RollsMary’s Baby isn’t only an amazing skater for the High Rollers and the Wheels of Justice, she is also a rock star volunteer for our league. She coaches the awesome juniors team, the Voo Doo Dolls, helped revamp the new MSR system for assessing skaters, and has done countless other things to help fill in roles for the league. Her commitment to her teams, this league and the sport of roller derby as a whole shows extreme dedication at its best. Rose City Rollers is more than fortunate to have Rolls as one of our own and we are ecstatic to present her the Gold Star Volunteer Award for September. Congratulations Rolls!
Why have you stayed involved in RCR? Honestly, it would be hard to imagine my life without this league. RCR has such a good community of people, and with everyone here focused in on making this sport and league better, the experience is like no other. Getting to be a part of the league and a voice in the grand scheme of things is an honor to have, and I love seeing the change that I help create. After all this time, my kids that I coach and my continuing passion for this league is why I stay involved.
What was your favorite volunteer experience? The best volunteer experience for me is the kids I coach. The Voodoo Dolls are a team that I love and have loved since I started coaching them years ago. My kids make every practice, even ones at 8am, the most fun. It is so rewarding to teach these kids about roller derby and watch them grow and learn and come into their own. My kids will always be my favorite volunteer experience.
Any suggestions for new volunteers or those considering volunteering with RCR? Find the thing that you are passionate about and get involved. There are opportunities at all levels in the league, and when you find the thing that you really want to do, then that passion you have for it can affect the league. When you find what you want to be involved in with the league, it can be so rewarding to see the change that you put into it. It can be all consuming work, but it also can bring forth some of the most rewarding results.
Final thoughts? This league has done a lot for me over time, and I am so honored to receive this award. I love my kids, I love my teammates, and I love this sport.
The clacking of the skates on the track is an unmistakable sound: with it comes ten skaters, two of whom—the point-scoring jammers—are pushing their way through, dancing around, or jumping over the edges of the blockers that stand in their way. Seconds later, they all have skated further around the track, surrounded by a cloud of whistle-blowing referees.
If this seems like an odd start a story for Mother’s Day, it probably is…if we were anywhere other than The Hangar, the home of Portland’s Rose City Rollers.
Ranked the number one roller derby league in North America and the number two league in the world, Rose City Rollers is home to over 550 skaters ranging in age from 7 to 55 and supported by about another 500 volunteers. Within Rose City Rollers’ ranks are mothers, children, siblings, spouses, and significant others.
Give the holiday, we thought that we’d take a moment and ask some of our mothers—current or former skaters, or the mothers of our current skaters—how derby has shaped their lives, or the lives of their children. From them, we hear stories about body positivity, community and connection, and seeing one’s child grow with and through the sport.
All Shapes and Sizes: Roller Derby and Body Positivity
Robyn Liu is a medical doctor and who formerly skated with Rose City Rollers’ recreational league, the Wreckers, under the name Lioness. Now she cheers her daughter, who skates under the derby name of Square Not, on from the bleachers.
“Our society is such a treacherous place to raise daughters,” she says. “When Square Not was born, I promised myself that I would stock her life up with as many role models and cool aunties as I could.”
“A few months before we met roller derby, Square Not came to me distraught about her weight,” says Liu. “Understand, this is a child who had always been petite and slender—and she was only eight years old—but already she had gotten the message that weighing too much was something to be ashamed of. I didn’t have a clue about how to combat this. It kept me awake at night.”
Once Square Not started skating, though, things changed.
“Her coaches and her teammates were all different shapes and sizes, and they all praised and encouraged her for what she was learning to do with her body, and she in turn encouraged them right back,” says Liu. “You see other girls who look different from you who are also achieving, and you can develop this deep, intuitive appreciation for the fact that appearances are so much less important than determination and hard work.”
“Now, when she talks to me about her body, it’s to show off how much thigh muscle she has gained.”
