By Jerrica Kallio
“What do I have to do to get you on my All-Star team?” the coach asks casually.
Baffled, I stumble to respond, “Me?”
A lifelong athlete, I was new to rollerskating and new to roller derby. I was not great. I didn’t believe myself skilled enough to play for a nationally ranked All-Star team. Yet this coach saw something that suggested I could be.
I transferred to Rat City Rollergirls from Jet City Rollergirls of Everett three years ago and am now beginning my fourth season as a Rat City All-Star. I chose Rat City for the competition and coaching. I knew that statistically, my career would only last a few years. I wanted to position myself with a league that I believed would play for the international Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) title in that time.
Arguably skaters transfer to new leagues for myriad reasons; a new job, school, family. Ask any transfer why she changed leagues and odds are, somewhere in her list, is the desire to skate for a more competitive league — a league that is higher ranked, has better training opportunities, or is strategically innovative.
In most sports, we expect the transfer; rarely does an athlete stay with one team for their career. Consider Ichiro, Ray Allen, Matt Hasselbeck. Athletes are drafted, they are traded, they are traded again and eventually they retire. Sometimes this is initiated by the player, sometimes not. Rarely do we see big name athletes begin and end their career with the same team; Edgar Martinez of the Mariners was an anomaly.
Each roller-derby All-Star team comprises 20 skaters. Twelve of Rat City’s current All-Stars are transfers. In the past four seasons, the number has continued to increase. Four years ago, just under half of the Rat City All-Stars were transfers. Today, 60 percent of the team are. Some have come from teams that are comparably ranked, many come from teams that haven’t broken into the top 10.
This trend isn’t limited to Rat City. Rat City All-Stars are now ranked sixth in the world, and four of the top-10 teams call the West Coast home. Rat City has moved slightly up and down in rankings during my four seasons on the All-Star team, never dipping below 10th. Looking at the top-20 teams, you see familiar faces in new uniforms on every bench. In the past year, skaters have traveled the West Coast, skating with San Francisco, Portland, Olympia and Seattle before deciding where to settle. Others have flown cross-country to play a tournament with a team from a city they’ve never lived in, sometimes meeting their “teammates” just before the game. Transferring used to be the result of a life change or big move. Arguably, transferring is now the catalyst for a big move.
Often, the roller-derby transfer raises an eyebrow. We question allegiance and loyalty, motivation and commitment. Rather than suspect the transfer, perhaps we should expect the transfer. Perhaps this is but one step in the evolution of roller derby as it continues to grow into an internationally recognized sport.
In roller derby, there are no agents, no multi-million dollar contracts, no championship rings. There are nonetheless thousands of women choosing to pick up, relocate and start over for love of a sport and the dream of competing for the WFTDA title.
Rat City Rollergirls All Stars begins its WFTDA competive season Saturday, June 8 with a doubleheader against Montreal Sexpos and London Rollergirls at KeyArena. More info: www.ratcityrollergirls.com
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