While many teens enjoy the occasional night at the roller skating rink, Brier Terrace Middle School students Alex Bates, Anna Nelson and Anna Springberg have taken their love for skating to a whole different level.
Bates, Nelson and Springberg are members of the Seattle Derby Brats, a junior flat track roller derby organization for girls ages 8-17.
The three teens have rolled into a sport that is growing in popularity throughout the region and around the country. With about 135 skaters, the Seattle Derby Brats is the largest and oldest youth roller derby organization in the Northwest. The league’s leaders stress the organization is all about empowering young girls “to be strong, healthy and confident,” but for Bates, Nelson and Springberg, the biggest draw is the camaraderie among girls of similar ages.
Bates, an eighth grader at BTMS, recognized the solidarity among derby skaters soon after she joined the Brats three years ago. “Everyone comes from different backgrounds and is totally different, but we’re all friends and we all fit it together,” she explained. “I thought that was really cool.”
“We’re all supportive of each other and we’re all nice to each other,” she continued. “It’s team spirit!”
Bates was introduced to roller derby a few years ago when a friend invited her to watch a night of competition. “I went to one of her bouts and I found it really interesting,” Bates said. “I had skated at skating rinks occasionally, so I thought it would be cool. I tried it and liked everything about it.”
Anna Nelson, a BTMS seventh-grader, echoed the reasons she participates in roller derby. “I keep coming back because of all the nice people around me and how fun it is,” she said.
Bates, Springberg and Nelson skate in the Brats “positional junior” level — one of four levels offered by the league — which limits the type of contact that takes place on the track. But there’s still plenty of bumping among competitors, leading to a few tumbles to the wooden floor and the occasional visit to the nurse on-site for each derby bout.
Safety equipment – including helmets, mouth guards and knee, elbow and wrist pads – are all required for each derby participant, but Nelson downplays the chance of serious injury. “I don’t think you can get that badly hurt knowing everyone around you and how they skate,” Nelson said, “and as long as you don’t make any really clumsy mistakes.”
Springberg, a BTMS seventh-grader, was introduced to roller derby by Nelson. “Anna talked about it a lot,” Springberg said, “about all of the good people and the environment and how others try to help you.”
After hearing stories about roller derby from Nelson, Springberg was hooked on the sport after seeing it in person. “I went to a few of Anna’s bouts and I was like, ‘This is amazing. This is what I want to do,’” she recalled.
Seattle Brats roller derby bouts are full-fledged competitions between teams within the organization or, in the case of the league’s traveling team — the Galaxy Girls — against other organizations’ top teams. Nelson and Springberg skate for the Evil Angels while Bates is a member of the Poison Skiddles. Bouts are timed events complete with coaches, referees, scorekeepers and live announcers.
The skaters also give themselves crazy derby names, adding to the fun nature of the sport.
Scoring takes place when a member of one team — called a jammer — is able to lap members of the other team during a 60-second jam. The jammer position, a favorite of Springberg, became a key component to the derby name the seventh-grader chose for herself.
“I was just thinking of names in the car and my mom said, ‘Well, there’s Jimmy Neutron.’ Then she said, ‘How about Jammy Neutron?’ I said, ‘Yeah!’”
Springberg helped her friend Nelson come up with her derby name, Panic at the Derby. “I got my name because one of my favorite bands is Panic at the Disco,” Nelson noted.
Bates had a couple derby names in mind before settling on one. “When I first started derby I was going to be The Alexorcist; I did really like that name,” she said. “But I kept thinking and my dad said, ‘What about Alexis of Evil.’ I said, ‘I really like that name,’ so I decided to go with that. I’ve been that since I started.”
Nelson, Springberg and Bates are all looking forward to the remainder of the 2015-2016 season as practices and bouts continue through the school year. Bates is also trying to get a friend of two to join her in the sport.
“They’re thinking about it,” she explained. “I’m trying to get them to come.”
Tell them to bring a helmet and their team spirit.
— Story and photos by Doug Petrowski