Rolling on a Rainy Day

Ally Koerber (right) and Jessi Brannin (far right) run through a drill during Rainy City Roller Dolls practice on Monday at the Centralia Rollerdrome.

ROLLER DERBY: Rainy City Roller Dolls Include All in Decade of Existence
By Matt Baide
mbaide@chronline.com
There’s plenty of unique sports in the Twin Cities, but only one can claim it literally rolls through the rest of the competition.
The Rainy City Roller Dolls are in their 10th year of existence and operate out of the Centralia Rollerdrome.
“There was another (roller derby) league that a lot of skaters were with and they didn’t like some things about it, like the culture of the league,” Jessi Brannin said. “So they wanted to start another team to where they could promote the culture of accepting everyone and not excluding people and just to provide that environment for everyone.”
Brannin, or better known by her teammates as ‘Crack Attack,’ is the league president, and has been in the sport for five years. She was there in the beginning of the program, and took four years off before getting back on skates about a year ago.
“I met someone that said you should come check this out, and I said ‘I don’t know how to skate and I’ve never seen roller derby,’” Brannin said. “I put on skates and just loved it.”
The organization draws members from Lacey to Longview, and its numbers fluctuate throughout the years.
Rainy City is a part of Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), which includes over 400 teams from all over the globe. The sport continues to grow in popularity, with a lot of teams sprouting throughout the Northwest.
“The Pacific Northwest, everywhere you look there’s a derby team. They’re becoming like Starbucks,” Brannin said.
Roller derby, for those unfamiliar with the sport, includes five players from each team skating in a circuit track. The players on the track consist of the blockers, a jammer and a pivot. The jammer is the scorer, and scores points for her team by passing members of the opposing team on the track. The blockers try to aid their team’s jammer while hindering the progress of the opposing jammer. The pivot can become a scoring jammer during play.
The jammer wears a helmet cover with two stars, while the pivot wears a striped cover and the blockers do not have helmet covers. Play begins with the blockers lining up between the pivot and jammer lines, and jammers from each team line up behind the jammer line, a mark 30 feet behind the pivot line.
On the whistle, the jammer and blockers can engage immediately to try and get their jammer past other players. The first jammer through the pack becomes the lead jammer, and each time either jammer passes an opposing player, a point is tallied.
The lead jammer can stop play by putting her hands on her hips, or after 2 minutes. At that point, players line up to begin the process over again, and teams can make substitutions and change roles during two 30-minute halves.
“It takes a lot of strategy and communication on the track. If we’re not out there talking, telling each other what we’re doing and having a plan involved, we’ll crumble,” Brannin said. “There are various options of strategy, some teams focus on just the defense part of it and do a little bit of offense. Some people usually have three people doing defense, and one person doing offense, and it depends on the scenario.”
Rainy City is 6-2 this season, and has travelled to play teams in Walla Walla, Bremerton and Tacoma.
The Rollerdrome has been host to four bouts already this year, with three more on the schedule — Aug. 5, Sept. 9 and the season-ending match on Oct. 14, also known as Knocktoberfest. Spectators can enjoy a beer garden and raffles and, sometimes, halftime entertainment at the bouts.
“It’s a mini tournament we do every year. Four teams come in, just do one half, and it ends up being four 30-minute bouts for the evening,” Brannin said. “It’s just Knocktoberfest because it’s October, and that’s the end of our season.”
For those who might be interested in trying out their roller derby skills, the Roller Dolls are always accepting new members.
“If you know how to skate well, it can take a long time to get the hang of doing that. You add in the addition of hitting on skates, and it’s a little tricky and learning all of the little rules,” Brannin said. “There’s people who can not know how to skate, strap skates on be ready to bout in about three months. Then there are people where it will take them a year or two before they’re really comfortable.”

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