BROOKINGS – The Midwest Maidens roller derby team felt a little like Goldilocks after they lost both their practice space and the space where they battled opposing teams.
They looked at numerous places, but there was always some reason those spots wouldn’t work for them.
Then finally, they found some that were just right.
The Maidens opened their bouting season in May and will kick off their home bouts this Saturday at the Swiftel Center against the Minnesota Southbound Rollers from Austin. Doors open at 5 p.m. with the bout starting at 6 p.m.
That they are having a sixth season at all is due to the fact that they refused to give up.
Looking for a home
For years, the Maidens practiced year-round at the Old Armory and staged their bouts with opposing teams at Larson Ice Center when the ice was off. They’ve known for a while that both places might not be available to them: Larson was set to have repairs done, and the Old Armory’s status has been a hot topic at city council meetings. It just so happened that both places became unavailable at the same time.
In February, the council approved repairs to Larson’s ice system to be done from April to August of this year, right when the Maidens usually have bouts in the facility.
Last September, just after the Maidens’ season ended, the city closed the Old Armory to the public due to safety reasons, displacing not only the Maidens, but other teams and groups.
The Maidens had been looking for a new practice space for two years, said Jessica “Gabby Smash” Andrews.
“It’s been this looming thing we knew we needed to do,” Andrews said.
They went four or five months without a practice space, said Lisa “Bomb-Diggity” Rathbun, with the whole team brainstorming ideas, as well as getting help from the town.
“You couldn’t say roller derby to someone in the community without them expressing empathy about the Armory and then offering their own (space),” Rathbun said. “The whole town has been very, very supportive in our search for a new home.”
Some folks were willing to let them use their facility, but they weren’t sure it was allowed by code. In June, the Brookings City Council amended the zoning ordinance codes to allow indoor recreation spaces in more districts. The idea was not only to help out sports and rec teams like the Maidens be able to practice year-round, but also make it possible for businesses to have workout areas for employees.
There were three problems the Maidens kept running into:
• Availability of the space due to scheduling;
• Enough size to accommodate a track; and
• Floor types.
Some spaces, like the Brookings School District and the Boys & Girls Club, could have worked but just couldn’t fit them into the schedule. Some places didn’t have enough space to fit the size track they needed. And some had floors where the venue managers were worried the skates would damage it, or the floor just wasn’t something they could skate on.
The Maidens were excited about the Fifth Street Gym until they found out the floor is rolled vinyl, which works for basketball and other activities, but not for skating, Rathbun said.
“We got on our skates and went to take off skating and we almost faceplanted,” Rathbun said. “It was like skating on shag carpet.”
They started practicing Friday nights at the Volga Auditorium in February.
“They’ve been absolutely fantastic with us,” Rathbun said.
The Volga Auditorium is a bit small to fit a track, so they use it for footwork and strategy, she said.
The Maidens also practice at the Outdoor Adventure Center on Sunday evenings, splitting time with archery members.
“The OAC is great. The floor is great. We’ve got enough space to work in,” Andrews said.
They will, of course, stage bouts at the Swiftel Center.
“Swiftel has been really great to work with us to make it affordable and easy for us to use,” Andrews said.
Never give up
Even as difficult and frustrating as it was to find new spaces, folding the team was never in the cards.
“That’s not even an option,” Rathbun said.
“We have way too much invested of our own time, the community’s time,” Andrews added.
They both say having the team is too important to them.
“It’s exercise, it’s support, it’s sisterhood, it’s therapy,” Rathbun said.
“A lot of us are working moms,” Rathbun said. “Moms, in my experience – personal and people I know – don’t do anything for themselves and this is our – for some of us – our only thing we do absolutely for ourselves.”
Family is a word that comes up often with roller derby members.
If the team members don’t see each other for a while, “we miss each other,” Andrews said. “For me, it’s an extension of family. … My kids are friends with the other teammates’ kids. My husband is friends with the other skaters’ husbands.”
There is a challenge involved, as well.
“I’m doing things on skates I never thought possible. … There was a time I couldn’t skate backwards,” Andrews said. “It does take commitment and it does take practice.”
A coach that Rathbun had in Hawaii put it succinctly.
“‘I make it look easy? I make it look practiced! If you want to make it look easy, make it to practice.’ He’s so right,” she said.
Rathbun is in her seventh season and says it doesn’t happen overnight.
“When the girls jump the apex or go skippin’ sideways on their toe stops around a group of blockers that are coming after them, they weren’t born with that. They practiced that over and over and over and over and over. We practice and we challenge ourselves and it’s fun,” she said.
And all that bumping and hitting?
“You have no idea how therapeutic that is,” Rathbun said. That full contact has helped her realize why guys keep playing football amid the risk of horrible injuries.
“Girls don’t have very many opportunities for full contact sports. It’s very energizing, it’s very challenging. I think a lot of us don’t have that combination of things anywhere else in our life,” Rathbun said.
They have 13 players who can be on the roster and two actively training. Women are not allowed to skate until they’ve had proper training and can prove they have some command of the skills they need. They are always looking for new skaters and are willing to train them.
“In this whole time I’ve been a part of the league, we usually have one to three new skaters come in every year, it seems,” Andrews said.
“Then we’ve got a really solid core group of veterans that have been with the team,” Rathbun said.
“Through injuries and pregnancies and life changes,” Andrews added.
Don’t use age as an excuse with these two.
“In the adult roller derby, it’s not like we’re aging out,” Andrews said.
Their oldest skater is 61; others are in their 50s and 40s, as well as some youngsters. There’s no upper age limit, but you do have to be at least 18 to skate.
They both think roller derby’s future looks good.
“There is a strong junior roller derby … in the nation,” Andrews said.
Some local girls skate in Sioux Falls because Brookings does not have a junior league. Driving an hour to practice with your team is not unusual; girls come an hour and a half from Marshall, Minnesota, to Brookings.
“It’s all about our extended family,” Rathbun said.
If camaraderie is part of the glue that holds them together, charity work is another element of it.
The Maidens, like most teams, use roller derby to give back to their communities. At all the Maidens’ bouts will be some kind of fundraiser, whether it’s a raffle or ball toss, and proceeds will go to a chosen charity, most often one that supports women and children. Last year, they donated to Sleep in Heavenly Peace and the Brookings Empowerment Project, among others.
The Maidens usually have six bouts in a season, three away and three home. They won the first one May 11 by a score of 92-67, so they are 1-0 on the season going into Saturday’s bout.
On Aug. 3, they will participate in a mini-tournament in Mankato. They will be back home for two bouts: against the Sioux Falls Roller Dollz on Aug. 24, and against the Skunk River Riot from Ames, Iowa, on Sept. 14.
“We’re off to a good start,” Rathbun said.
They finished last season with a 5-1 record.
“That’s the best season the Maidens have ever had,” Andrews said, adding in her first year in 2016, they won one bout. “I think that attests to our commitment and dedication and our coaching staff.”
“We’ve really improved as a team, becoming more and more competitive,” Rathbun said.
All they want is the opportunity to keep rolling and they are willing to fight for it.
Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]