MARYSVILLE — A nurse, a nanny and a human resource manager walk into a roller rink ready to hip check one another.
“We can have all different skills levels, body types, personalities and professions,” said team captain Ciara Jay “Rose Misconduct” Jay. “And we all come together because we love this sport.”
The Marysville-based league bears a new name this year, as it rebrands and rebuilds after the pandemic. The group’s hope is to resurrect a strong derby culture locally, where the nonprofit team can host fundraisers to benefit the community and showcase their skills at bouts, the official term for a derby competition.
For now, their focus is recruiting new skaters and fundraising to bring 7,000 pounds of “sport court” tiles from Las Vegas to open up more venue options for games, Jay said.
‘Outgrown our space’
Usually, the Strawberries play where they practice: the Marysville Skate Center. The team has used the facility since it started in 2015 under its former name, Aftershock Roller Rebels.
But in December, a debut game as the Strawberries drew such a large crowd that it overflowed the rink’s parking lot. Clearing the venue for reservations after the game proved difficult, and the derby team worried it was becoming a burden for the skate center, Jay, 28, said.
“So we have outgrown our space, which is awesome, and it’s just time to find something bigger,” Jay said.
The team asked local gyms to rent space instead, but most venue owners prefer not to rent to roller derby. One of the most common misconceptions, Jay said, is that the full-contact sport on wheels will damage flooring.
Although that’s highly unlikely, a portable sport court of interlocking plastic tiles adds a layer of protection the team can offer, Jay said. So the Strawberries purchased a $2,000 used court from a roller skating convention in Las Vegas.
“A brand new sport court is around $20,000 for the amount of square footage we need,” Jay said. “So we did get a really phenomenal deal on it.”
The Strawberries must find a way to ship it from Nevada. She estimates it will cost $3,000.
“Then we have to figure out where we are going to keep it,” she said.
The team has considered purchasing an enclosed trailer to store and move the court, as needed. That would cost about $10,000. The team is selling shirts with a fundraising deadline of August, Jay said.
“August is when the track will be available,” she said. “That is kind of what puts our home season on hold and moves us into travel.”
With about 16 skaters officially signed on, the Strawberry City League has enough players for about one team. Most leagues support multiple teams that can compete against each other, like the larger Jet City Roller Derby of Everett.
The scrappy skaters have found competitors willing to host scrimmages and bouts if the Marysville team can travel to them. Jay said most leagues want to see their neighbors succeed, because if a league collapses, that’s a shorter season for their opponents.
“Yeah, they’re our rivals. We play against them,” said Marina “Rina Rock You” Kolbeck. “But I’d also play on their team in a heartbeat, or run their concessions stand. … Everybody wants to help each other.”
Camaraderie is a common thread for derby, though people unfamiliar with the sport might not think so. Kolbeck said the words “roller derby” usually evoke one of two visions: a 1970s WWE smackdown on wheels, or the punky, punch-throwing characters from the movie “Whip It.”
“It’s not how it is at all,” Kolbeck, 28, said. “You can’t intentionally hurt someone. You can’t throw a punch.”
“A lot of people think we are punks, but we’re moms,” she added. “I’m human resources for Snohomish County. I’m the last person you’d think would be on a derby team.”
Strawberries board member Jessi MaGraw described derby as “football meets track.” It’s a contact sport with rules, strategy and speed.
Ten skaters — five from each team — face off on a flat roller rink track. Each group has a jammer, or the sole point-scoring player.
Designated by a star-marked helmet, the jammer races laps around the track, earning one point for each opponent they pass. Meanwhile, four teammates known as blockers simultaneously play offense to help their jammer get through the “pack” of players, as well as defense to prevent the opposing jammer from getting by.
The skaters can use their shoulders, hips and torsos to block a jammer from passing or ward off another team’s blockers. Tripping, elbowing and shoving other players is expressly forbidden and will leave a player in the penalty box — and their team shorthanded.
“You can’t just go and lay somebody out from behind and think it’s OK, because really that’s a safety issue with your back,” Jay said. “So there are things that, no, we are not going to go brawl and get into fistfights, but it is still going to be heavy hitting.”
More advanced rules designate a “pivot,” or one blocker in a striped helmet who can switch spots with the jammer under special circumstances. Each round, or jam, lasts up to two minutes but can be called off sooner if the jammer in the lead signals.
“There’s a lot of strategy that goes into it. … I think when you are watching it for the first time, it kind of looks like chaos on the track,” Jay said.
On Monday, after hours at Marysville Skate Center, the rink echoed with whizzing wheels, whistle trills and the occasional clatter of kneepads on the floor.
Annie Moynihan’s green helmet signaled to veteran skaters that she is a “straw-baby,” or new skater practicing no-contact for the night. Most derby teams call new skaters “fresh meat,” but the Marysville team prefers the riff on their name.
“We say they are berry fresh skaters,” Jay said. “They’re just not ripe yet.”
Moynihan, 27, learned about the team from her husband’s coworker’s wife, she said. After about an hour of drills, she was already hooked.
“They didn’t make it difficult to jump in,” she said. “Everyone is so welcoming.”
She’s still too new to have an official derby name, but Moynihan said she’s workshopping her nickname to be based on the famed sharpshooter Annie Oakley.
Derby names tend to lean on pun and pop culture. Gabriella Hall, for example, skates under the name Daisy Jukes as a play on the short shorts-wearing Southern belle from the Dukes of Hazzard. Hall, a former Florida resident, said the name suits her sunny demeanor while hinting at how “I can be kinda fast and jukey” as the team’s jammer.
Hall, 28, started skating in Marysville in July. She said she became fast friends with her teammates, even though many of them are women she never would have cross paths with outside the rink.
“I’m a nanny. We have some people who work at Microsoft. There’s someone who works at the hospital,” Hall said. “We literally just all came out of the woodwork. … We are not just a team, though. We all love each other and care for each other.”
Kolbeck showed up to her first practice with a crumpled recruitment flyer. The ad sat on her fridge for almost a month before she worked up the courage to go.
It was one of the best decisions she ever made, she said.
“As an adult and especially as a woman, there are not a lot of team or group activities that are like a supportive, family-type environment,” Kolbeck said. “Derby is like the coolest group of people you never knew you needed.”
The Strawberries are currently accepting new recruits. Anyone over 18 who identifies as a woman, nonbinary or trans is eligible to play on the team. The current group includes a gender-inclusive set of skaters ages 19 to almost 50, Jay said.
The league provides loaner gear, so new skaters don’t have to front the high cost of gear if they just want to try a night or two. A sponsorship with Crave 80s arcade bar in Marysville helped the team purchase four complete sets, including skates, knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, helmets and mouth guards.
Mallory Gruben is a Report for America corps member who writes about education for The Daily Herald.