Communication, Community, and Connection: Derby Opens Up The World
Leslie Pierce, who skates for the Rose City Rollers’ Wreckers under the name ManaTease, is mother to the now 12-year-old Screamsicle. For Leslie, roller derby has been as much a matter of personal growth as it has been watching her daughter continue to grow into a strong and adventurous kid.
Leslie Pierce and Screamsicle trackside at a recent roller derby bout. (Permission to use photograph for this article granted by Leslie Pierce.)
“Two weeks in Screamsicle told me her coach, sLoLo, said I could play too,” says ManaTease. “My initial thought was that I wasn’t tough enough or young enough to tackle roller derby. I knew that these weren’t reasons that sounded valid enough to share with an impressionable 9-year-old. So I put the skates on and it’s been a wild and fun ride ever since.”
Fast forward three years to today.
“Screamsicle is now a 6th grader and navigating all of the life changes that occur during this challenging period. Roller derby has also made the world a less small place: she doesn’t rely wholly on her school friends for social validation because she also has her teammates—girls from 12 to 18 with a myriad of body shapes and sizes and world experiences—to help her grow.”
This sense of community and closeness is not limited to Screamsicle and her teammates.
“Roller derby has also opened and connected our worlds by giving us a language that only comes with roller derby,” adds ManaTease. “At a time when it can feel hard to connect with things that are real versus what our smart phones are telling us, the bruises, frustrations, and highs that come with playing roller derby give us a solid way to connect. Being surrounded by strong, confident, and inclusive skaters has been a true inspiration for us both.”
Cultivating One’s Sense of Self: Moving Past Labels and Limitations
“I could talk for hours about how roller derby has changed my kid’s life and my own,” says Bettie Newell, mother to skater Alexander Slamilton. “Slamilton came out to us when they were nine. They were really struggling to find a place to fit in. There are great resources for trans- and non-binary kids in Portland, but Slam wanted to be out in the world, not tucked away with other gender non-conforming kids.”
“When derby was recommended to us, Slam’s initial response was a hard ‘no’ because it was perceived as women’s sport. We came to watch a bout a few months later. I’ll never forget the moment Slam turned to me and said, ‘I want to do this!’”
As a mother to a non-binary child, the community in and around roller derby impressed Newell.
“It was so refreshing to step into a community that represented so much more of the broad and beautiful gender spectrum. It was no small thing for Slam to come to a practice and see other skaters with their pronouns on their helmets, and to see that those pronouns were not limited to she/her. Slamilton has forged strong and authentic friendships with other kids, the kind of friendships that can only come from being able to show up fully as you are.”
Bettie Newell and Alexander Slamilton at the Skate Park. (Permission to use photograph for this article granted by Bettie Newell.)
This sense of empowerment is not limited or felt by Slamilton alone: last summer, Newell, along with “some of [her] favorite derby mamas,” started Rose City Rollers’ Derby 101 program because it looked like fun. Nearly a year on, roller derby has had as much of an effect on her as it has had on Slamilton.
“I had no idea that I would fall in love with the sport. Playing roller derby has allowed me to examine my own self-limiting labels,” says Newell. “When I arrive for a practice, I can be fully in my body in a way that I’ve never been able to. I can take up space without apology. I am surrounded by—and have the support of—fierce, incredible athletes. We are taught to embrace and utilize the things about ourselves that maybe we’ve never seen as assets. There is no one right way to have a body, no one right way to identify in the world. My ideas of what it means to be a woman, a mother and an athlete have grown exponentially.”
Coaching, Compliments, and Making It Better: A Coach’s Perspective
Sharon Ferrier, who is better known as Maye Daye with the Rose City Rollers community, has a slightly different perspective: in addition to playing roller derby since 2012 and skating with the High Rollers since 2014, she sits on the Rose City Rollers’ Board of Directors and coaches the Killer Bees, one of Rose City Roller’s four teams for skaters aged 7-12. Her daughter, T.N.T., was just drafted onto a Petals Team—the league for 7-12 year olds—after successfully completing the Butterflies Program, which prepares young skaters for increasingly competitive play.
