Rose City favorites Wheels of Justice triumph over local, national, international teams in derby event
For the first time since 2019, the Rose City Rollers held a tournament on Nov. 4-6 The tournament featured derby champions, Portland’s Wheels of Justice (WoJ) and Portland B team Axles of Annihilation, as well as visiting teams Denver Roller Derby, Montreal’s New Skids on the Block, St. Louis’ Arch Rival and a special European All Star Team.
During the tournament, Axles of Annihilation lost their first and third games to Denver and Montreal respectively, but in games four and six WoJ pulled through, scoring well into the hundreds. In game four Portlands WoJ finished with 219 points against Montreal, who scored just 57. In the last game against the European All Star Team, WoJ once again dominated with 257 points while the All Star team scored 52 points.
One of the WoJ skaters, Bonnie Thunders, has been called the very best player of the modern game of derby, and was responsible for a large number of the team’s points.
Since its creation in the 1930s, roller derby has been one of the most inclusive sports, as leagues warmly welcomed openly gay athletes and kept the same rules for men’s and women’s derby teams. Today, many sports rules are modified when they are played by women.
Roller Derby was originally created during the Great Depression by Leo Seltzer, a sports promoter from Chicago, as a two-person sport. One man and one woman would pair up and skate around the track in the form of an endurance race for a cash prize.
The game has changed quite a bit since the 1930’s — instead of two players trying to outlast each other, the sport has evolved into a full contact game. Games are 30 minutes, not including time outs, and are broken up into two halves. Within each 15 minute play is a “jam,” which can last up to two minutes. A jam is the time period in which the players attempt to score.
There is no ball or puck in the game of derby. Instead, players aim to get around their opponents by pushing into them or trying to slip between them. Each team has five players on at a time, including four blockers and one jammer, who is identifiable by a star on their helmet cover. The jammers score a point each time they lap the blockers.
During the game, players can pull crazy stunts on their skates, like jumping over and around their fellow teammates and opponents. Knee pads, helmets and mouthguards are required for the sport, as it has often been likened to rugby on wheels.
Summer “Babe” Fiest works with Rose City Rollers and manages many of the programs that are offered.
“The Rose City Rollers were founded in 2004 and we had our first game in 2005. Since then we have become the largest roller derby league in the whole entire world,” Babe said. “Our adult travel team, Wheels of Justice, are the current world champions. And unlike baseball, where it is like America and Toronto, we play teams from Europe, South America and Australia.”
In order to make roller derby as accessible as possible to the Portland community, Babe says that Rose City Rollers provide the majority of equipment needed to start the sport.
“We do have a very generous grant for our rent and roll program, which means the only thing you need to buy in order to join us is your mouth guard,” Babe said. “We have all the skates and pads, all of the helmets that people can borrow as they are deciding if this is what is for them and then you can slowly build up your kits as you progress through your skills.”
Sarah “Bricktator” Karnovsksi has been skating for 11 years and has found a community in derby. As a member of the Arch Rival, Bricktator has been able to travel to multiple continents with her team and express her love of competition.
“I played sports my entire life and then when you get into adulthood you do not have that same kind of competitive community that you can experience as a youth,” Bricktator said. “And so now to have a team where there are people that you spend so much time with and you love and then you get to like, go bash people around. It is just a magical mix of things.”
Alter Eagle, known off the rink as Hillary Scald, said she was born competitive. She has been expanding on her skill set by transitioning from her normal position as a jammer into blocking.
“It is not only about the competition though, it’s about the community and finding my people and doing things in such an accepting environment,” Alter Eagle said.
The game of roller derby has gone through many stages of relevance; from being popular in the ’30s, it faded out of the public eye until it was revitalized in the ’70s. It once again emerged in the early 2000s and has been consistently popular ever since. The Rose City Rollers are often credited with this resurgence of the sport.