Three years ago, the Rat City Roller Derby learned that their longtime Rat’s Nest facility in Shoreline had been sold to a developer. In the time since, they have struggled to find another property for not just their own practices and bouts, but those of their affiliated youth league — an army of about 200 nervy young girls known as the Seattle Derby Brats (SDB).
Without a space to skate, the girls were at the risk of losing hard-won skating skills, their love for the sport and all that came with it: Self-esteem, sportsmanship, community.
So in May, after the league held a move-out sale at the Rat’s Nest, SDB leaders called every community center in the city, scrambling to find space.
“It was a nightmare,” said Seattle Derby Brats head Michael Van Flandern. “I would ask, ‘How big is your gym?’ and no one would know so we would have to go out and measure every gym.”
Finally, representatives from SDB teams — led by Potential Fresh Meat (PFM) Roller Derby’s Amy Davis and representatives from Rat City Roller Derby, Tilted Thunder Rail Girls, Rainier Roller Derby, and Puget Sound Outcasts — met with two members of the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department and a representative from the Seattle Office for Civil Rights. (Davis had previously met with members of the Seattle City’ Council and the LGBTQ Commission).
The Parks Department was worried that the skaters might damage gym floors. If that happened, the city would bill the leagues.
And there was this: Basketball season was coming up in the fall. There are 20,000 kids in the city’s coed youth basketball program — a 60/40 split with boys teams the majority. But there are only 1,000 female derby players. Basketball had priority, parks officials said.
“This is an equity issue,” Van Flandern argued. “We want a two-prong approach. Make the community centers available for derby and treat it as equally as basketball.”
Females are underrepresented in city parks programs, he added. And no one was asking the basketball leagues to pay to finish the floor.
Ultimately, the Parks Department agreed, and recently announced plans to paint “derby lines” on the floors of 17 community centers so that all leagues — including the Seattle Derby Brats — can have a place to practice.
Meanwhile, the Rat City Roller Derby continues to look for a permanent home. Earlier this month, they hosted the International Women’s Flat Track Derby Association playoffs at the accesso ShoWare Center in Kent. In August, they took on the Northwest All-Stars at the Marysville Skate Center. They will practice at the community centers, as well.
The first community center painted with derby lines was the Bitter Lake Community Center, which already hosts a weekly “Skate Night.” So the floor has withstood the constant clomping and rolling that skating involves.
On Oct. 5, the Parks and Recreation Department is hosting a ribbon-cutting party at the Bitter Lake center to celebrate its first set of derby lines. Two more centers will be painted by the end of the year.
There is already a regular schedule for basketball lines to be painted on the gym floors, said Parks Department spokeswoman Rachel Schulkin, and now the derby lines will be added to the job. The department did a small study to look at the impact that roller derby has on gym floors, and found there was “noticeable dulling” in the oval where roller derby went on. This will require that the floors be refinished annually — rather than every other year — or applying a double coat of finish at the gyms where roller derby lines will be painted.
“We wanted to make sure we can maintain it and do it in the right way,” said Schulkin.
It helps, she said, that the facilities-maintenance manager of the department, Carson Jones, used to “manage the gym floor” at KeyArena.
Schulkin’s not sure whether the community-center gyms will be able to accommodate actual matches. “We will schedule games where gyms have adequate space for spectators and safety zones,” she said.
The Seattle Derby Brats will continue to look for a permanent home.
“We still need a home dedicated to derby,” Van Flandern said, “just like the men’s sports have at (Team Mobile Park), CenturyLink and now Northgate. Our girls and women need equity.”
Allyson Madere, whose 10-year-old daughter, Shai, skates on the Tootsy Rollers team under the name Slaughtermelon, is grateful to the city and the access to the community centers.
“This has pretty much saved the season,” she said. “We might not have been able to skate this year, or folded. We don’t know what would have happened.
“But beggars can’t be choosers,” she said. “At least we’re skating.”