While watching television one night eight years ago, Jennifer McMahon saw a program called “Rollergirls,” an A&E reality series about Texas Roller Derby.
”When I saw it, I was like, 'Holy smokes, that looks amazing!'” McMahon, the founder of Humboldt Roller Derby said -- even though she had no idea how to skate. “I didn't even know roller derby existed. I had no idea the sport was around.”
Excited by the show, McMahon, then 34, knew she had to form a Humboldt team if she wanted to play, so she did some research and placed an advertisement on Craigslist.
The early days were anything but easy.
”You would think we had the plague,” McMahon said. “No one would rent us a spot. In the past, people saw it as pro wrestling entertainment; like it was all fake.”
The team practiced in secret for 18 months before making its debut at Redwood Acres in 2008.
”It was really hard in the beginning to get people to see what we were trying to do and what we were trying to accomplish,” McMahon said.
Once the perception changed, everything took off -- a team was formed, a place to practice was found and bouts sold out.
Tonight, Humboldt Roller Derby opens its seventh season with a bout against the Tsunami Sirens of Crescent City. When the two Humboldt teams -- the Redwood Rollers and the Widow Makers -- combine, they are referred to as Humboldt Roller Derby.
Each bout, or game, this season will have a different theme.
The skaters will focus on teamwork, coach Andy Nieto said.
”It's never about winning or losing,” Nieto said. “Our goal is to go out there every game, prepare the best that we can and always execute the plan that we come in with.”
The 25 players, who range from ages 18 to 42, are students, stay-at-home moms, business owners, engineers, biologists, social workers, teachers and restaurant workers.
”Everybody's welcome,” said Lindsey Jones Ziegoer, a board member and official. “It doesn't matter if you've never had an athletic experience in the past.
”It doesn't matter if you're big or small, or if you weigh 250 pounds or you weigh 80 pounds,” added Jones Ziegoer, who goes by “Raven Maniac” on the track. “There is a place for you on the roller derby team.”
Nieto, aka “Ruste E. Machete,” who plays blocker and jammer in addition to coaching, said she joined because she played sports growing up.
”Sports to me are just a reflection of life,” Nieto said. “It teaches you lots of life skills -- it teaches you teamwork, how to be flexible, how to react under pressure -- and getting to play a contact sport is fun.”
It also empowers women and girls.
”There's nothing that appears stronger than those Humboldt Roller Derby athletes on a track when you watch them in a game,” Jones Ziegoer said.
Blocker Candice Campbell, who has skated four seasons, said the sport just becomes a part of life.
”Even when you're at home, you still think about it,” said Campbell, who goes by “PoiSIN CanDIE” in the rink.
In a couple of months, the team -- which is part of Women's Flat Track Derby Association, a national organization that ranks all of the teams in the world -- will compete in tournaments in Eugene, Ore., and Boise, Idaho, this season.
”It's the fastest growing sport right now in the United States,” McMahon said. “It's crazy. It's super exciting to be a part of a sport that's starting from the ground up and getting this cool revival.”
If you go box:
What: Humboldt Roller Derby vs. North Coast Roller Derby Tsunami Sirens
Where: Redwood Acres, located at 3750 Harris St., Eureka
When: 7 p.m. today. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Cost: $12. Tickets are available at People's Records, Wildberries, The Works, The Local, Stil or online at humboldtrollerderbyvstsunamisirens.brownpapertickets.com
Info box: Rules of roller derby
The game is called a “bout” and lasts for 60 minutes of active play. Two teams of 14 players compete in plays called “jams” that can last up to two minutes. Each jam is a race where jammers can score points by passing opposing players. Blockers try to prevent the opposing jammer from scoring, while also trying to help their jammer pass opponents at the same time.
There are three positions: jammer, pivot and blocker. Jammers wear stars on their helmet and score the points. The pivot is a blocker who wears a striped helmet cover. The jammer can “pass the star” helmet cover to the pivot who then becomes the active jammer and takes over scoring points for the team in the jam. Blockers play both defense and offense at the same time.
Source: Lindsey Jones Ziegoer, a Humboldt Roller Derby board member and official
Lorna Rodriguez can be reached at 441-0506 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LornaARodriguez.