It’s been 874 days since Juneau last saw live roller derby on home turf, but who’s counting, right? Well, Just Julie (Sanbei) is.
The last game was in February of 2015: “Legiskative Session.” Since then, the flooring at Centennial Hall suffered water damage, leaving the Juneau Roller Girls no place to hold a game during the league’s regular winter season. Friday night’s game was a non-WFTDA sanctioned co-ed mashup held at Treadwell Arena, pitting teammate against teammate — as well as sister against sister and girlfriend against boyfriend. The mother and son duo, Suhspence (Spencer Stratton) and Karma Krusher (Kerri Tanner), got to play on the same team.
Though the game was not sanctioned by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), the international governing body and league network, the players and fans were no less enthusiastic. About 100 people filled out the stands and even seated themselves on the un-iced floor of the arena beyond the low, padded barriers.
Longtime Juneau Roller Girls Just Julie and Catapult Kim (Robson) were some of the major organizers of the game and divvied up the teams for a balanced match. Wearing black shirts were Catapult Kim, Juke N Cherry (Shari Dundas, formerly of the Denali Destroyer Dolls, now skating for Anchorage’s Orange Crush), Killstoy (Deannah McChesney), Bearded Gazelle (James Wilson) and just out of Junior League Lily Lovett (Lily Dietz). The black shirts closed out the night with 164 points to the white shirts’ 125.
Though the black shirts had the lead as the timer ran down, the game was closed out with an overtime jam, which has no lead jammer and runs a full two minutes. Both teams, now exhausted after most players skated the entire 60 minutes, racked up the last points in the game before circling up all together with a group cheer. There won’t be another local game until next summer, but the league didn’t want to go a full three years or more without giving Juneau a good show.
Donning white shirts were Just Julie, Destroyevsky (Rashah McChesney), Victoria Deck ‘Em (Victoria Moore of Petersburg Ragnarok Rollers), Hevee Mettle (Evelyn Widmyer), Karma Krusher and fresh from Junior League, Suhspence.
The scores were close throughout — organizers reserved the right to shake up teams if they were unevenly matched — and each jam was anybody’s to take.
Roller derby games are broken up into two halves, and each of those halves is made up of “jams” of no more than two minutes. The lead jammer (the first to make it through the pack) can call it off before if they choose. Points are scored as jammers pass opposing players in laps after the first pass.
It’s not that easy.
Jammers, selected for their agility, must make it past blockers (there are three on each team) and the pivot (a versatile player who can block or be “passed the panty” to take over for the jammer). It’s not uncommon for teammates to form human walls to keep jammers from passing. Hip and shoulder checks are also fair play. For a contact sport, derby uses far fewer pads than football or hockey.
The fast-paced game is full of falls and trips to the sin bin (that’s the penalty box), but also showcases feats of athleticism like speed skating, jumps and coordinated efforts with skaters propelling themselves or being propelled off other skaters.
The highlight for Killstoy was “when my sister giggled after she back-blocked me and took a whip off me,” she said, smirking.
“She’s on the opposing team and not allowed to do that.”
Destroyevsky, before the game, had her sister’s tactics on her mind.
“When I run into her, I fall down,” she said. “She’ll look at me, brace herself a little bit, and I fall down.”
After the game, Destroyevsky identified the best play as when Bearded Gazelle “did an apex jump on a straight-away.”
The appropriately long-legged Bearded Gazelle jumped over another player with legs swinging over the line, landing in-bounds.
“Second was when I walloped him,” she added.
Visiting skater Juke N Cherry, who played her last game under the name before taking on the moniker Cherry’s Little Monster with her transfer to Orange Crush, cited her own apex jump as a highlight. She also said she was “proud of the newbies.”
“Newbies” included the just-out-of-junior-league 18-year-olds Suhspence and Lily Lovett, who happen to be dating, but also a number of other skaters, including Karma Krusher — who joined the league in 2014 but wasn’t eligible to compete before the unplanned hiatus — and Bearded Gazelle.
Other players have much more experience, including Catapult Kim and Just Julie, who joined the league in its first months back in 2010. Plus Catapult Kim grew up in a skating rink, she said. Her mom skated. She started young, even worked at a rink. And players such as Destroyevsky and Killstoy have skated six years, off and on and in different locations. They had started competing with the same league as Cap’n Tate (Tripp Crouse), officiating a game in Juneau for the first time, along with another official who found his way to Juneau.
The diversity of players — age, experience, any characteristic — is often a draw for skaters and derby fans.
Destroyevsky was first inspired by a thick-thighed powerhouse player in Iowa while covering a game as a reporter.
Seeing someone with a body she could relate to who “laid waste” to her opponents got Destroyevsky on the track.
She loves that she can play alongside and against people she never would have expected, plus, she admits: “I really like to hit people.”
Suhspence joined the Junior League after watching a few bouts and thinking it looked fun.
“I feel pretty nervous,” he said pre-game, while tightening his wheels. “I’m a lot smaller … but I’m hoping to use that to my advantage.”
Karma Krusher’s favorite part of the game was watching her son jam and being able to skate with him, though she said she could also skate against him. They get pretty competitive when they’re practicing.
Despite not being able to play at home, Juneau Rollergirls have kept busy over the past two and a half years. They teach skating lessons, run the Junior League and continue to practice. Some skaters have been able to compete outside of Juneau.
A group of women from mostly Southeast Alaska, plus some Whitehorse and Kenai skaters, have competed as the Southeast Sirens in the state tournament. Some skaters have traveled further afield, traveling to Japan to play against the Devil Dog Derby Dames in Okinawa. Just Julie was recruited to the team afterward and has played with the Japan-based rollers in Hawaii, and might have another opportunity in the near future.
Victoria Deck’ Em, visiting from Petersburg (technically to see family), applied to skate with an all-indigenous team in the next World Cup, slated for February of 2018 in Manchester, United Kingdom. She’ll find out next month if she made the team.
Travel is cost-prohibitive for most skaters, though. The local league is considering changes to make local competition more feasible, including potentially shifting the season to the summer months so they can use Treadwell Arena for sanctioned competitions in the months the floor isn’t coated in ice. Most Alaska leagues take the summers off, while other U.S. teams play from January through August. The league also anticipates Centennial Hall’s flooring will be repaired soon, giving them a couple options.
Organizers hope having options to compete locally will lure in new skaters, as well as reignite the passion in those who have taken a break from the sport.
Vertabracher (Sabrina Bracher), who volunteered to monitor the sin bin, left declaring she’d be back on the track soon.
And for those who love the sport but don’t feel up to competing or don’t qualify to compete, Cap’n Tate noted a need for more skating and non-skating officials, as well. This essential crew keeps score and calls out penalties, keeping the game running smoothly and safely. Other volunteers keep time, tally scores, provide medical assistance and more.
#3 Catapul Kim - Kim Robson
#026 Juke N Cherry (now Cherry’s Little Monster) - Shari Dundas (visiting, Orange Crush)
#44 Killstoy - Deannah McChesney
#2 Bearded Gazelle - James Wilson
#17 Lily Lovett - Lily Dietz (fresh out of Junior League)
#11 Just Julie - Julie Sanbei
#42 Destroyevsky - Rashah McChesney
#90 Victoria Deck ‘Em - Victoria Moore (visiting, Ragnarok Rollers)
#71 Hevee Mettle - Evelyn Widmyer
#41 Karma Krusher - Kerri Tanner
#8392 Suhspence - Spencer Stratton (fresh out of Junior League)