The Little City Roller Girls take on The World

David Floyd • Jun 22, 2019 at 7:00 PM

When Janie Denson moved with her husband from Arizona to East Tennessee a couple of years ago, she was starting from scratch.

“When you’re not in college or anything like that, it’s kind of hard to meet people and make that group of friends,” she said. “I was looking for where I belonged in this area.”

Denson found what she was looking for on Facebook: the Little City Roller Girls, a local roller derby team drawing participants from the Tri-Cities.

“I’ve always had an interest in roller derby, and you know how Facebook reads your mind now ... it kind of popped up on my feed,” Denson said, “and I was like, ‘Well, let’s go see what it’s all about.’”

At noon Saturday, The Little City Roller Girls held their first scrimmage at their new home rink, the Bristol Skateway, facing off against a mash-up team called The World composed of competitors from around the South and supplemented Saturday by some members of the Little City Roller Girls.

The Little City Roller Girls won the match 185-155.

Before settling at the Bristol Skateway, the Little City Roller Girls had practice space in a handful of locations around the region and held bouts at the Gray Fairgrounds, but it was expensive to host events there.

“We’re a non-profit, so we don’t have lots of money coming in,” said Shauna Boggs, a member of the team who’s been involved in roller derby for about seven years. “And that’s why it’s so great for us to be here. It’s our home. We don’t have to pay thousands of dollars to say, ‘Hey, we want to have a game.’”

Roller derby is essentially a contact sport on roller skates.

Each team has a set of blockers who try to stop a player called the jammer from making a circuit around the track and passing players on the opposing team. The jammer scores a point for every blocker they pass.

“That’s why you see the jammer look like she’s getting destroyed sometimes because that person represents points,” Boggs said.

Each team has a jammer on the track, and blockers on both teams have to act both defensively and offensively, making room for their jammer to pass through the opposing team’s scrum of defenders while also preventing their opponent’s jammer from making a lap around the track.

The one-hour match on Saturday was divided into multiple smaller increments of time called “jams,” which last at most two minutes. The first jammer to break through the blockers becomes the “lead jammer” and has the power to call off the jam before the timer hits zero.

“As a jammer, I do not like two-minute jams because I feel like I’m dead after a minute and a half,” Boggs said.

When she started, Boggs said she didn’t have much experience skating, which she said shouldn’t deter new recruits.

“If anything, it’s important for people to realize that you don’t have to be a really good skater,” Boggs said. “We really take the time to teach you how.”

The team’s next recruitment event will happen at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Bristol Skateway.

Abby Nachman, who goes by the derby name “Trauma,” has been part of the team for about four years.

“You don’t have to be any certain type of person to come play this sport,” she said. “You just have to be someone who doesn’t want to give up and wants a challenge.”

Boggs said there’s also something empowering about participating in roller derby.

“It’s a really good space for strong women to get together and really just go all-out,” she said. “We have a lot of women. Some are stay-at-home moms, some are in professional settings, and for all of us to come here and just take out our frustrations, it’s amazing.”

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