Roller derby and the Kansas City Roller Warriors

Picture of Roller Warriors and KCtoday editors
From the left: Valerie (Val O' Ween), Editor Travis, Editor Dayten, Lauren (Hellvetica). | Photo by KCtoday

The KC metro is known for sports — football, soccer, baseball, you name it. But there’s one we bet you didn’t name: roller derby.

The Kansas City Roller Warriors is a league + a member of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), the original derby organization (founded in 2004) that sets the standards, rankings + rules for the sport. KC’s team actually helped form the association back in its early days.

KC has another group, too — Fountain City Roller Derby. They play in Independence as a part of the Modern Athletic Derby Endeavor (MADE), a group founded in 2007 with different rules, co-ed teams, and sometimes a banked track.

But what if you don’t know anything about the sport?

Let’s roll

“It’s like rugby on skates, and instead of a ball, it’s a person.” — Valerie Reese, the Roller Warrior’s people officer.

A match, or bout, is broken up into two-minute rounds, called jams. In each jam, a team fields five players on an oval track. One player (the jammer) starts behind the rest + scores a point each time they pass an enemy blocker (the other four players). The blocker’s goal is to stop the jammer or push them out of the track.

The combination of skate skills, maneuver strategies, and light heartedness (think: themed bouts) makes derby the perfect spectator sport.

The current blocker

“The first goal is to get back to home games,” marketing and communications officer Lauren Murphy said. 

The Warriors lost a lot of players in 2020. They used to play in Memorial Hall downtown KCKwith 3,500 stadium seats + better access. But without players and consistent games, they can’t charge admission to pay for the prime facility. 

That’s why they’re having a fundraising scrimmage match on Sun., May 15 at 10 a.m. The showdown will take place at Skate City West (Wyandotte) — 7838 Washington Ave., KCK — with a $5 entry fee. Theme? The 1690s (hello, Salem Witch Trials) vs. the 1990s. Spectators can watch from the sides or set up a lawn chair on the rink near the action, Valerie said.

Roller Warrior origins

Picture of Roller Warrior skaters
One of the many times we ended up on the ground. | Panoramic photo by KCtoday

The DIY, counterculture sport was founded in the 1930s at the Chicago Coliseum. If it existed behind the scenes in KC in the 1900s, it really picked up speed in 2004

“We started skating in a parking lot in the middle of the summer,” Roller Warriors co-founder Brooke Leavitt said in a prior interview.

After a couple years and a community gym with a “huge lump where there had been some water damage,” the group of then 50 skaters transitioned to four home exhibition teams. They nearly reached five teams + two travel squads when the pandemic hit. 

Derby-isms + culture

Arguably the best part of this sport? The names. The Warriors have players like “Callamity Maim,” “Hateful SkEight,” “May Q Cry Wollf” and more recently, “Dr. Ouchy” to name a few. They’re used as a way to embrace the edgier side of the skaters’ personalities. 

Lauren’s name is “Hellvetica,” a macabre play on the type font since she’s a graphic designer (her team number is 12pt). Valerie used to be “V-2 Bomber” since her dad worked on the aircraft, but no one got the joke (we did), so she went with “Val O’ Ween” — you can guess which annual celebration she favors most (also, her team number is 1031).

More recently, there’s been a push against the alt names as serious players have started using their real names in an attempt to gain legitimacy for the sport. However, KC’s players embrace the sport’s original levity — especially in home bouts.

That shows up in bout themes, too. We told you about one already. They’ve also done themes like prom night think: derby players smashing into each other wearing their nicest formals — and zombie vs. bride. Top that off with announcers, a projected score board, and concessions, and you’re a-bout to have yourself a good time. 

Get involved

Besides attending their fundraising scrimmage, you can follow news + updates on the league’s social media. You can also dust off those old skates and join, if you’re interested. Adults can join Warriors in Training, or kids who want an early jump can join Junior Roller Warriors.