Jet City sees roller derby develop into serious sport

Local residents enjoy battling on the skating track
By Marie Haaland | Jul 26, 2017
Photo by: Marie Haaland Blockers work to stop the opposing team’s pivot from getting through the pack during a mock bout at Jet City Rollergirls’ open house on Thursday, July 20, at the Everett Skate Deck.

The Jet City Rollergirls have seen roller derby evolve into an incredibly real, serious sport over the past decade or so, especially here in the Pacific Northwest.

Christina Congdon, a Mukilteo resident, has been skating with Jet City under the name Teeny Bopper and has witnessed the change firsthand – not only in roller derby – but in how people view the sport.

“If you had come here nine years ago, we would have all been wearing fishnets and knee-high socks and little skirts,” Congdon said. “It was more about looking cute and it has evolved and everyone’s really serious about what we do. It’s a sport.”

Jet City Rollergirls hosted an open house Thursday, July 20, at the Everett Skate Deck, with the aim of teaching people about derby and working to increase their membership.

“This was a really good [turnout] – we haven’t done an open house in a while, so it’s nice to see this many people here, being interested in what we do,” Congdon said.

With fishnets replaced by athletic pants or shorts, and skaters coming prepared with knee pads, helmets and mouth guards, it was clear before the team hit the track that this was something they all were passionate about.

The open house consisted mainly of the Rollergirls doing mock bouts. In a bout, two teams of five – made up of four blockers and a jammer – are trying to score points. A maximum of five points can be earned by a team in a single bout, which lasts for two minutes. It can be called off early by the “lead jammer” – a designation given to the first jammer to make it through the pack of the opposing team’s blockers.

Shannon Wilson, known on the track as Pyro Maim-iac, started with Jet City this past September. She was drafted by Camero Harem, one of the four home teams, in March.

“The jammers are the ones with stars on their heads and they are basically trying to get through the pack, which is the four blockers in the front,” Wilson said.

Each time the jammer passes a skater’s hips, they get one point for their team. They also receive a point for passing the other team’s jammer. One of the blockers is a pivot. If the jammer can’t get through the pack, they are allowed to take the star cap off their helmet and pass it to the pivot, who then becomes the jammer for the team.

Wilson grew up playing hockey with her brothers and has been into sports her whole life.

“I thought derby looked amazing when I saw it,” she said.

After moving from the Midwest, where there was not a team at the time, Wilson was excited to find a local roller derby league.

“I thought that was perfect,” Wilson said. “I came, I tried it and I was hooked immediately. I was like, ‘I have to do this.’”

Roller derby is especially popular in the Puget Sound, with about 10 leagues active in the region.

“I think the Northwest in general has a grassroots, alternative culture, so I think that draws a lot of people that are interested in what we do,” Congdon said.

While already playing a sport like hockey will help a person to succeed in derby, Jet City Rollergirls encourages all skill levels to come out to their classes, which are held on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

The Rollergirls are preparing for their season starting at the beginning of September, with all four home teams playing in a tournament on Sept. 9.

“If you’re a brand new person, you can come and we’ll teach you to skate – you can be hanging onto the wall and we’ll teach you. Anybody can come,” Congdon said.

She joined Jet City in 2008 after moving to Seattle. Congdon skates for Camero Harem and recently joined the Jet City Bombers, the league’s travel team.

“I was looking for something to do – meet new people, have fun and do some exercise – and I’d skated when I was like a teenager/pre-teen,” Congdon said. “I didn’t know it was going to be this like, 10-year thing.”

Like Wilson, she became hooked on the sport. It has changed and evolved over the years, and the Rollergirls are excited to keep growing and continue playing.

 

Many options available for skating fans

 

There are about 10 roller derby leagues active in the Puget Sound region and several more spread out through the rest of Washington.

The Rat City Rollergirls were founded in April 2004, the first flat-track derby league in the Northwest. They are located at the Rat’s Nest in Shoreline. Rat City has three training teams for people looking to participate in roller derby.

Seattle’s Titled Thunder Rail Birds is a non-profit organization and the only league to play banked-track roller derby in the Pacific Northwest. They do not have a permanent space, but are playing their sixth season at the Evergreen Fairgrounds.

There are also roller derby leagues for men, including Puget Sound Outcast Derby, founded in 2007. They became the first team outside of the Northeast to join the Men’s Roller Derby Association in 2010.

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