Roller derby girls may look pretty, in their pink and black outfits and fishnet stockings, but don’t mistake them as delicate. Derby girls are more than dolls on wheels; they’re aggressive, no-nonsense and competitive. They’re also extremely devoted, to their sport and to each other.
In 2006, Stacie Ellis founded the Lilac City Roller Girls, the first flat-track roller derby league in Spokane. “We needed to have a league. I waited for somebody to start one and nobody did, so I started handing out fliers. I thought I might as well create some fun and I wasn’t going anywhere,” Ellis said.
Ellis now trains new players and referees bouts, or games, after sustaining a compound fracture in her right leg when she was handing out derby fliers at the Junior Lilac Parade in 2008. “Those are going to be the girls running the league. They have a really great attitude. I like to be around that,” she said.
During their second season, the Roller Girls began battling other Northwest flat-track roller derby leagues. They have grown to three home teams, Pretty Deadly, She Wolves and the Toothless Annies, and have two travel teams, the Allstars and the Maidens of Mayhem. The travel teams combine players from their interleague teams. The league also has a junior team, the Lilac City Pixies, whose players range from 10 to 17.
Derby is fast-paced, highly competitive and exciting. But, for the women who play it is so much more. Lori Scouton, a derby participant since 2009, is a secretary at Holmes Elementary School. “They say roller derby saved my soul and that’s how I like to think of it,” she said. Scouton loves the game, the girls and the workout. “I compete against girls on average who are in their 30s. I’m 49 and I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m proud of that.”
Annie Grinolds, captain of the Allstars, started skating in 2007. She said she likes the competitive and aggressive nature of derby, but she “likes hanging out with the girls, too.”
Joy Katterfeld, competing since 2009, said the women spend, on average, three to four days a week together, including cross-training, mixed martial arts, personal training and regular practice. They travel at least once a month to a bout and have one or two bouts locally a month. Katterfeld said there is not only a love and commitment to the sport, there’s a love and commitment to each other. “We’re all derby sisters. It’s amazing, unconditional love.”
Grinolds said the team also spends time outside of practice, training and bouts. “We have dinners and brunches, get-togethers to make our costumes and in the summer we get together and trail skate.”
Naomi Weitz, founder and coach of the Spokannibals, a Spokane Valley flat-track roller derby league started in December 2010, is a mental health therapist at East Valley High School. “This is the best stress reliever there is. Whenever I leave practice I’m always happy, de-stressed,” she said.
Ti Marchand, captain of Pretty Deadly, and a member of the Maidens of Mayhem and the Spokannibals, has been in roller derby for three years. Marchand never skated before derby and said she was injured at her first practice and continued to fall and get injured. “It’s all worth it as long as you get to bout. I’ve had the worst days of my life and then I go to derby and it’s all gone,” said Marchand. “It’s the hitting, it’s the best part. It’s what does it. Then, you can forget your problems for a while.”
Roller derby was created in the 1930s as entertainment and a distraction during the Depression. It can be costly. The Lilac City Roller Girls, along with all derby teams, are nonprofit and skater owned and operated. The girls practice at Pattison’s and pay approximately $2,000 per month to rent the facility. When they hold bouts, it costs the team about $500 for the event, including the cost of equipment, referees, DJs, music and event insurance. The group splits the gate – $10 admission for adults – with the rink. Katterfeld said the team is looking for a home of their own. “We’re looking for a sugar daddy. Somebody who could help us pay for a warehouse or rink to practice and bout. We could advertise, on our costumes, on our T-shirts and on our programs and bring in alcohol at the bouts. It could generate income for our sponsor or ‘daddy.’ “
Derby is also a way to give back to the community. The Roller Girls have fundraisers, garage sales and car washes to help support their league, but the women also hold fundraisers, share their time and donate to local charities such as the Humane Society, Spokane Cancer Patient Care, Spokane Public School’s APPLE program, the Shriners Hospital for Children and a Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center team working in Rwanda. They also annually clean up under the freeway along the onramp near Lewis and Clark High School.
Local roller derby competitors range from 18 to their mid-50s. “We’re a group of women from all walks of life,” said Katterfeld.
For many, the sport gives them the opportunity to get out their aggression, stress and frustration while wearing fishnets and cute outfits and having fun, all at the same time.