It’s time for some rocking and rolling — emphasis on the rolling — at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex. The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) is bringing its international Roller Derby playoffs to the fairgrounds this weekend.
Competing teams in the event, which runs Sept. 6 to 8, will represent cities around the United States including Austin, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco, as well as other countries including teams from Paris, Helsinki, Berlin, Buenos Aires; Birmingham, England; and Lomme, France.
In all, 12 teams will participate. Twelve other teams will participate in another round of playoffs in Seattle later this month, all competing for spots at the International Championships, which will be held in Montreal in November.
Erica Vanstone, executive director of the WFTDA, said that Greensboro, which has been part of the group for about nine years, has been a vital touchstone in helping the sport grow in the region, since it is within driving distance of nearly 75 roller derby organizations in the eastern United States, including Raleigh’s Carolina Roller Derby, which helped establish the sport in the area more than 15 years ago.
“So the area has strong ties to the development of the sport of flat track roller derby,” she said. “The city of Winston-Salem was also very eager to support us, and has helped Greensboro put together the event bid that the WFTDA ultimately accepted.”
Visit Winston-Salem and the city put in a bid for the playoffs to come to North Carolina, coordinating with the Greensboro Roller Derby League to bring the event here.
The Greensboro league — which includes such teams as the Gate City All-Stars, Greensboro Counterstrike, Battleground Betties, Elm Street Nightmares and Mad Dollies — won’t be competing, but are acting as hosts of the event. GSORD, as it is known, started in 2010, and absorbed most of the Camel City Thrashers, a former Winston-Salem roller team, after they officially disbanded several years ago.
The sport is known for its fast pace, colorful player nicknames, and take-no-prisoners attitude. It’s also a good outlet for players and provides a strong sense of camaraderie.
The Grimberlyn Reaper, aka Kimberlyn Murawski, a spokeswoman for GSORD, heard about the sport while in college at Appalachian State University and working three jobs. “I had no time to myself,” she said, “and during that time I went through a really bad breakup — really ugly — so after that I was like, ‘I need something for me, I need an outlet. Because I can’t go to work, go to school and just be miserable.’” She heard about a roller derby boot camp and went. It was scary at first, but after a couple of practices, she decided, “Oh yeah, this is for me.”
She hears similar stories from other players. “A common theme with all of us is that roller derby has definitely changed our lives for the better and made us all stronger and more empowered,” she said.
“A lot of people call us ‘Roller Girls,’ but we would prefer to just be called ‘skaters,’ gender-neutral,” she added. “We’re open to trans women, intersex women, gender-nonconformists. We are totally accepting and welcome them to our team.”
Flat track roller derby in its current form started in Texas in the early 2000s, and now has more than 460 member organizations worldwide. “We credit the popularity to what folks are getting out of it,” Vanstone said. “Roller derby never asks if women could or should be playing a contact sport ... it doesn’t allow gender to define what type of sport you can play or how you can do your job. That’s a pretty powerful feeling for a lot of new skaters and community members, who’ve not been allowed to participate in other sports that way.”
Asked what spectators can expect if this is their first roller derby, Vanstone said, “They can expect an action-packed sport played by hard-working athletes on skates, and a fun-loving, family-embracing community to support it. Many of our hosts and participants also coach junior teams and skaters, and our values are tied the kind of confidence you feel from being able to take a hit and get back up for another.”
To commemorate the event, GSORD is painting a mural and inviting attendees to contribute to it. After the event, the mural will be installed on the fairgrounds Midway.