Derby Dames Turns To Community For Help To Preserve Arizona’s Only Roller Derby Track | Cronkite News
PHOENIX – On McDowell Road, just past 25th Avenue, is the Hall of Dames.
From the outside it looks like an old warehouse, with no separate markings and a small painted panel on the door.
The interior tells a different story. It is the only roller derby track noted in Arizona.
It is the homeland of the Arizona Derby Ladies.
Over the past 11 years, hundreds of people have walked through the hall, where skaters have painted the walls and the track. They built the bleachers and the changing rooms. They literally put their blood and sweat and tears in this space.
Now they risk losing everything.
“If we had to find a new (space), I don’t think we could,” said skater Perla Rodriguez. “This could be the end of downhill roller derby in Arizona.”
Like many other businesses, the Derby Dames had to close in March 2020 due to COVID-19. They were about to enter their 16th season. Instead, they had to hang up their helmets and put away their skates.
“At first we thought it would only last a few weeks,” said Ashley Betzhold, aka “Impaler Swift”. “Then we thought, ‘OK, it might only be in a few months.’ And now it’s been over a year.
With their doors closed, the Ladies Derby could not generate any income, the majority of which comes from ticket sales, merchandise sales and any other income provided by the roller derby competitions they host, Betzhold said. .
The Ladies also generate income through the monthly contributions of skaters, which were also suspended during the pandemic.
“We just didn’t think it was fair to charge skaters for the space they couldn’t use,” Betzhold said.
Rent, however, was still due.
During the first months of the pandemic, the Ladies drew on their savings to make ends meet. But towards the end of May, they started to wonder how to afford the Hall of Dames, where the inclined track is located.
There were only two options left.
“We could either wrap the track up and put it away somewhere,” said Alex Edwards, who calls himself “Al Annihilate’Ya” on the track. “Then we’ll have to find another space once that’s done. Or, we find a way to pay and stay here, which at this point makes the most financial sense. ”
Packing the track and storing it would cost more time and effort than working to conserve the current space, Rodriguez said.
“And there is no guarantee that we would be able to find a new space once this is all over,” she said. “Warehouse prices are so high right now, and finding one that has everything we need like this space does, would just seem impossible.”
Not only would finding a new space be financially difficult, it would be very costly emotionally.
“We had kids who grew up here,” Rodriguez said. “We have done so much to make this space our own. Our family is here. And we’re not ready to give up on it.
This gave birth to the Save Our Space campaign, which “is really about getting community support and making it known that we need help, we need donations and we are fighting to keep our warehouse,” he said. declared Betzhold.
The campaign, launched last summer, raised funds through online merchandise sales, virtual events and a community appeal for donations.
The Ladies have even created a skating guide, which includes a list of the best skating tracks in Arizona, so people can get out and skate during their forties. The Ladies ask for, but do not require, a donation of $ 10 when downloading the guide.
Rodriguez said they were delighted with the support they received.
For the Ladies’ Derby, the struggle to save space isn’t just about keeping the track for themselves. It’s to preserve it for the next generation of Arizona skaters.
“I want the Arizona Derby Ladies and this space to exist for the next 10 years, for the next 20 years,” Rodriguez said. “I want to see the Minor Assaults join the adult skaters, and I want to meet the next generation of Minor Assaults and see them strengthened by roller derby.”
The Minor Assaults is a youth derby team led by the Arizona Derby Dames through their non-profit organization, AZDD Inspire.
The group’s mission is to “sponsor young female athletes through the sport of roller derby on a raised track” and to promote “sportsmanship, healthy habits, leadership and volunteerism among girls aged 10 to 18” , according to the AZDD Inspire website.
“It’s the best thing I do as a member of the Ladies Derby. It’s so impactful,” said Edwards, who drives the minor assaults. “I’m so invigorated by the energy, the ideas and the questions that only these young skaters have. Watching them grow as young athletes and young women is the best and most inspiring thing. ”
As members of the team, young skaters learn the essential skills of roller derby and, in doing so, also acquire life skills.
“Roller Derby is so challenging and it’s so important for young women,” said Amelia Sandweg, 17, aka Ameila Darehart, who has skated with the Minor Assaults for the past five years. “Being on minor assaults not only empowers us all, but it teaches us leadership and sportsmanship and allows us to come together and make friends with other strong women.”
In addition to skating, Minor Assaults are also encouraged to participate in community service through the AZDD Inspire Summer Food Service Program, which has been in operation since 2015.
The program sends Minor Assaults and their adult skater mentors into the community to serve breakfast and lunch to children in underserved areas.
“It’s really amazing to go out and be with these kids,” said Marisa Liuzzo, another Minor Assaults member whose skater name is Hugs n ‘Stitches. “It might not seem like a lot to me and to you, but these kids might not have had a who-knows-when meal, so it’s so meaningful and important to them.”
In a typical summer, the program serves approximately 70,000 meals.
Summer 2020, however, was anything but normal.
“We got a call from the Arizona Department of Education in March and they asked if we could start our food distribution program sooner,” said Rodriguez, program manager.
With help from the Department of Education and a food service partner, Nutrition One, the Derby Dames operate seven mobile food distribution sites across Phoenix. Parents with children in need can simply drive to one of the sites and have breakfast and lunch for their children every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
The program, which typically only operates during the summer, has been distributing meals continuously for over a year now. During this time, the Ladies have served nearly 800,000 meals to children in need.
Now, they depend on the community to support them as they continue the fight to save their space.
So far, the Save Our Space campaign has raised over $ 30,000, enough to cover their rent for several months. They need more and are aiming to “raise $ 20,000 by September,” Rodriguez said.
This amount would bind the Ladies until they felt it was safe enough to host fights again. Their plan is to start the competition in October, although they will continue to monitor COVID-19 numbers and follow recommended protocols.
“We want to be able to welcome fans back to our warehouse for fights and we want to make sure we can do that safely,” Rodriguez said. “But without the support of our community, without the support of donations, we won’t be able to do it.”
The Ladies’ Derby recently reopened the Hall of Ladies for practice only.
Returning to the track, even wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, reminded skaters of the impact roller derby has had on their lives.
For many of them, it’s more than just sport. They even have a mantra: “Roller derby changes lives.
“Roller derby has a way to find you, not the other way around, when you need it most,” Rodriguez said.
For Rodriguez, that moment came when she experienced personal loss and was at the end of an unhealthy relationship.
“It shaped who I am and my philosophy of life,” she said. “And that’s just a story. You could tell hundreds of stories of skaters in this league.
For Edwards, it came after a big move that left her in search of community through her favorite childhood activity, roller skating.
“I had strict parents and the rink was one of the only places I was allowed to go,” she said. “And I really prospered there and found a lot of trust and friends because of it.”
Off track, the women of this roller derby league are doctors, students, teachers, mothers, political advisers and waitresses. On the track, they are all Ladies Derby.
Many of these skaters will tell you that the sport saved them. And now they will do anything to save him.
“It’s something that means so much to so many people,” Rodriguez said. “So we can’t give up, we can’t stop fighting. I refuse that this is the end.
(Video by Zach Keenan / Cronkite News)