Petersburg hosts first ever derby scrimmage
Petersburg's Ragnarøk Rollers hosted the Wrangell's Garnet Grit Betties and Ketchikan's Rainforest Rollergirls for a big roller derby weekend in Petersburg; consisting of skills workshops, referee training, and a two-hour scrimmage in front of a packed house of fans cheering for their favorite roller girls.
The event was a milestone for the new derby squad, most of whom donned skates for the first time in October 2012 when they travelled to Wrangell for their first derby boot camp.
Building the local program over the past year has been quite a process.
In December 2012 a well attended the beginning skating skills workshop was held in Petersburg.
There were a few skating injuries which slowed down recruitment. Now all the skaters carry insurance through USARS(U.S.A. Roller Sports) which required the formation of a board of directors and the establishment of a non-profit.
The group has met for practices three days a week all year.
"This first year we've been really focusing on skating skills and being safe...and now our numbers are being built up enough that we can start to do more scrimmaging practices, which is exciting," said Lisa Nilsen, Ragnarøk Roller and owner of the Skate of Gear skate shop.
Last weekend's SNO Crash 2014 attracted participants from Wrangell, Ketchikan, Juneau, Wasilla, Fairbanks and Palmer.
For nearly all of Petersburg's derby participants, skaters and officials, this was the first taste of competitive roller derby.
Saturday morning Midgi Moto from Taku Rollersports in Juneau conducted minimum skills rules testing for everyone competing on Sunday, in accordance with the Women's Flat Track Derby Association's minimum requirements for participation in a scrimmage or bout.
Derby coach Shocker Khan from Wasilla worked with skaters on basic skills, and the coaches assessed all the skaters to split the group into two fairly matched teams for the "Black and White" scrimmage.
Meanwhile, Cranberry Crush from Palmer and Zach "Kalishnikop 47" from Fairbanks led workshops for referees and non-skating officials.
As a testament to the complex, collaborative nature of derby, there were 21 skaters competing alongside ten referees and 16 non-skating officials whose jobs included: penalty box timing, scorekeeping, penalty tracking and more.
"It was pretty amazing to be a skater and of a sudden have these people come in knowing what they were supposed to be doing. We'd never seen that before," said Nilsen.
The testing and practicing continued Sunday morning
Then came the main event, the SNO Crash Scrimmage.
Enthusiastic fans packed the community gym's bleachers and for two fast-paced hours the evenly matched black and white teams battled it out on the track.
"It was so amazing to watch skaters who could barely skate a year ago forget all their fears and just skate. So much hard work has gone into derby...it has truly paid off," said Erin Kandoll, a.k.a. Miso Ginger of the Ragnarøk Rollers.
The goal was to keep it light and fun and not turn it into a rivalry between towns, said Nilsen.
There were no injuries, except maybe sore cheeks from all the smiling.
A remarkable amount of effort went into the weekend's event.
"Making a bout happen is super labor intensive. Juneau bouts monthly, but realistically in towns like ours we could probably do two a year. A black and white scrimmage like we did and a bout, that's realistic; because on the flip side to support other small towns we would have to travel out, and we're all moms or work full-time. We're not high school athletes that just travel during the year," said Nilsen.
This weekend has been a turning point for the roller girls.
"Now that we have the experience, our practices will include scrimmages. The referee training has totally tipped the scales. Now that we have officials who can teach and know what to call, it will totally change practices," said Nilsen.
And there is every intention to keep up the momentum.
"Wrangell is next. We'd like to go to that community and support them. I think they're shooting for March," said Nilsen.
They also aim to attend a big 12-team invitational in Palmer on May 2nd.
"We are hoping to compile a strong Southeast team, pulling whoever is able to travel that weekend. It will be way more competitively intense," said Nilsen.
Currently the Ragnarøk Rollers practice one night a week and early Friday morning, and Sundays there is an open skate from three to five p.m. at the Community Gym for all ages.
"We encourage people who haven't started skating with the team to go there and build up strength. I go with my kids all the time. There are a lot of moms with their families, and we rent skates here if you don't have them," said Nilsen. "There is a super strong culture to it. It's an incredible group of people that you might never run into otherwise."