By Christina Latham
For the last eight years, Bellingham’s roller derby team, the Bellingham Roller Betties, have geared up to bring derby to the community. They’ve spent the past six years competing at Whatcom Community College’s Pavilion gym.
Joanna Kenyon, an English instructor at Whatcom and a derby fan, said roller derby is “very freeing and empowering. Derby encourages women to be who they are, to not be constrained by ridiculous standards of femininity,” she said, adding that aspects of the sport such as derby nicknames “add a layer of performance to the athleticism that attracts a really eclectic audience.”
Derby nicknames are chosen by the players, and many become the only name that skaters are known by in the sport. Kimberly Smith, 37, whose derby name is “Smitt’n Wesson” said the nicknames become their identity as a Bettie.
Sorrell Joshua, 38, known as “Chaos Fury,” calls herself a “fossil” because she was one of the original four members when the Betties formed in 2006. She said derby is a “very exciting action-packed sport with a lot of mental strategy.”
The Roller Betties are comprised of four smaller teams: Blunt Force Trauma, The Cog Blockers, Team FLASH, and Tough Love. Teams from other areas such as Whidbey Island, Skagit County and Vancouver, B.C. play in the same derby league.
A bout is split into two 30-minute halves with two teams of five on a skating track. Each team has four “blocker” positions that make up the “pack” and one “jammer” position, who is the scorer. The blockers from each team start skating together in a line and each team’s jammer skates behind the pack. Points are scored when a jammer gets past the opposing team’s blockers. Blockers can hit the other team’s jammer to knock her down or cause her to go out of bounds.
Injuries are a part of being a roller derby player, Katie Belfield, or “Miata Smackya” said, adding that the three major injuries most often incurred are broken ankles, knee injuries and concussions.
Referee Breanna Nickels said, “I would go home and look in the mirror and bruises would just show up that I would have to stop and think [about] where they came from.”
Aside from derby, the Betties team members devote their time to a wide variety of things. Some of the women are college students, stay-at-home-moms, nurses, bartenders, and one is even a detective with the Sheriff’s department, Belfield said.
“We have ages 18 to 50 and all body sizes,” Belfield added.
Lisa Oedekerk, 30, plays as “Ninjalina Jolie.” She said she is a mother of three boys, a full-time Whatcom student, and a part-time preschool teacher.
Oedekerk said she is “surprised how many Whatcom students don’t know that the Betties play at Whatcom. I would like to bridge the gap more between Betties and college students.”
The Betties are currently looking for a place to hold their bouts next year while the Pavilion is being rebuilt, Belfield said.
“We are looking into every possible space,” she said, adding that a new space must be big enough to accommodate the crowd and a beer garden, which is featured at their events.
The Betties used to play at the SportsPlex in Bellingham but saved money when they moved their bouts to Whatcom’s gym in 2008 , Belfield said. They currently practice in Lynden at the Lynden Skateway.
The team partners with different local non-profit organizations each season, and this year the team has chosen to aid the Alternative Humane Society animal shelter and the Sea Mar Vision Center, which is a home for female teens struggling with chemical dependence.
Carly Cunningham, who is playing for the team for the first time this year and skates as “Funky Broozer,” is an administrative assistant at the Sea Mar Visions Youth Treatment Center. She said that at the end of the year the center will receive a financial donation from the Roller Betties.
Belfield said that the Betties will also contribute to the Alternative Humane Society by volunteering their time.
Team members also give back to the community by participating in Relay for Life, skating in local parades, and raising donations for the Bellingham Food Bank, Belfield said.
Anthony Munn, 50, who began refereeing in 2006, said the team is an “amazing, diverse group of women that do everything. It’s not just a bunch of women with tattoos, but moms and grandmas.”
The Betties’ next bout happens March 15. General Admission is $15 for adults, $6 for children ages 8-12 and free for children 7 and under. Tickets can be purchased online at BrownPaperTickets.com or at the door. Doors will open at 4 p.m. and the first of two bouts begins at 5 p.m.