Roller derby goes coed in Wasilla on January 3
Society has told us time and time again that men and women are too different to compete against one another. Yet, there are always groups bent on challenging convention. This time, Alaskan roller derby skaters are meeting it head on.
Roller derby blasted back into popular culture in the past decade, with legions of badass women leading the charge. Derby came to the 49th state in 2007 and in the following five years multiple teams sprung up all over Alaska, empowering women through rough and rowdy play.
Meanwhile, across the nation men were getting in on the action. They created teams and leagues all their own, separate from the more popular women’s leagues. In Alaska, women still ruled the game—men were called in to officiate, but saw no gameplay unless teams were short during practice scrimmages. It wasn’t until 2012 that Anchorage’s Rage City Roller Girls allowed a single male skater, Frozen Chozen, to play in an exhibition that the tide began to turn.
Since then, men have been invited to attend boot camps and open play scrimmages with teams from all over Alaska including Far North Derby.
Skater Zack Sherman explained that as the years have passed since the beginning of derby’s resurgence in popularity, men and women’s teams have evolved and come together, especially in the last year.
“Men and women have played very different games,” he said. “The guys still get the pants beaten off them by the girls.”
Sherman is better known in the derby world as Kalashnikop, skating under jersey number 47. He began as just a spectator, promising himself this would be the hobby he didn’t get involved with. He bought season passes, and then he was asked to help as a referee.
“I fell in love with it,” Sherman said, first of the sport, then officiating and with playing as a stand-in.
His story is one that resonates with many derby skaters. Derby is an outlet. It led him through a rough time in his life and now as a full-time college student, it helps him to focus on his long-term goals.
“I was at a low point in my life and then I was asked to ref. Initially, I did it to stay in shape and it became this incredible thing,” Sherman said. “It changed my outlook and who I am.”
Life is going to change a little bit more for Sherman and other male skaters. They will be competing in Alaska’s first ever competitive coed derby bout on January 3.
Sherman’s coed recreational team was asked to play in their first competitive matchup against the Boom Town Derby Dames. The Dames will be hosting the Fairbanks-based Frozen Chosen on their home turf in Wasilla, taking a monumental step for Alaska roller derby that could be the start of a larger coed movement in the sport.
“This is historic and really, truly an honor,” Sherman said.
In November 2013, Sherman organized an informational meeting in Fairbanks and within the evening Alaska’s first coed roller derby team was formed. Frozen Chosen is a recreational coed league focused on sharpening skills, getting fit and having a good time—not interfering with women’s competitive leagues that require players to sign non-competition agreements.
Since the league’s first practice in March of this year, Sherman said the league has grown and created a core group of skaters. The amateur sports team uses the Fairbanks Rollergirls’ practice site and collaborates with the North Pole Babes in Toyland.
“Men and women get better from playing together. This sport is a rare exception that women have the upper hand,” he explained.
Sherman clarified saying that women work better together than men creating tighter defensive walls in the traditional style of blocking in derby. Some moves come easier to men, like front blocking with your chest, and they use it as a crutch. Women skaters are more resourceful, he said.
Skating with females has taught him just how little he knew about actually playing the game. Sherman articulated that he’s learned techniques and nuances that are missed in men’s games that are focused on power and strength.
Frozen Chosen’s roster for the upcoming game is padded with female skaters, but Kalashnikop will be joined by other derby dudes, Frozen Chozen (the skater) and Muchos Badassarios. The mixed team will come from all over the state.
“Our biggest goal was to grab ambassadors for coed. We are really excited as a team that we have such as great group,” Sherman said.
Alaska’s first coed derby bout is the Black and Blue Years at the Menard Sports Center in Wasilla on Saturday, January 3. Tickets are $12 for adults with military, senior and children discounts. The doors open at 6 p.m. and wheels roll at 7 p.m.
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