Winter is on its way, but roller derby enthusiasts in Stettler and area hope they won’t have to spend the season in hibernation.
The Heartland Rollergirls Association (HRGA) is looking for a facility that would allow its skaters to keep practising and holding meets during the winter months.
League president and skater Judy-Lyn Sylvester said the association found out this summer that they wouldn’t be able to continue using their usual home, the Stettler Agriplex, as it will be used for horseback riding this winter.
“We’ve been looking for an alternative arena, but we haven’t been able to find one,” said Sylvester, who skates under the name Muffy Merkin.
The HRGA is partnered with the Central Alberta Roller Derby Association (CARDA), where they compete as the Pummel Marys, facing off against teams from Red Deer and Wetaskiwin.
The association would normally operate throughout the year, but without a winter home they will have to adapt to a shorter season.
Sylvester said it would also be harder for the league to retain its existing members or to attract new ones without a venue.
The situation also makes it harder to fundraise, as much of the league’s funding comes from hosting matches locally.
Despite these challenges, the association has kept busy. Beginning in September they hosted a five-week training course for beginners, focusing on the basics of skating, rather than roller derby strategy or gameplay.
Group members have kept up their skills by skating outdoors, both on the paths throughout town and the new skate park that was recently completed.
The group has also been active in the community, organizing a highway cleanup last spring and hosting a pancake breakfast during the Kinettes/IODE rummage sale in September.
As explained on the CARDA website, roller derby is a contact sport played on roller skates, between two teams with up to 14 players each on an oval track.
The competition is made up of short “jams.” Each team has one jammer, to score points, and four blockers, who try to block the other team’s jammer.
Points are scored when the jammer passes the hips of opposing players.
Sylvester said that to join the derby, skaters must pass a skills test, and it can sometimes take from one to three months before they’re ready to compete.
Derby enthusiasts refer to this as the “fresh meat” period.
The HRGA has been active for three years; Sylvester said they had about seven skaters on the roster last year and were able to borrow skaters from their sister leagues.
She herself had been interested in roller derby and learned about the local league from an ad. Sylvester said the camaraderie of the team was a major part of the appeal to her.
“They’re very supportive people,” she said. “I’ve never met a more supportive network of people, to fall back on if you need it.”
Roller derby also offers physical benefits. Sylvester said that although the bodychecking back and forth can be brutal, it’s exciting for players to be allowed to give — and take — that punishment.
“It’s very empowering,” she explained. “As women, we get to go out and be physical, and it’s OK.”
According to a Facebook post, the group is looking for an area that can house a track that is 53 feet by 88 feet in size, plus a buffer zone of about 10 feet between the track and the walls. The surface would need to be “skateable” — that is, flat and smooth, like sealed hardwood or concrete.
Sylvester said anyone interested in getting involved may contact any roller derby member, visit the Facebook page or check out www.heartlandrollergirls.com.