PORT ANGELES — The Olympic Peninsula’s only roller derby league is “on the brink of going under,” said Shauna Rogers McClain, known as “Lillehammer” to the fans and the other athletes of Port Scandalous — a member of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association that’s been rolling since 2010.
“After COVID hit, we lost our usual practice space at the YMCA and have not been able to find any sustainable alternative,” McClain said.
The league was using Port Angeles YMCA’s gym space for practice before COVID-19, McClain and YMCA representatives said.
“We had a great relationship with them,” YMCA representatives said. “In 2020, we had to temporarily close our YMCA facility due to pandemic local and state guidelines. When we were able to re-open the Y, and up until now, we’ve been using the Y’s gym space for our youth programming, from youth sports to Family Nights to day camps.
“Gym availability is also partially limited due to a lack of staffing and having to scale back our operating hours once we re-opened after COVID restrictions were lifted.”
McClain said that while Port Scandalous team members are able to practice once a week at Sequim’s Boys & Girls Club, the club really needs three days a week to practice and they are running out of funds to reserve practice space.
“It’s very difficult to grow or maintain our league with no regular practice space,” McClain said.
Funds for the nonprofit have traditionally been raised through fundraisers and bouts when leagues play against each other. Bouts themselves entail an initial output of more than $500 to rent the space for a day and fund other expenses such as referee fees.
The event itself usually runs about 90 minutes, but the league must lay out a flat, circular track first, and that takes most of the day.
In better times, Port Scandalous was able to raise enough money to donate to charitable causes, run its business and train new skaters for the league as well as teach youngsters how to skate.
These days, they don’t have enough practice time to recruit new skaters or teach youth.
At 11-14 members pre-COVID, they have dwindled to a core of four to six who show up for weekly practice, each of whom travel from Port Angeles to Sequim.
Once boasting three teams — the Strait Shooters (the home team), the Intense City Rollers (a traveling team) and the Roller Punks (a junior team) — Port Scandalous’ only active team is the Strait Shooters.
They are a dedicated, cheerful group with deep love of the game, members said, but a lack of team members and practice time means no bouts and no fundraisers.
Roller Derby 101
“Modern flat track derby is distantly related to the roller derby of the past,” Port Scandalous fan Steve Pointec said. “Old roller derby was an entertainment business run by a corporation. Modern roller derby is a real sport run by volunteers who love the sport.”
He described it this way: “Basically, modern flat track roller derby is played on a flat track. Each team has five players on the track: four blockers — one of them is called the pivot — and a jammer who scores points.
The jammer must pass the blockers, who must stay in a pack, and they score a point for each blocker they pass on the second time through the pack, Pointec said.
“The first jammer through the pack becomes the lead jammer. The lead jammer can call off the jam at any time before the jam times out.
“The blockers must work together to prevent the opponent’s jammer from scoring points and help their jammer through the pack.”
Port Scandalous players at a recent practice said it’s “a full-contact sport.” Players wear quad skates, pads on their elbows, wrists and knees, a mouth-guard and a helmet. The league has a supply of loaner equipment.
For the safety of the players, people don’t participate in a bout until they’ve mastered certain basic skills.
“Historically, we have offered what we call ‘fresh meat training’,” McClain said. This is usually an eight- to 10-week training session where coaches teach people, regardless of experience, how to skate safely and play roller derby.
“This is how we have been able to recruit new team members and keep the league going, but with our lack of practice time, we have not been able to offer new skater training, so the team is shrinking also,” she said.
McClain added that the league is searching for a coach as well, someone who is a good strategist and is comfortable being loud.
Pointec used to travel from Olympia to Sequim, with an overnight in the area when the league had a bout with other leagues in the region.
“I love roller derby and I see many teams skate,” he said. “It has been a while since Port Scandalous has had a bout, but I have been following them for many years.
“These days there are fewer places to skate. In the last few years, both of the skating rinks in Kitsap County have been shut down. This is so sad. A place to skate is the biggest problem that teams in western Washington face.”
Julie Lund said she was the founder of Port Scandalous, and at the first practice, there were 30 women.
“Several of the girls were ready to be a team. I knew that I didn’t want to be the only person making decisions and Stacy (Botts), Serena (Staples), Kelly (Mann) and I became the committee members,” Lund said.
“We started figuring out our goals. Roller Derby is all about the sport, inclusion and charity. The team worked so hard and became so good so fast. This was an incredibly dedicated, tough and talented team. Our little team was known all over the world in such a short time.”
She added, “I deeply hope that derby continues here in Clallam County. What it brought to so many is immeasurable.”
For details about the sport and links for those interested in learning more, go to Port Scandalous’s website at portscandalousrollerderby.com.
Emily Matthiessen is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach her at email@example.com.