Roller derby comes to Homer

If women in Homer have been looking for a way to combine a love of comradery, female empowerment and smashing into stuff, they might just be in luck. A small group of local women is working to create Homer’s first roller derby team.

Roller derby is a contact sport in which two teams of five people skate around a track, earning points by helping one member of their team lap members of the opposing team. At the same time, the players work to hinder the progress of the other team’s “jammer,” the player tasked with doing the lapping.

The sport has been a safe haven for women of all different backgrounds, and began to gain popularity as a contact sport starting in the 1930s. Alaska boasts 13 roller derby teams of its own, according to the Rollergirls Alaska website. A Homer league would mark the second team to be formed on the Kenai Peninsula.

Bailey Lowney, former director of the South Peninsula Athletic and Recreation Center, played on a derby team in the Lower 48 a number of years ago. She’s out of practice, she said, but she’s been wanting to get a team going in Homer for quite a while.

“It’s all about empowering women,” Lowney said. “Just getting out there and kicking ass, you know? It builds community, comradery, and it’s also a way to give back to this amazing community we have as well.”

SPARC opened up three hours on Tuesdays nights for roller derby practice over a month ago, and through that opportunity Lowney connected with a small group of other women with derby experience or a wish to learn.

They held an informational meeting last Friday at Alice’s Champagne Palace, where about 20 women showed up to express their interest in forming an official team.

“Forming this derby league, it’s more than just showing up and skating,” she said. “It’s going to be creating a nonprofit organization, it’s going to be creating a board within that, and fundraising, scheduling bouts, scheduling things within the community. There’s a lot involved.”

Aside from being a contact, high-action sport, roller derby in a lot of places is something organized by women, for women. Players come up with their own pseudonyms, or “derby names,” which often involve a play on words with nods to punk, violent or sexual aesthetics. Lowney’s was Baybomber when she played in Arizona.

“You wait until you start to skate and you get to know your derby ego,” said Rebecca Bartee, a former member of Juneau’s roller derby team and part of the group that wants to get a team going. ” … You can be somebody who is maybe very quiet in your personal life and you get on the track, and all bets are off. And, you know, some people know their name right to begin with.”

Some teams also encourage the use of creative dress in addition to the team uniforms — it’s not uncommon to see a bout (or match) in which skaters are draped in fishnet stockings, dark eye makeup and striking red lipstick.

The next steps are to form an official 501c3 nonprofit for the team to operate under, Lowney said. She also encouraged all the women at the meeting to attend Tuesday night skate practice at SPARC. Those interested can show up with inline skates if they have them, and transition to the skates needed for roller derby, called “quads,” when they feel ready.

After the skaters have advanced past the basics, Lowney said they can start practicing the actual moves and skills required of the game.

Lowney said she’s been in contact with the Far North Derby team in Kenai, who have agreed to come down to put on a practice bout so Homer players can see what it’s all about. There is also talk of following that up with a clinic put on by Far North Derby, Lowney said.

Roller derby skating is from 6 to 9 p.m. every Tuesday at SPARC. Since plans for a Homer team are in such early stages, there’s no official team name or website yet. Lowney said she plans to have a Facebook page up in the future. Those interested can also visit the AK Roller Derby Facebook page for information on the sport statewide.

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