Take 10 women, give them each a pair of roller skates and a helmet, put them all on a circuit track and you’ll end up with one of the most kick-ass sports to ever grace Utah Valley. Women’s Roller Derby, which gained popularity back in 2000, is a competitive sport where women skate counterclockwise around a track trying to score points for their team while doing anything physically and legally possible to prevent the other team from scoring. In a sport that combines the fast paced excitement of racing with the aggressive brutality of rugby, the only aspect that makes it all more intriguing is a good old-fashioned scandal brimming with lies, betrayal and contradicting stories.
The first local women’s derby league, the Salt City Derby Girls, was founded in 2005. With four teams, Bomber Babes, Death Dealers, Sisters of No Mercy and Leave It to Cleavers, and one traveling team, the Salt City Shakers. Women’s derby exploded on the Utah scene, drawing in crowds of dedicated fans. Recently, the SCDG switched from being a flat track league to a banked track league.
There are three major differences between banked track derby and flat track derby, the first being jams are only one minute in banked instead of two like in flat. Another big difference is that penalties are served during the next jam instead of the jam the penalty was committed. The last difference is if the lead jammer is passed during a jam, the passer becomes the new lead jammer. In flat track, once the lead jammer is established, she remains the lead jammer for the entire jam.
When asked about the reasoning behind the change, the league president, who goes by the pseudonym Brew HaHa, said, “We’ve been dominating the flat surface since 2005. [W]hile derby isn’t boring, it was certainly time for the next big thing.” But like most good scandal stories, there was more than meets the eye.
Back in late 2010, complaints were made by members within the SCDG league regarding actions made by the league’s leadership that were ethically questionable. These complaints regarded matters of safety, illegal hitting during bouts, financial standing, sexual harassment and other accusations.
In what seemed like a result of these complaints, a few members received letters from the league informing them their membership had been terminated, and they were not allowed to return. This caused significant backlash from the roller derby community, especially in Utah. The SCDG later invited the members back under the condition that if they returned only to cause trouble, they would be forced into retirement. Overall, three members left the league permanently and two of these three went on to form the Wasatch Roller Derby League.
When questioned about the matter, Brew HaHa, who currently owns 51 percent of SCDG, including the LLC, issued the league’s official response.
“The decision was made based on verified evidence that these members were acting in a manner that we felt was harming the league and whose actions, which were verified, were deemed unprofessional and unethical to the board of directors. … We felt that it was in our best interest to just make a clean break without the pain and suffering of making their actions public.
Brew haha explained it as a matter of business as well.
“We feel the unprofessional manner in which these former members behaved after we didn’t renew their membership validates our suspicious and our actions.” Ha Ha Said. “People need to remember, we are a business here to offer a product [sic re. punctuation], and we need to protect that product. Any members found to be affecting that process in a negative manner will not have their membership renewed or will be asked to leave.”
Since the SCDG was a member of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, an international governing body over roller derby akin to the National Football League for football, an investigation was conducted by the WFTDA to see if the accusations held any truth. On March 10, 2011, the WFTDA issued the following statement: “WFTDA is a membership association guided by certain requirements and values, and we are compelled by our mission to limit our membership to roller derby leagues that meet those requirements. Unfortunately, Salt City has chosen to go in a direction that is not in line with WFTDA membership requirements and values, and so they have chosen to resign their membership in the WFTDA. We wish Salt City the best in their pursuits.”
While Brew HaHa’s statement of wanting to bring their league to the next level of competition as the reasoning behind switching from a flat track to a banked track may be true, their decision to leave the WFTDA right after an investigation into accusations of corruption seem just a bit off. This is further substantiated by Brew HaHa’s response to whether or not banked track derby has a governing body like the WFTDA. Brew HaHa said, “Not necessarily, they are a very tight knit group, and they have groups to communicate with each other so we can all be on the same page. They don’t govern us, or tell us how to run our league.”
Whatever the reason behind the switch, women’s roller derby in Utah is not going to go away soon. With three individual leagues boasting of four teams or more, roller derby adds some exciting competition and vicious brutality to life here in Utah, which is something this valley desperately needs.