When in high school or college, it’s pretty easy to join a competitive team. There are all kinds of clubs and sports at competitive and intramural levels, and without a full-time job or family, you’ve generally got a lot more time for practices and competitions. As we get older it can become more difficult to find a way to scratch that competitive itch in a team environment, as there just aren’t as many opportunities due to our many daily obligations and responsibilities. For almost a decade now, a group of local women are finding not just a way to keep competing, but a place to be part of a team, release some stress and make some lasting relationships.
Coeur d’Alene Roller Derby is a team comprised of women who come from all kinds of athletic backgrounds, with many having little to no skating experience. “I think a person would be surprised to see how aggressive it could be, as well as how light hearted it could be in the same game,” explained Stephanie Coates, who goes by “Bigs Eats Smalls” during her bouts.
“Most people who aren't familiar with roller derby often ask: ‘So you beat each other up on skates?’ Well, it's not that simple,” said team member Kayla, aka Nahmaslay. There are many rules to prevent competitors from seriously injuring one another while using strategy and technique. It is a physical sport, so there is contact, but there is no punching or kicking like some may think. “It's a family friendly environment with a lot of passion, hard work and plenty of sweat and sometimes tears,” she said.
For those who aren’t familiar with the rules, games are called bouts, and each has two 30-minute halves with a halftime in between. Each half is made up of jams, which last up to two minutes each. Each team has a jammer who scores points by lapping members of the other team, and four blockers who try to stop the other team's jammer while also assisting their own jammer. It's a full-contact sport, so you will definitely see skaters falling down and flying across the track. There are a lot of rules though, so it's not just a brawl, and there is an announcer who tries to explain all the action as it happens.
Coeur d’Alene Roller Derby is part of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association and hosts bouts locally while also traveling across Idaho, Washington and Montana for additional competitions.
In addition to the 30 or so skaters from both teams, up to seven referees, who also wear skates, are needed, plus 10 or so non-skating officials who keep score, track penalties and lineups, time the jams and make sure the game runs smoothly. Then there are the bench coaches for each team who help with strategy, decide which skaters go out to the track and make sure no one gets too tired. Medics are on hand for each game to assist if anyone gets injured. Finally there are the volunteers who take tickets, sell merchandise and help set up and tear down the track. There are probably more people working "behind the scenes" than there are skaters on the track.
Practices are held twice a week, and participants better show up ready to break a sweat both physically and mentally. “We usually like to do footwork and/or endurance at the beginning, throw in some hitting drills, and toward the end of our practice we scrimmage,” explained Kayla. “Most practices are different, and we mix up drills to keep us on our toes and to never stop learning new ways to improve.”
It’s practice where new women—or “fresh meat” as they are referred by—get their first look at all of what roller derby entails. “The first time I was on skates I knew I wanted to keep skating,” said third-year member Piper Kenny, aka EmPiper Strikes Back. Piper’s commitment to the sports goes beyond the twice-a-week practice as she looks to be a strong competitor when it’s time for a bout. “Outside of practice I work on lifting and endurance at the gym; basically all my focus is on my legs since you don’t use your arms much in derby. The team taught me to skate well, but the gym is an important part of making sure we don’t tire out during games.”
All women are invited to attend a practice to see whether this might be something they are interested in pursuing. While it can sound intense, Coeur d’Alene Roller Derby welcomes women of all skill levels, even those who’ve never donned roller skates before. When speaking with various members, it’s clear to see that this is so much more than just competition as the women push each other out of their comfort zones and encourage each other to continue to gain confidence.
“Roller derby girls may seem very tough and hard, which is true,” said Kayla, “but a lot of us are softies who just want to connect with this community while getting some exercise and letting out the stresses of every day.” It rings similar for Skatanic Panic (Alaina Drake). “And we celebrate each other's individual successes too, so when a teammate does something awesome it's so satisfying to share in that and to have them share in your successes too.”
Bouts with opposing teams can get intense; after all, the entire goal is to physically block your opponent from getting around you on the 88-foot-long track. Emotions can run high, but win or lose, at the end of the bout, it is all about sportsmanship. “All those skaters that are so intimidating to play against are also instant friends—on and off the track,” said Piper. “There’s a deep link that allows us all to play the sport that we love, be aggressive and competitive and really lay it all out on the track, and then to high five your opponents afterward and compliment them on how well they played, how hard they hit me, how much of a pain they were to score against.”
You can catch the Coeur d’Alene Roller Derby team in action in their final home bout of the season on Saturday, October 26, at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds. Tickets can be purchased in advance at CdARollerDerby.com for $5 or on the day of the bout for $8. Kids 10 and younger are free. Concessions and a beer garden will also be available. Whether you’re looking for a rocking group of ladies to join up with, or perhaps just a change up in your Saturday night entertainment, the team hopes you’ll stop by and cheer them on.
“This sport has given me and others so much more confidence in many different aspects we may have been lacking in before,” said Kayla. “Community is so important, and this sport connects all different walks of life and can be very encouraging to push past your limits—even off track.”