In the back of a warehouse building in West Salt Lake is home to a flat track derby. The smell of jalapenos, ketchup and sweat fills the air and squeaking skates signal the end of a skilled warm-up. Two teams are ready to duel and they line up in formation on the track.
I sit down next to a couple that is new to the sport as well, and luckily they have done their research to explain the basics. Three players clad in necessary helmets and elbow and knee pads clasp onto each other’s arms, while a 4th floats nearby. They are the bridge. They keep the pack together. Each team has a pack. Their goal is to form a wall, to keep the opposing team’s jammer from getting past. If a jammer is successful, they race around the track, and the second time they pass the pack, they gain a point for each player they pass. There are also 7 referees to keep track of each part of the game, from the lead jammer (first jammer to pass the pack), to the formation of the pack (can’t be more than 10 feet apart).
As we watch, we get more confused as specific rules elude us. For example, the jammer wears a star cap and sometimes will throw it off and toss it to another player. The jammer will sometimes slap their thighs and touch their head three times and then all people stop moving. Whistles blow in seemingly willy nilly fashion.
At half-time, I find Cayleigh and she fills me in on the more detailed minutiae of the game. She goes by “Bam Bam” in this circle, and each player has a creative name, like “Fleetwood Smack” and “Slim Skadey.”
We follow Wasatch Jr’s jammer “Lemony Stitches” as she races around the track. When she passes the pack, a bright white smile caused partially by a mouthguard and from the dopamine kick from her success bring cheers to the crowd. Her momentum builds as she rounds the corner. Points await her and she throws herself into the pack fearlessly. It’s a close game, tied at 164 points, and in this sport, there are no mercy rules. Sometimes matches rack up a differential of 200 points. Southside Revolution from Seattle, Washington is on a tight margin, having won by 2 points last time they played the Wasatch Junior team.
There is a rhythm to the game, sometimes so quick it’s hard to keep track of all the syncopated parts. Other times, a power play emerges, and as a jammer sits in a penalty, the pack tries to hold back the other team’s bridge, a balance of force keeps the players suspended in place.
These agile skaters gracefully and boldly, sometimes backwardly, ram, scoot, dodge, dip, and “apex jump” around the track. Chiringua, a player with many fans with shirts of the same name, has been skating since they were 4. Another player in the non-competitive team, Jo, heard about this through a book and convinced her mom to take her to an open skate. She loves it and says it helps her find her voice. Sometimes she needs to muster the courage to dive into the pack, and the thing that helps her is by knowing everyone else is doing it. Her mom helps out, wiping down the track after the game.
The game lasts for an hour in rounds of 2 minutes. In a spirited finish, the Wasatch Roller Derby team comes out on top and immediately hi-fives the other team. They then line up and do a victory lap around the track, collecting high fives from the fans and they all take a group photo. “We are family” plays in the background.
I caught up with “Lemon” after the game. She is slumped over and sweaty, her red hair freed from the helmet, yet obviously psyched and proud. When she moved here from Chicago, she was inspired to find a team after learning derby from her favorite comic book. She says she’s dealt with a lot of drama and this has really helped her find a calm way of being. She’s learning teamwork, how to communicate on the track without speaking to each other (like passing the star!). Her teammates bond through movie nights and ice cream outings. She said she would not be the same person, instead frustrated and with anger issues. It helps her be a better person, finding a job and joining a community and family. She says she couldn’t live without it.
Join the Movement!
The Falconz, and Wasatch Juniors all share a similar desire: to have a place to call home. In 2024, the Smith’s BallPark once housing the Utah Bees will change usership, and the “She plays here” proposal seeks to create a women’s multisport venue. If you want to see these teams succeed in the future, email Mayor Erin Mendenhall with your vote of support. Another way to join the growing wave of women’s sports is best stated by a Wild player when she said “showing up matters.” Women’s adult roller derby starts up soon, and Laci encouraged anyone who wants to try football to come to the open practices Tuesday and Thursday at Cottonwood Heights High School. Each team also has social media and websites to stay up to date on how to donate, support or be involved.
Vipers rugby and women’s soccer complete the plethora of teams that would benefit from this incubator for a professional women’s sports hub in Salt Lake City, all forming a cohesive community to lift up and empower Utah’s growing women’s sports scene. Along with support from the Maven district, a conscious investor, this plan seeks to reimagine a future in an inclusive, rich ecosystem of support and empowerment.
Photo by Brian Pender.