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First home bout of 2023 sees robust Rocktown roster

Artychoker (left center), also known as Hannah Patteson, fights past a Twin Valleys opponent to score for the Rocktown Rollers.
Randi B. Hagi
Artychoker (left center), also known as Hannah Patteson, darts past a Twin Valleys opponent to score for the Rocktown Rollers.

From fighting to keep the team alive to reaching a record number of skaters, the Rocktown Rollers are back! WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

[music, crowd sounds]

Colorful disco lights spun around the rink at Funky's Skate Center in Harrisonburg on Saturday. Rock music and the excited buzz of spectators filled the air while the Rocktown Rollers ran warm-up drills for their first home bout of the year. Their opponents, skating out of southwestern Virginia, were the Twin Valleys Roller Derby team.

Rocktown Coach Vanessa Breeden Eisner, who skates under the name A.K.A. V, gave the crowd a passionate introduction.

A.K.A. V (left) and Heathen (center, black jersey) fight to keep the Twin Valleys' jammer from scoring.
Randi B. Hagi
A.K.A. V (left) and Heathen (center, black jersey) fight to keep the Twin Valleys' jammer from scoring.

VANESSA BREEDEN EISNER: COVID nearly took us down, but the derby spirit survived. A handful of people pieced this league back together to get us to where we are today. We have filled our new vision with energy, enthusiasm, and the dreams we all have [voice breaks] for derby. … So we'd love for you all to welcome the home team, Rocktown Rollers, today as they reveal, officially, our new logo for our league and our new jerseys. Let's hear it!

[applause, cheers]

With that, the home team skated out to, what else, but –

[guitar riffs, cheers]

– Metallica's "Master of Puppets." The bout was on.

The home team rolls out bearing their newly-designed banner.
Randi B. Hagi
The home team rolls out bearing their newly-designed banner.

[sounds of announcer talking, skates on the track, shouts, referee's whistles]

The Twin Valleys team pulled ahead immediately – ending the first "jam" with a score of 26-8. Bouts are structured in two 30-minute halves that are broken into jams which can last up to two minutes long. Each team has a jammer trying to score points by lapping the other team and breaking through their defense.

ENYA VON SCHILL: Contact sports are – they're just so much fun! … A bunch of really radical women and queers just being really phenomenal athletes!

One of the spectators, Enya von Schill, has been a roller derby fan for more than a decade.

VON SCHILL: I do love my Rocktown Rollers. … Phenomenal folk, stellar humans. But also, Twin Valleys – I had the pleasure of going to see both of these teams scrimmage in Roanoke, where Twin Valleys is from, a couple months back. Fantastic. Fantastic. This sport is so important, and I'm so happy that it's in the valley.

Sadie Masochist, left, spins around an attempted block.
Randi B. Hagi
Sadie Masochist, left, spins around an attempted block.

Twin Valleys' defense – called the "white wall" by one announcer, for their white uniforms – proved formidable. The Rocktown jammers took different approaches to try and break through. Sadie Masochist slipped past the blockers with hip checks and a few flourishes, skating backwards around players. Artychoker stayed low, fighting her way through the pack. Buzzkill, whose government name is Hilary Moore, rammed in fast and aggressive.

HILARY MOORE: So, as a jammer, my go-to is to fake people out and get around them. There was no faking them out, so then it was aim for the arms and break through them – but they were so powerful that they would chase a jammer down once you got out of the wall. So it was a challenge.

Ultimately, Twin Valleys took the bout in a resounding 302-179 point victory.

MOORE: We fought really hard. Twin Valleys has a lot of players that are exceptional – a lot of them played for Virginia All-Stars, and their walls were very strong. But it was an opportunity for us to learn, and we had a lot of new skaters, and opportunity for growth, but it was fun to be back.

Artychoker, also known as Hannah Patteson, was chosen by the other team for the MVP jammer award.

HANNAH PATTESON: It was exhausting. I was really just trying to stay upright towards the end, but yeah, it feels good to know they think I'm a valuable player on the team! [laughs]

Hilary Moore, or Buzzkill, races around the track as the jammer.
Randi B. Hagi
Hilary Moore, or Buzzkill, races around the track as the jammer.

After the bout, I also caught up with Coach Eisner. I asked her what it's been like rebuilding the Rocktown Rollers post-COVID. She said that for almost two years, pandemic restrictions – including those instituted by the Women's Flat Track Derby Association, or WFTDA [woof-tah] – made it nearly impossible for them to practice or get the team together.

BREEDEN EISNER: We would go to the park outside and work out. Ultimately, that was kind of the glue that kept us all together. … Around the end of 2021 was when we had a little glimmer of hope that we could do some track time and skating again. … So the whole entire year of 2022, we have been building for this moment.

For the first time in the Rocktown Rollers' 15-year history, Eisner said they almost have enough skaters to break into two home teams. Then, they could have intramural bouts against one another. There are currently 20 skaters on their roster who are approved to bout.

BREEDEN EISNER: If you or anybody that you know wants to try this, but you think, "I don't have the time, or I don't have the money, or I don't have the skills," don't worry about those things. Come and see us and let us work through it with you, because we really want to build this team, and be able to share the derby love with everybody.

They're holding a team meet-and-greet on April 7th, and an on-skates intro session on the 18th. Check out the Rocktown Rollers Facebook page to learn more.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.
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