Project 49: Rage City Rollergirls

by Tracy Kalytiak  |   

Project 49 is a monthly series from the University of Alaska Anchorage, highlighting characters and events from Alaska's rich history that have been preserved in our archives.

A skater on the Rage City Rollergirls' Orange Crush team pushes an opponent to the floor during a bout. The organization also has a traveling team known as the Rage City All*Stars. (Photo courtesy of Rick Schleyer,

Angelene Ketah, a "jammer" on the Rage City Rollergirls' Orange Crush team, pushes an opponent to the floor during a bout. The organization also has a traveling team known as the Rage City All*Stars. (Photo courtesy of Rick Schleyer,

What do Back Seat Betty, Lil' Red Vette and WickedSpeedia have in common?

They're all women who skate. They all delved into roller derby and bonded in the Rage City Rollergirls' bruising bouts. And, they all have some kind of connection to UAA:

  • Dr. Diane Hanson, chair of UAA's anthropology department, skated with the so-called "Fresh Meat" beginner-level skaters of the Rage City Rollergirls. Margan Grover, an assistant professor in that department, and Aubrey Morrison ("Dirt Bag") an anthropology graduate student, are also Rollergirls.
  • "Back Seat Betty" is the derby name for Diane Kozak, director of the UAA Career Services Center.
  • Dr. Kori Callison, a UAA assistant professor of management and marketing, is a Rollergirl.
  • Lorelei Sterling, a distance education librarian at UAA, began skating this year as a Rollergirl.
  • "Lil' Red Vette" is UAA alumna Marvat Obeidi, who works with English language learners and skates with the All*Stars-the Rollergirls' traveling team.
  • Dawnell Smith ("WickedSpeedia") holds a UAA M.F.A. in creative writing, is a literary writer and freelance journalist, and works for the State of Alaska. Another UAA M.F.A. graduate, award-winning author Martha Amore, is also a Rage City Rollergirl.
  • Deenay Dunmore ("Zombie") is a UAA student who says she was looking for something fun and physical to do during the winter when a friend took her to a bout nearly three years ago.
  • Kendall Neils ("Spenard Itch") is a teacher's assistant who earned her biological sciences bachelor's degree at UAA and now is pursuing a UAA master's degree in that field.
  • Angelene Ketah is a second-semester nursing student pursuing a bachelor's degree at UAA.
  • Dayna ("Lethal Lavender") Rumfelt is a surveyor who earned her associate and bachelor's degrees in geomatics at UAA.
  • Jackie Hartman is an alumna of the UAA medical laboratory science department.
  • Amy JauJou ("Holey Punc-her"), Alissa Seely-Kip, Janelle Burkleo and Kasey Mitchell are also Rollergirls or Rollergirl alums connected to UAA.

Stacie Kinney-Padlock ("Bat Ma'am") received an associate degree in architectural and engineering technology last year and now works as a technical drafter for her family's civil engineering firm. She was a part-time UAA student when she first saw a Rollergirls bout in February 2011.

She immediately started teaching herself how to skate, going to Royal Roller Rink at least three times a week. Four weeks later, she took the "Fresh Meat" basic-skills test with Rage City. She didn't think she would pass, but Rage City brought her into the fold. She honed her skill and, in February 2013, won a place in the Rollergirls' All*Star traveling team.

"One of the reasons why I love roller derby is because I can see immediate improvements in my abilities and skills," she said. "If I practice enough, I can do anything I want."

Nicole Sola earned a UAA degree in international studies with minors in German and political science, worked as a residential advisor and now is back at UAA to major in math and minor in physics. She, too, is a Rage City Rollergirl.

Sola found out about Rage City through Kozak. "I hadn't really skated before, just as a kid at the roller rink, nothing fancy," she said. "I love that I am part of a team. I also love that I learn new things every practice and get to be involved with such a great league. It's a sport that pushes me mentally and physically. I think the scariest part about it is getting hit really hard."

Masters of crash

Skaters routinely get hit because roller derby is a contact sport. Two five-member teams on quad roller skates travel in the same direction around a track. In front, pivots control the pace and, along with blockers skating in the middle, try to slam opponents off their feet. In a series of matchups known as jams, each team's jammer-a skater wearing a star-emblazoned helmet-tries to score points by lapping members of the opposing team.

A skater on the Rage City Rollergirls' Orange Crush team pushes an opponent to the floor during a bout. The organization also has a traveling team known as the Rage City All*Stars. (Photo courtesy of Rick Schleyer,

Members of the Rage City Rollergirls' Orange Crush team celebrate with their opponents after a bout. (Photo courtesy of Rick Schleyer,

Each team tries to block the opposing jammer while helping their own jammer-simultaneously playing offense and defense. Roller derby "bouts" last for two grueling 30-minute periods, with a 20-minute halftime.