“Throughout the past year, I have learned so much about them, myself, and how roller derby can be used at every level to guide discipline, self-confidence, and supportive communities,” says Ferrier.
No small part of Ferrier’s success and satisfaction comes from Rose City Rollers’ relationship with organizations like the Positive Coaching Alliance. Rose City Rollers, like every roller derby league, strives to ensure that its skaters’ experience on the track supports their physical and emotional growth.
“For our youngest skaters, roller derby is not about being perfect: it is about journey to learn and eventually master individual skills and team gameplay. I love to recognize the persistence it takes to keep getting better.”
As the mother of a young skater, Ferrier does not just see the power of this persistence in young skaters at the track; she also sees it in her daughter.
Sharon Ferrier and T.N.T. smile for the camera after a bout at The Hangar. (Photography Credit: Steven L. Price)
“I see the reflection of what T.N.T. has learned on the track every day. Her growth mindset is at work, her persistence is constant, and her awareness of others is on point! I am so proud to be raising a child that I know will contribute to making it all better.”
“Keep making it better” is one of Rose City Rollers’ core values.
If you would like to know how you or someone you love might get involved roller derby, check out Rose City Rollers’ aptly-namedGet Involvedpage. If you have never been to a roller derby game, you can see all of our upcoming bouts on ourEventspage. If you don’t live in the Portland-area, there are over 400 World Flat Track Derby Association-affiliated roller derby leagues around the world.
Rose City Rollers is pleased to announce May’s Gold Star Volunteer, the exceptional Zeriosa (Kate Finedaniels). Zero takes her love of the league to a whole new level with volunteering, showing her commitment to the league across many programs. She has mad coaching skills, officiating know-how, and takes care of Rockets draft coordination, on top of several other volunteer gigs. Zero’s commitment really shines and her love and dedication to our community helps our league be the best we can be.
Why have you stayed involved with RCR?
First of all, I barely left my house before joining the league and so all my friends are here! Also, volunteering gives me a way to meet people across the different programs in the league. This is my community and I want to help sustain it. When I see a need, I want to jump in and support the people and things I care about as a way of giving back the support that has been given to
What was your favorite volunteer experience?
Being a captain of Rockets! It was my first experience of feeling like part of a team and it was fulfilling even when it was hard. I had to step outside my comfort zone and do things I’ve never done before — I could go on and on about how much I learned about leadership and humans and teamwork, not just from the experience but from my co-cap and teammates. I still love all of those people and I’m rooting for them always, even though many of them are on different teams now.
What has being an RCR volunteer meant to you?
I’ve gotten to watch people across all the programs I’ve participated in and invested in (whether it’s Wreckers, Rockets or officials) develop as skaters and officials over the last four years. I see so many people around me who want to be excellent at whatever it is they do. It makes my heart happy to see hard work rewarded with success, whether it’s someone doing a hockey stop after they said they could never, trying out for travel team or getting to be a tournament head official for the first time.
Is there anything RCR could do better for its volunteers?
Recognition! Some volunteers may get overlooked because we’re such a huge league with lots and lots of diligent and capable volunteers. When you think in your head that you appreciate
someone or the work they do, remember to say it out loud to them too.
Roller derby is the type of community that draws everyone in – SOs, kids, siblings, aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents. And that is exactly how Rose City Rollers met this month’s Gold Star Volunteer winner. Tammy Lita Sanders came to RCR to support her amazing grandkid & Rosebud All-Star Captain Raven Spencer, but discovered a home for herself in the process. Lita (or Loco Lita, if you ask Raven) has taken on the role of Junior Program Merchandiser for all levels at both home and away games. It’s a job that has given her a sense of purpose and she tells us that she can’t imagine not ever being a part of Rose City Rollers and the Rose City Rollers Juniors Program. We’re proud to present Lita with our March Gold Star Volunteer Award – Congratulations, and please don’t ever leave us!