Roller Derby Community Has Bright Future AheadNov 21, 2023 09:55AM ● By Tamara Warta
Roller derby players become family at Sacramento Roller Derby games and practices. Photo by Liz Marchiondo
SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - While speaking with Amanda Dunham and Christina Watts from Sacramento Roller Derby, one theme was consistent throughout the entire conversation – Roller Derby isn’t just a sport – it is a family with so many positives for Sacramento youth and women.
The two skaters, who always go by their derby names LOLz Lemon and Jessamine Killawatts at the rink, are passionate about roller derby in a way that is so contagious it compels the listener to want to strap on some skates and give it a go.
Now, Sacramento Roller Derby is gliding towards a new era of excellence – rebuilding its teams post-COVID, and looking forward to their future home facility.
Sacramento Roller Derby was founded in 2018 as the result of two different leagues merging after skating as separate entities for over ten years. The leagues realized that they were better together both functionally and financially, and united to form the current team. The current league welcomes over 100 participants, of which approximately 50 are adults and the rest children and various officials including referees.
The group currently uses the Andy Morin Sports Complex in Folsom for their practices, but there are big dreams ahead.
“We have a facility in downtown Sacramento that we are working on,” says Dunham. “We purchased it with a donation someone made to us.”
That donation was no small gift – the donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, gifted the group up to $2 million to build their facility. The excitement and relief of finding a permanent home was evident from both women.
“It’s been a struggle – Sacramento doesn’t have a lot of affordable facilities. The landscape of Sacramento has changed – the town is so much larger and venues we have rented in the past have quadrupled their prices,” said Dunham.
The new rink will be located near the Blue Diamond almond factory.
Both the generous donation and influx of new participants post-COVID are two examples of how the Sacramento community is embracing a sport that once had a reputation in popular media for being aggressive and less than ladylike. Today, roller derby carries a reputation of strength, togetherness, and courage for many.
Watts, who is a board member for the team, recently lost her husband and found support within the derby community.
“The whole derby community helped me to find a new normalcy,” says Watts. “Everybody has been really positive and will check up on me. Everybody in the community binds together to help people in a time of need.”
Dunham seconds the fact that roller derby isn’t just about the game. “That’s the most rewarding thing – the growth and the community that supports that growth. A lot of people come to roller derby during a hard time in life. They know the community of roller derby will be there.”
Sacramento Roller Derby has no paid employees and finances are always a challenge. A lot of the players within the league are also the ones running the entire show.
“There are challenges on and off the track when you play roller derby,” explains Dunham. “We have both the typical athlete struggles plus business struggles. Most recreational sports don’t have both. For us, it’s really serious – it is comparable to minor league sports. But there’s the added pressure of running it. Most sports have administrative oversight – that’s not us. We are off the track running the game and then we put on our skates and play the game. You’re always doing two things at the same time.”
But is it worth it? Dunham absolutely believes it is.
“It makes you grow in ways you never thought you could. In myself I’ve grown a lot in confidence.”
She also mentions that derby skaters not only grow in what their bodies are capable of, but also personally and professionally. Confidence found in roller derby can lead to the courage for everything from pursuing job promotions to leaving harmful relationships.
Also notable is Sacramento Roller Derby’s junior program. Children as young as eight years old can join the team.
“The kids find their own way there,” says Dunham when asked how they recruit children to the program. Current league kids share with friends via word-of-mouth, and the league’s numbers have also benefited from a popular graphic novel featuring a roller derby girl.
Sacramento Roller Derby's junior program begins at age 8. Photo by Bob White
However, the junior program is hardly new. “We’ve had a juniors program for as long as Sac Roller Derby has been around.”
Safety comes first, and just like the adults, junior skaters wear helmets, mouth guards and pads. And they aren’t afraid to completely wipe out and try again.
“The kids are super resilient and dedicated,” says Dunham. “They are just like Gumby and fall in weird ways that make my heart stop and then get up and skate away.”
“They are all amazing,” adds Watts. “They are always striving to do better.”
Perhaps that’s the true magic of roller derby. Beyond the sport itself, skaters are inspired to do better both on and off the rink.
Those who would like to watch a game can head out to the Andy Morin Sports Complex on December 2 for the Red Red Tournament – a chance to see not only Sacramento Roller Derby but other leagues play on mixed teams. Or, take things a step further and consider trying out for the league next spring. Anyone can try out, and skating experience isn’t necessary. The tryouts include everything from skating lessons to teaching the rules of the game. The junior program is for boys and girls aged eight through seniors in high school. Females aged 18+ make up the main league.
Sacramento Roller Derby is located at the Andy Morin Sports Complex on 66 Clarksville Rd, Folsom, Calif.
For more information call (916) 461 6650 or visit sacramentorollerderby.com.