints of Slaughter is the name of the roller vixen’s sanctioned team. They bout (that’s derby-speak for compete, just like in boxing) around once a month.

The team practices four times a week. Practices start at 9 p.m. and don’t end until 11. While roller derby is growing rapidly in popularity, the players aren’t paid. Many of them have full-time jobs for which they have to be up early in the morning. One of the Slaughter County skaters even teaches at a local school.

For the Slaughter County Roller Vixen, derby is a fun hobby, but it’s also a serious sport.

“People kind of have a misconception that derby is the dramatized stuff you see on TV,” said CindyLoo SmackYou. “There’s much more strategy to it than just knocking each other down.”

CindyLoo encouraged skaters who are interested in derby to come to a fresh-meat practice, which they have on Sunday nights for new players. For people who don’t want to compete but are still interested in derby, CindyLoo encouraged them to attend a home bout and learn about the sport.

The Roller Vixen usually have their bouts either at the fairgrounds or at Bremerton Skateland on Wheaton Way. Coach Phil said the matches are family friendly but there’s plenty to draw the adult crowd, including a beer garden.

Their next home bout is April 27 at Skateland.

Skaters have to be 18 to participate in the adult roller derby, but for those underage there are junior teams. Coach Phil said his daughter has been skating since she was 8 or 9 years old. She now skates with the local junior team, the Kitsap Derby Brats.

When the women are on the floor it’s serious, Phil said. They’re throwing hits and playing without mercy, but when the final whistle blows there’s no animosity, just the sharing of “hugs and beers.”

“It’s family fun,” Phil said. “It’s good hard athleticism … it’s like a sisterhood.”


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