"In skating, you're told to stay with your friends, don't touch anybody, to go slower," said former UAA education student and Rage City veteran Pat "Pat Riot" Bergeron, who had her number, 12, tattooed on her arm so it wouldn't sweat off during bouts. "In roller derby you're taught the opposite-to be in each other's way, knock people down."

Roller derby began in banked-track roller-skating marathons back in the 1930s and evolved quickly into a hugely popular sport. Then, it declined into a form of sports entertainment with predetermined winners-much more about caked-on makeup and scanty costumes than about athletic talent and wiliness.

You'll still see plenty of shorts, miniskirts and fishnets, but athletic discipline returned to the sport when a resurgence in flat-track roller derby ignited in 2001. Teams proliferated. Most are all-female teams, but the number of male, co-ed and junior roller derby teams is growing.

"Roller derby has a huge misperception that is really annoying and I think is actually hurting the sport," Kinney-Tadlock said. "People go to games expecting to see fights, blood and broken bones. Roller derby is quite the opposite. ... Roller derby is a 'real' sport that requires athleticism and sportsmanlike conduct."

The idea for an Anchorage roller derby team was born in 2006, when Polly Carr (who is now executive director of the Alaska Center for the Environment) decided to attend a bout while visiting Denver.

"I identified with this fierce, funny, entertaining experience," Carr wrote in a Rage City Rollergirls yearbook program, part of a box of Rage City papers and other items the Rollergirls recently donated to the UAA/APU Consortium Library's Archives & Special Collections. "I had been in sports of all kinds growing up, but this was very different, and woke up this side of me that is hard to describe. It was everything I believed and felt about women in power, unfurling on the floor."

'I became obsessed'

Carr returned to Anchorage, donned the name "Carr Wreck," and created Rage City Rollergirls, which became a member of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association. WFTDA now has 329 full member leagues and 84 apprentice leagues.

Each Rage City skater must be at least 18 years old and meet WFTDA minimum skill requirements by passing tests of basic skating skills, falls, balance and agility, skating with others, blocking and knowledge of the rules. They must volunteer in the Anchorage community-"You don't get all the derby glory without getting the derby dirt under your nails"-and have to abide by PG-13 rules of conduct and presentation at bouts.

Each skater practices 5-6 hours a week on skates and must wear skate helmet, mouth guard, elbow pads, wrist guards and kneepads. Some wear shin guards and padded shorts.

"The women are taught how to skate 'small' to make themselves less of a target," according to one article kept in the Rage City archive. "They learn how to fall to decrease chances of being injured. They're told to never put their fingers on the track because they will get run over."

Nevertheless, derby is a rough sport, according to Rage City's website, which recounted this litany of skating horrors: torn knee ligaments, concussions, black eyes, hip hematomas, shin bruises, spiral fractures, bruising, rink rash, Velcro scratches, abrasions, sprained ankles, dislocations, rotator cuff damage, lower back pain and knee problems.

Aubrey Morrison invited Diane Hanson to a bout and then Hanson attended a Christmas skate event. An archaeologist friend invited her to a scrimmage and, later, Hanson began skating with the Fresh Meat. Her name? "Diane to Beat You."

"What attracted me to the sport was [that it is a] full-on contact sport with no pretense to being a 'pinked'-more delicate- version of any male sport," she said. "It was women doing their best to make points and stop others from making points while hurtling past the audience at full speed on skates. It was thrilling!"

Sadly, Hanson didn't get past Fresh Meat. "In 2013, I broke my foot-in the house, not skating-and in 2014, I broke my hand in a bad fall skating." Now, she skates primarily on her own but helps out as a penalty timer for the Rollergirls.

The high likelihood of injury didn't deter "Salmon Ella," a skater who wrote in an early Rage City yearbook about her introduction to skating and derby.

"My favorite rat, Bubo, ran away down a sewer vent and of course I pursued her," she recounted. "I loved the sound of my skates on the smooth, curved walls of the subterranean culverts. Then I became obsessed with that vermin-infested half pipe.

"Roller derby is ridiculously fun," she continued. "It's also fashionable, feminine and has been a brilliant way to combat the dreaded annual Alaskan winter fat layer. What other amateur sport can you play that has sell-out crowds, 'suicide seating' and a beer garden, too?"

Written by Tracy Kalytiak, UAA Office of University Advancement

Creative Commons License "Project 49: Rage City Rollergirls" is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.