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Green Mountaion Derby Dames // The Next Great Vermont Pastime

words // Lettie Stratton

photos // Ben Sarle

You may not know it, but roller derby is the fastest-growing sport in America. With over 1,300 teams in North America alone and nearly 200 international teams in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), roller derby is quickly making a name for itself as a legitimate and popular sport worldwide. So popular, even, that it’s under consideration as a sport for the 2020 Olympics.

In Vermont, we’re lucky enough to have a premiere derby league right in our backyard. The Green Mountain Derby Dames are composed of an A team (Grade A Fancy), a B team (Black Ice Brawlers), and a group of referees known as the Legion of Doom. This season, they’re scheduled for 10-12 games.

For some reason it took me 11 months since moving to Vermont to go watch the Derby Dames in all their glory, and now I’m kicking myself for not going sooner. Better late than never, though, so in April I went to the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction to watch a doubleheader bout (a bout is the equivalent of a game in the roller derby world).

This is the part where I mention that prior to watching the Dames and following up with proper research for this article, my roller derby expertise consisted of watching Drew Barrymore’s Whip It and trying (unsuccessfully) to come up with a clever derby name for myself. I may or may not have even thought at one point in time that a ball was involved in the sport. Let’s just say I was thankful upon arriving to find a cheat sheet on the inside cover of the program. “Roller Derby 101” proved to be very helpful in my quest to figure out how it all works.

Here’s a crash course: Each play is called a jam. The jam starts with a whistle, sending off four blockers from each team. Another whistle sounds and the jammers (one from each team) race to be the first to break out ahead of the pack. Jammers then score points by coming back around to the back of the pack and passing members of the opposite team. Blockers try to prevent the other team’s jammer from getting by. Jams last two minutes or less and, no, there’s not a ball involved.

It’s all very fast-paced and exciting. Especially when the Fancies are winning, which they were. They’re ranked 52nd in the WFTDA and it’s easy to see why. I would not want to mess with these ladies. With names like Sonic Euthanizer, Anne I Alater, and TerminateHer…who would? They’re tough, skilled, and they mean business on the track.

I spoke with Kristin Welch (aka Star Slayer), co-captain of the Black Ice Brawlers, about her experience with the Derby Dames. Slayer has been skating with the Dames since March 2008 and participated in her final bout in April. She is also the former president of the Board of Directors and current director of public relations and marketing. Slayer said the first meetings that led to the start of the team were in November 2007 and the team started skating three months later.

The Green Mountain Derby Dames are entirely skater-owned and operated. “Being skater-owned and operated is part of the reason that Roller Derby has spread so quickly,” Slayer said. Members pay dues each month and work different jobs for the league in order to keep things running smoothly. “Skating over six hours a week and then running a business on top of that is hard work,” she added, “but the women and men who make up our league do it all on top of full time jobs, families, and other commitments because they love it.”

The fans love it, too. Enthusiastic and passionate fans of all ages filled the bleachers, folding chairs, and beer garden holding homemade signs and bobbing to the beats of local DJ, DJ Llu. The fans’ pride for their home team, and for Vermont in general, was evident.

After a particularly impassioned performance of the National Anthem, sung with gusto, the father of one of the Dames took a moment to get the crowd ready for what was about to come. “I hear the opposing team [the River City Rollergirls’ Poes Punishers] came all the way from Richmond, VA,” he said. “Well I’m from Richmond, too…Richmond, VT!” The stands erupted, the announcer used his best announcing voice to get the fans riled up, and the bout was underway.
Much of the Dames’ dynamism and vitality on the track must come from feeding off the energy of the crowd. Slayer said one of her favorite parts of the derby is the fans. “When I started, my favorite part was the aggressiveness of the sport and being able to show a different side of myself,” she said. “But I really fell in love with the crowd at events. Roller derby attracts a diverse, interesting, and accepting group of people.”

Whether you’re a seasoned Derby expert or a newbie like me, watching the Green Mountain Derby Dames skate won’t disappoint. For more information on roller derby, check out www.wftda.com and www.flattrackstats.com. To learn more about Vermont’s hometown team, visit www.gmderbydames.com and keep an eye on their schedule for upcoming events.