A few weeks ago, the Killamazoo Derby Darlins hosted a tournament through the WFTDA—the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. The Darlins invited nine teams from across the country to compete and they ended up placing 3rd in their first national competition.
“Both of the California teams actually ended up playing in our tournament,” says Caitlin Pasqualone also known as Killie Holiday. “So the Santa Cruz roller derby team ended up placing first. And the Sacramento team—they’re called Sac City Rollers—ended up taking second. So they traveled a really long way. And so we’re pretty happy they ended up walking away with some medals. We’re ok with that.” Pasqualone and Courtney Connelly—or Slamador Dali—are blockers on the Killa Crew, the Derby Darlins’ B team.
If you’re not familiar with the game, roller derby works like this: Each team has one “jammer” and four blockers. Everyone skates in the same direction on a marked track. The jammer’s job is to make it through both teams’ blockers and circle the track before the other team’s jammer. The jammer that makes it past the pack first is called the “lead jammer.” The lead jammer scores points for their team every time they pass an opposing player. And just like any other sport, the team with the most points wins.
Connelly says it was great to be able to play against teams outside their usual rivalries in the Midwest. Pasqualone says it was also good for strategy.
“I mean so often, teams from California, you know they’ll develop their own strategies, their own way of approaching the game that people in the Midwest, people on the East Coast would really never have exposure to unless those games were somehow televised. So for us it was not only, ‘Oh, super cool. They’re coming to play in our town.’ It was also a really great learning experience. And I think we’re going to be able to look back at some of the archived footage and really learn and be able to study what makes those teams so different, what makes those teams so awesome.”
The Derby Darlins are one of only three roller derby teams in Michigan to be WFTDA members and they’re currently just shy of Division One rankings. WFTDA has over a hundred leagues, including international leagues in London and Montreal. Connelly says it shows how far roller derby has come as a sport. She says back in the 60s, roller derby was entertainment, but not really a sport.
“It was probably just about as planned out as any reality TV show we could talk about today,” Pasqualone adds. “There were punches thrown. There were fake fights. There was probably hair pulling. It was probably the whole shebang.”
The Killamazoo Derby Darlins will be holding a game or ‘bout’ this weekend to raise money for an American Breast Cancer Society walk the Darlins are doing next month. Pasqualone says it’s their way of giving back to a community that has supported them all of these years in Kalamazoo.
“We’re going to have B team players from all over Michigan. We’re going to have A team players from all over Michigan. And we’re going to have a junior derby team come together and do a mini bout for our audience," says Pasqualone. "And this is all about raising money for a cause that we care about. We have members of our team who are survivors. I mean this is all really close to us.”
Connelly herself is a two-time breast cancer survivor.
“We say all the time roller derby is a sport for strong women. And you know sometimes you don’t really think about the women behind the gear," Pasqualone says. "But I mean I think we can truly say that we’re made up of some of the strongest women Kalamazoo has to offer. And I think Slammy [Slamador Dali] is a really nice example.”