Derby rebound keeps rolling in Hollister

Derby Devilz at a recent practice

Roller derby is back in a big way, and women are at the head of the pack.
Once thought of as sports entertainment, roller derby evolved from a transcontinental race held in 1935 where 25 teams raced on a banked track for 3,000 miles over 30 days, according to USA Roller Sports, to pseudo-bloody slugfests in the 1950s and ’60s that mirrored staged wrestling matches. Roller derby of the 21st century is now a sport that emphasizes athleticism rather than mayhem.
Most of the time.
“There’s a type of derby called ‘renegade’ that basically has no rules,” said Michele Bell, league manager and skater for the Faultline Derby Devilz, which practices and plays home bouts at Bolado Park near Tres Pinos. “You can hit. You can clothesline, grab hair, all that kind of stuff. It’s not that popular. In regular roller derby you can be ejected from games for too many violations.”
With the colorful nickname, “Princess Crush-Her,” Bell said: “Now, none of it is rehearsed or staged. It’s real hitting, real skills, and sometimes people get seriously injured. The game today is played the same way they did back then. The player positions are the same: the jammers, the blockers, and pivots.”
By 1987, roller derby had pretty much faded from the national scene, morphing into other skate venues, such as RollerJams and RollerGames, according to the New York Times. Then in 2001, a group of women skaters in Texas formed Bad Girl Good Woman Productions (BGGW), creating a new generation of roller derby, open to women only. The sport took off and leagues quickly formed in the U.S. and Canada, the Times reported.
The first international bout took place in 2006, between the Oil City Derby Girls, from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and the Rocky Mountain Roller Girls, of Denver. The sport has since spread to Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Germany, Belgium and Sweden. By 2009. there were 425 all-female leagues.
Roller derby came to San Benito County in 2010.
“Stasha ‘Irish Kreem’ Maroney, Stacy ‘Supersonic Pebbles’ Vanderlel and myself were with another league (Derby Girls), which kind of fell apart,” Bell said. “Stacha went on to skate with Monterey for about a year, but she still lived in Hollister and got tired of the commute. So she thought she had a lot of experience and wanted to form another league here. And that’s how the Derby Devilz came about.”
Each of the 24 skaters with the Faultline Derby Devilz has her own reason for being in the league. Money isn’t one of them. None are paid to skate and all have financial skin in the game.
Each skater carries her own health insurance. Then there’s an additional skater’s insurance that will cover them if they are injured while playing or practicing.
“That costs about $70 a year,” Bell said. “It’s required if you want to compete. Then there’s the gear that costs about $400.”
Additionally, each pays a yearly $50 fee that covers rent and other essentials such as matching helmets.
“When we host a bout, we charge the public to come and watch. There aren’t any salaries. It’s more of a hobby than a profession,” Bell said.
The reasons for subjecting themselves to the grueling sport range from friendship to therapy.
Gena “Gena-ATOMIC” Horwood, who owns Gilroy Medical Supply, comes all the way from San Jose. “I play blocker position. I do it for the exercise and to be with my best friend,” she said. “Originally, I had no desire to be on the team. I never thought I’d make the team, but she was very encouraging and told me that I could, so she made me believe in myself.”
Horwood said she’s been with the league since January.
“I had my first bout two weeks ago. I fell down once and had only one penalty, so I think I did pretty good.”
Shavaun “Sha-‘BAM’” Hagemen, lives in Hollister and works as a bartender at Cheap Seats. She has been skating for about five years.
“I’m a blocker and I also play pivot,” she said. “I started off with Hollister Derby Girls. It’s a lot cheaper than therapy. It’s really fun, and it’s great to be a part of a team where women empower women.”
League coach, Berglind “Ice Rock-her” Burrows, originally from Kópavogur, Iceland, has been skating since 2010.
“I love it,” she said. “I’m a stay-at-home mom of five kids and it’s a way to get my aggression out,” she said somewhat jokingly. “It’s also fun and good exercise.”
Bell said the league is always looking for new skaters because some burn out after a couple years or they leave because of injuries. No prior skating experience is necessary.
“We have an eight-week boot camp where they learn all the basics,” she said.
“After you complete it, you get assessed. We don’t want to put you in there if you’re not ready because you could get hurt if you don’t know what you’re doing or if you’re not strong enough.”

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