Photos by Paul Heath
In May of last year, Cori Fulkerson called on the balance and agility of her childhood, stepped into a pair of roller skates, laced them up for the first time in years and set about the rink, marking her initiation into the world of roller derby.
Despite an injury in September, the ride has so far been good for Fulkerson.
“I won the ‘Miss 9-1-1’ award last year,” she said, laughing with other members of the Redding Roller Girls during practice Monday night. “And it was during practice!”
Fulkerson suffered a broken collar bone and a separated shoulder.
“I looked down, which is bad because your body follows where your head is looking,” she said.
Nonetheless, she recovered, showed up to practice in December and has been skating since — though she claims she’s “a little more cautious now.”
To the unfamiliar, the mention of roller derby likely conjures up images of a shoulder-dipping, hip-nudging, tit-for-tat battle on wheels. And while on some level that perception may be correct, there is an undeniable level of kinship, of camaraderie, between the women.
Many of the Roller Girls, also known as the Angry Beavers, are mothers and many of them work.
“This (roller derby) is really empowering for women,” Marie “Ophelia Ballz” Lopez said. “When they’re out there, it’s their chance to shine.”
With a “beaver on board,” derby vernacular for being pregnant, team leader Erica “Alotta Patrón” Waters echoed those sentiments.
“This is something women needed. We’re all smart, athletic, quick, tough,” she said as the team went about its practice drills. “There’s no mercy in derby.”
Almost as if it was scripted, a player’s thigh-bump launched a teammate into the wall, inches from our seats.
“I’m going to miss most of the season, but I can’t wait to get back,” Waters said. “This isn’t something you feel like you have to do. You do it ’cause you want to, because you love it.”
How it works: A woman is invited to watch a practice and decide if the sport will hold her interest. If so, she is responsible for obtaining the proper gear (helmet, mouth guard, pads and skates), insurance and monthly dues. Then starts practice — at which time she is referred to as “new meat,” until meeting 75 percent attendance for three consecutive months and keeping current with dues.
Then she can apply for a name (which has to be approved after checking a national registry). You don’t come prepared with a name, Waters said. You have to earn the right to wear it. To officially move up the chain, players are required to pass physical and written tests of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) rules. After this is done, one can play in a game, and essentially shed the tag of new meat.
Currently, the Roller Girls is the only derby team in town and kicks off the third season against the Tahoe Derby Dames March 27 at Big League Dreams.
How it’s played: Four blockers from each team start at the line, and when the first whistle blows they take off around the track. A second whistle blows and each of the teams’ “jammers,” essentially the point scorers, race to pass as many people as they can. A physical sport, shoulders, hips and legs are used to block the opposing team’s jammer.
The current team is the progeny of five girls who previously traveled to Chico to nudge and bump alongside the Nor Cal Roller Girls (the only team at the time). Through networking and spreading the word, interest locally was such that it allowed the five women to start a team here — and quite a success it has been.
For women, locally there is little offered to their demographic, which might be one reason an unimaginable number of women have latched on to the opportunity to get into the sport recently. Since last season the team has nearly doubled (now with 38 people), Lopez said. Rosters for each game are limited to 14 people, and given the unexpected popularity of the team, chances are high that another local team is in the works.
Lopez said new recruits are always welcome, and that by the year’s end it is likely a junior derby team will be formed.
“We get little girls asking for our autographs after the game,” Lopez said.
What: Redding Roller Girls kick off Season 3 against the Tahoe Derby Dames.
When: March 27. Doors open at 7 p.m.; game starts at 8.
Where: Big League Dreams (20155 Viking Way). 223-1177.
Admission: The price for the bout is $10 for advanced tickets, or $12 at the gate. Ticket price includes admission (normally $3) to the park/rink. A variety of drinks (beer included) and food is available for purchase.
Purchase Tickets at:
Fusion Pit (1830 Churn Creek Road, Redding) Shaggy Dog Pet Styling Salon (925 Merchant St., Redding) Big League Dreams www.brownpapertickets.com All Roller Girls should have some on hand, too.
Joshua Corbelli likes to write stuff on paper, and that makes him a happy little jellybean. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or don’t. Your call.