Athleticism with an Attitude: Women’s Roller Derby in Kansas

This year, KHC features weekly posts related to the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition Hometown Teams, opening in Ellinwood on January 31st.

Women competing in roller derby leap over fallen competitors in 1950. Image courtesy of Al Aumuller, Library of Congress. Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

Women competing in roller derby leap over fallen competitors in 1950. Image courtesy of Al Aumuller, Library of Congress. Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

Salina Sirens. Capital City Crushers. Wichita ICT Roller Girls. Emporia Veteran City Rollers.

If these Kansas roller derby team names sound like punk bands, that’s probably intentional. The women who make up these teams are punk-rock tough.

15 years ago, roller derby was dead. Once a highly competitive sport that drew millions of spectators on tours across the United States and on television, by the late 1970s, roller derby elicited little more than “Remember when…?”

What a difference a few years makes.

Since 2000, roller derby has become a full-fledged women’s sports phenomenon that’s thriving across Kansas.

Governed by the rules set by the Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association, teams playing in more than 400 amateur leagues around the world come together to skate, block and jam their way to victory in fast-paced, hard-hitting bouts. As you might expect, injuries happen. But the athleticism involved in the matches far outweighs the violence.

During every shift, or jam, each team sends out three blockers, a pivot and a jammer to skate for up to two minutes at a time. The jammer’s job is to put up points by lapping members of the opposing team. The pivot is the strategist, directing play. And the blockers use their bodies to keep the other team’s jammer from getting through.

This highly collaborative sport fosters a sense of community in the women who participate. Many women say they love it because it lets them explore a different side of themselves alongside other women who are doing the same. In an interview in KANSAS! Magazine, Kym Bearden of the Salina Sirens said:

I was looking for something to add in my life for myself….A lot of the women on the team will tell you that’s why they do this. It’s a sisterhood; we can go out there and be all serious and knock each other down, but then as soon as that last half ends we’re all friends.”

Until the next bout starts, at least.

New stories of Kansas Hometown teams and hometown heroes will be posted on the KHC Blog each week through November 2015. You can also follow KHC on Facebook and Twitter to see the latest post