The Rat City Roller Derby is hosting a move-out sale at its Rat’s Nest on Saturday. Tools. Skate stuff. Art supplies and furniture. All the things that made the place its own are up for sale. The Rat City All-Stars will even wash your car, if you need it.
This league of strong women and girls has to travel light — because it doesn’t know where it’s going. Three years ago, Rat City learned that its Shoreline facility was going to be demolished and replaced with (do I even have to say it?) apartments. Another warren for the thousands of newcomers pouring into the city.
Since then, Rat City has been searching for a space large enough for a track, and without columns. But every time it gets close to a long-term lease, the league has been outbid by a developer. It’s commerce, right? Supply and demand. Money talking loud and clear.
It’s also a massive failure on a couple of fronts.
The city of Seattle didn’t have the foresight to see the cultural cost of accepting developers’ money without setting some conditions about preservation and inclusion. It started with the Sunset Bowl in Ballard (thanks to KIRO-FM’s Mike Lewis for the origin point), and since then, the list has grown longer than the weekend line at the Genius Bar. So much has been bought, bulldozed and built anew around here, I sometimes sit at a traffic light and don’t recognize a thing.
But the bigger failure of Rat City being uprooted is to the girls of the city. The ones who sign up and lace up, who get on the track and, round by round, find their inner badass. They create derby personas, complete with names like Slaughtermelon and T’Erin M. Up, and develop confidence and assertiveness they don’t find in many other places.
There’s so much talk about “empowering girls.” So much urgency from nonprofits, politicians and philanthropists about closing the equity gap in the STEM field, in education and sports. How do we get girls to speak up and grow up with the same confidence as boys?
To me, Rat City is a “gimme.” It’s a no-brainer. Any one of the region’s countless millionaires or foundations could write these people a check and solve this problem. They need, what, $500,000 for a hunk of land big enough to pour a track, surround it with a fabric building with steel girders and a retaining wall. Electricity and plumbing. Parking. All right, let’s say $1 million. That’s a latte for you fine, rich folks.
In return? The knowledge that you’re walking the walk and talking the talk while hundreds of girls skate their hearts out, enter bouts, fight and scrape and smile all the while. The older skaters, the Rat City Roller Girls, serve as built-in role models. What they learn on the track lasts their whole lives through.
“It’s such a powerful mission, especially at this point in time,” said Michael Van Flandern, board president of the Seattle Derby Brats, the youth-league partner of the Rat City Roller Derby that consists of 10 teams of girls aged 8 to 18. (His daughter, Erin, 14, is the aforementioned “T’Erin M. Up.”)
“As a culture, we’re just starting to come to grips with the disservice we have done to the women in our society,” he said. Girls participate in sports at lower rates and, by the age of 14, drop out at twice the rates that boys do.
“We have a culture that glorifies and celebrates sports,” Van Flandern said. “But in the sports at the top of the heap, the men dominate. It all goes to men … It breaks my heart that we can find the money for hockey rinks and baseball fields, but we can’t find a place for our girls to play.”
It breaks Allyson Madere’s heart, too. Her 9-year-old-daughter, Shai — also known as “Slaughtermelon” — has been transformed by her first year with the Seattle Derby Brats. More confident. A good team member. Learning that getting good at something takes practice and hard work.
So Madere has been emailing “every rich person that I can think of” for help with the Rat City relocation, and to invite them to the league’s last big event, the Summer Slam, on Sunday, May 19, when every junior team will compete. Just so they can see what’s at stake.
My hope is that this city — which talks a big game about lifting girls and women up — doesn’t let Rat City down.