Luckily, derby is scrappy.
Luckily, derby is scrappy. Courtesy Emily Kirschbaum / RRG

After the Magnuson and Hiawatha Community Centers close for the day, roller derby takes center stage. They squeeze in practices and scrimmages whenever they can, in and around basketball and volleyball games. But the teams are just happy to have a space to practice.

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"Moving to the Magnuson Community Center is the best thing that’s ever happened to us," Emily "V. Lucy Raptor" Skaftun, a board member with Potential Fresh Meat (PFM), the recreational derby league told The Stranger, "but it’s hard because every time we clear one obstacle another pops up."

PFM was a league started by a group of derby girls who tried out for Rat City Roller Derby but didn't make the team. So, they made their own league to help themselves train, and, eventually, train anyone who wanted to play from the ground up. They used to practice in Rat City's Rat's Nest, but Rat City and Seattle Derby Brats, the youth league also hosted in the Rat's Nest, grew bigger and bigger. So, in 2017, PFM had to find its own space. Rat City is now in the same boat—they're losing their space at the end of May.

"Roller derby in Seattle is all in a scramble for space," Jenni "BAMazon" Pertuset, a skater on Rainier Roller Girls (RRG), another Seattle-based derby team, told The Stranger. "We're all trying to figure out what to do about that universal scarcity of resources. It can potentially put us in conflict with each other."

There are an estimated 10 derby teams in the Seattle area, according to data compiled by PFM. In 2017, there were two facilities that supported roller skating. Since then, Southgate in White Center terminated their lease with RRG. And, the Rat's Nest is going to be torn down for new development.

These teams are taking space wherever they can find it. For PFM, that means a tenuous two practices a week at Magnuson Community Center and squeezing in scrimmages on the weekends. "Did you know the community center isn't open on Sundays?" Skaftun asked—PFM has to pay extra for those Sunday slots. The timing isn't ideal and neither are some of the requirements.

Most recently, PFM was asked not to tape down the lines for their track for fear it would ruin the gym floor.

"They said we should use cones," Skaftun said. "Imagine if you told the basketball players to imagine having a hoop, or to use cones to mark the three-point line. We need those lines in order to play."

Skaftun thinks this pushback happens in part because people aren't knowledgable about derby. It's a minority sport, though a quickly growing one at that.

Courtesy Emily Kirschbaum / RRG

When RRG lost its rink in 2017, it was devastating for the team, according to Emily "Lezzie Borden" Kirschbaum on RRG.

"When we heard we lost our space at Southgate," Kirschbaum said, "we lost over half of our rostered players to other teams or to quitting derby. We thought for a long time about disbanding, but, luckily for me, there were a handful of people who felt strongly enough that this team has a place here and deserves to survive."

RRG has been practicing out of Hiawatha Community Center since finding out their lease wouldn't be renewed. But, Hiawatha is only big enough for practices. There's no room for a full-sized track. RRG hasn't been able to host a sanctioned bout this whole year. A derby team needs to play two bouts a year to remain ranked by the Women's Flat Track Derby Association. It's hurting their team's ranking.

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All the derby players would love to see more civic support for their sport.

"It's a sport for women," Skaftun said, "especially adult women and it’s not anyone’s priority is what it feels like. Anything that’s for kids gets more attention and more funding, and anything that’s for men gets more attention and more funding."

Still, derby and its players are scrappy. They're determined to stay in Seattle and carve out space for themselves, even if it's around the edges. Would they love it if the city could convert just one indoor basketball court into a real derby track with painted lines? Sure. But, they'll take after-hours at Magnuson over the alternative: not playing derby.

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