When someone thinks of roller derby, they might think of cutesy costumes, fishnets, and women beating each other up on roller skates, but State College Area Roller Derby (SCAR) proves derby to be much more than the campy sport it once was. There is a dichotomy between the women on the team and their alter-egos on skates; when the skates get laced up for a bout, they are more than prepared to knock someone out of the rink with no mercy, but what might be a surprise is that these women are more than just rivals on the track, they are teammates, friends and family to each other.
Ask anyone involved with SCAR and they will tell you that their favorite thing about derby is the strong community bonds it fosters and the confidence they have gained from not only the sport, but from everyone involved in it. Tina Letter, alter-ego ‘Letter Havoc’, says that when she asked a few women in derby the “famous question, ‘tell me more about roller derby,” and ended up falling in love with their “passion” for derby; “it was really contagious”.
It seems that anyone who encounters derby wants to know more about it, and according to bench coach Cas Pop, they usually end up joining derby in one way or another.
SCAR isn’t exclusive to those who can take a hit and keep skating, there are many ways to become involved such as becoming a “non-skating official,” or part of the crew that sets up for the bouts and tears down after everyone has left. No matter what you do in SCAR, everyone considers you to be a part of their team and family.
“There’s something really empowering about getting dressed up and getting on skates and beating people up,” says Sarah Hawks, AKA ‘Zombabe’. “There’s a sense of comradery amongst your team…finding your inner badass, and the community surrounding that is what draws me to derby”.
Derby happens to be one of the only full-contact sports for women other than rugby, and it is the only sport that many of these women have experienced in which they play offence and defense at the same time.
The danger that presents itself within the sport is not superficial, and many women on the team had to sit out of the most recent bout on Dec. 2, 2017 due to injuries that include concussions and broken bones. The sport is violent enough that you can’t join a derby team until you have gone through a 10-week long “fresh meat” program and gotten certified.
Jessica Molina, or ‘Jess the Ripper’ is currently involved in the fresh meat program says “[SCAR} is very welcoming and really helpful to learn how to do things properly, and very encouraging”. She says that it is very unifying and empowering to see a group of women who are “so strong and so together” even when they are “beating each other up out there”.
Derby’s unconventional roots and atmosphere draw a large following from the locals, many of whom regularly go to bouts and have a favorite skater whom they root for. It draws a crowd of people of all ages, and kids seem to love it. Many of the players bring their families along to watch them play, and many of them say that they want their kids to get more out of derby than having a good time, they want them to see that women are strong and to let that inspire them to respect themselves and women.
Kyla Maldnado, ‘Kissing Kaos’, is the president of the league and says that the rules of derby are “ever-changing” because it is a very young sport with a unique community of people that is most known for being a very “inclusive community” and it is a sport for the “non-traditional athlete as well as traditional athletes”.
Many people on the team would agree that the skills they have learned in derby and the things they have gained through derby have translated into their everyday lives as well, be it in personal relationships, careers or school. Maldonado says her life has changed sgnificantly since she started, “I’m a much happier, better mom and partner when I get to play roller derby”.
Derby is also closely tied to feminism for many of the players, “it’s the nature of the beast,” says Maldonado, “when you get a lot of strong women in a community together, they are naturally going to identify with a lot of aspects of feminism, and I think roller derby, by nature, attracts very strong women”.
Many of the women on the team have said that when they found derby, they didn’t think they could actually do it, but if there’s one thing you can take away from SCAR, it’s that if you have a love for the sport and a love for the people, there is a place for you in derby.
About the Contributors
Senior / Print and Digital Journalism
Kelly is a motivated college student with good people skills and outstanding writing capabilities, leadership, time management, and organization skills with the ability to efficiently and accurately complete tasks. She is proficient in Adobe programs, photography, and short documentary production.