Image by Studio Blu Photography.
The Sioux Falls Roller Dollz have a big move ahead of them. After four seasons of skating at the Fairgrounds, this local team of tough-as-nails girls next door will be moving to the Sioux Falls Arena for their May 8th bout. If their previous attendance is any indicator (around 1,500 people attended their last bout), the Dollz will flourish at the new facility.
So, one might ask, what is roller derby? Basically, in the most simple, borderline unfair nutshell: at any given time, there are a group of skaters at the front called the pack. The pack is comprised of each teams’ blockers and jammers that skate behind. Jammers are the most important people on the track, and their helmet is indicated with a large star. As a jammer makes it through the pack two times, points are scored. Each 30-minute bout is broken into point-scoring shifts called jams.
When most people think of roller derby, they imagine an excessively violent sport with a distinctly 1970’s backdrop where women whiz by each other, displaying open aggression in anything-goes grudge matches. According to Sioux Falls Roller Dollz co-founder Elizabeth Nelson, that is so not the case. The roller derby of yore fell by the wayside long ago, and a new incarnation has taken hold in cities throughout the world. She concedes it is a rough contact sport, likening it to hockey (since there is checking), but it is also heavily refereed with penalties placed on skaters who purposely trip, throw elbows or fight.
“The hits are big, but we try really hard not to hurt each other or the other team. In my whole time in roller derby, I have never seen anybody who’s just a big bruiser and wants to walk into a bar and punch somebody,” Elizabeth said.
To Elizabeth and her teammates, roller derby is not about rage. It is about commitment and camaraderie—with the added bonus of a great workout. The Roller Dollz began in 2007 when Elizabeth (a.k.a. Queen
Elizabitch) met Jayme Nelson (whose on-track moniker is Pain Maker). Each woman had become fascinated with roller derby after seeing shows like A&E’s “Rollergirls,” which chronicled the lives and times of an Austin, TX syndicate. After weeks of tireless promotion, the Dollz held their first informational meeting, attended by 50 enthusiastic women. Over time that number has dwindled and they have gained some new teammates, with their membership hovering steadily around 20 strong, solid members at any given time. Current members range in age from their early twenties into their forties, and their day jobs are just as diverse.
To get started, the Dollz had to reach out to other teams for guidance. Luckily, Elizabeth had friends in Phoenix participating in the sport who, along with teams from Minneapolis and Denver, showed the Dollz the ropes. “That’s the cool thing about roller derby – the community is very close and willing to help you out and give you anything you need. Everyone was super willing to help us get started,” said Elizabeth.
The Dollz also found local business support with relative ease. Although the women involved pay dues and provide their own skates and equipment, it takes much more to keep the organization running smoothly. Sponsorship dollars go to help off set the cost of participation, uniforms and their practice space. Amongst others, Dakota Beverage has been with the Dollz for each of their four seasons.
Elizabeth says, “They have been super-amazing from day one, because Pabst Blue Ribbon has been a sponsor for a bunch of different leagues around the country throughout this whole roller derby revival.”
Despite its new image, roller derby remains a turbulent sport by any standard. The Dollz wear helmets and pads galore, but as in any athletic activity, injuries are par for the course. Skaters experience bumps
and bruises and the odd concussion, but the most common injuries are to the knees. During their first season, the Dollz lost a substantial number of players to knee-related damage. The women struck it lucky, however, when they
were approached by Dr. Judith Peterson, who acts as a volunteer team doctor. She has instituted a 15-minute sequence of knee-strengthening exercises that the Dollz run through each time they put on their skates, which has made a world of difference.
Elizabeth said, “She is from Philly and was a principle physician for the Philadelphia Ballet. She was really interested in women’s sports and contacted me during our first season. She’s written articles on roller derby injuries. Without her, all of us would be broke- in a lot of ways.”
The team likes to make an impact off the track, too. Volunteerism is a big part of the Roller Dollz. Aside from it helping to keep them visible in the community, it is their way of giving back to the city that has supported them for four seasons. So far, the team has given almost $30,000 to local charities like The Banquet and Second Chance Rescue Center.
“We want to be positive role models and show that we can wail on each other on the track, but still get up at five on a Friday to serve breakfast at The Banquet,” Elizabeth said.
For each bout, the team chooses a local charity to whom the proceeds will be donated. The Dollz next bout on May 8th will benefit Camp Bring It On, a summer camp for children with cancer. In addition to donating money, the team will spend an evening at the camp engaging in activities with the children. In addition to their move to the arena, the Dollz will also be recruiting during the month of May, marking the end of their October to May season. The team holds a rookie boot camp during the summer, then each skater takes a written and physical skills test in August. Those who pass both will be placed on a team. For those who do not pass initially, there are opportunities to retest until they make it. Throughout the summer, the Dollz will be having a series of fundraisers to help the new members ease into the cost of membership more comfortably. To those who are still skeptical about roller derby, Elizabeth wants them to get informed,
“First, I would challenge them to put on a pair of skates… but really I would challenge them to have a conversation about it with any of the girls. This is about being gracious, having a good time and having a great attitude.”
Tickets for the May bout can be found at all Ticketmaster outlets. For more information about the Sioux Falls Roller Dollz, check out www.RollerDollz.com or follow them on Twitter @SiouxFallsDollz.
Also, keep an eye out for them at future 605 events.