Aug. 24 2016 12:03 AM

Roller Derby teams skate into town for international tournament

Sarah Mullkoff, aka Mullicious Intent, pushes past competitors in a Lansing Derby Vixens sAll-Stars bout. The team hosts an international tournament in Dimondale this weekend.
Photo by Rhonda Morse Photography
The opening match of this weekend’s Women’s Flat Track Derby Association Division 2 Tournament features Tri-City Roller Derby, who will make the 270-mile trip from Kitchener, Ontario, to Dimondale. But their considerable commute pales in comparison to that of their opponent. Bear City Roller Derby, out of Berlin, Germany, will take on a 4,200-mile transatlantic trek to compete in the international tournament.

The three-day event, hosted by the Lansing Derby Vixens, comes to Dimondale’s the Summit Sports and Ice Complex this weekend. The tournament features a ten team slate of competitors, including teams from California, Utah and even Norway. The shortest commute goes to Grand Raggidy Roller Derby, who will make the 70-mile trip from Grand Rapids to compete.

“It’s kind of a big deal — not just for our team, but for Lansing,” said Sarah Wardell.

Wardell, 37, has been skating with the Lansing Derby Vixens since 2013. The group fields three adult teams — Old Town Beat Down, Capital Corruption and the Lansing Derby Vixens All-Stars — and two youth teams — LJV Miskits and the Lansing Junior Vixens All-Stars. But none of those teams compete this weekend. As the host team, the Derby Vixens skaters will be busy running the logistical side of the tournament.

“Roller derby is really a grassroots sport,” Wardell said. “This started six months ago. It’s been a massive effort.”

Landing a high-profile tournament is a big step for the group, which formed in 2010 and was officially accepted into Women’s Flat Track Derby Association membership in 2012. The nonprofit organization is volunteer driven and has no permanent staff on its payroll.

“One of our goals has always been to host a tournament,” said Ashley Jenkins. “When (the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association) approached us about hosting the Division 2 playoffs, we were really excited.”

An Ann Arbor native, Jenkins, 31, started training with the Lansing Derby Vixens in 2012 and skated in her first bout in 2015. She competes with the Lansing Derby Vixens All-Stars but has also skated for the other two adult teams. Jenkins is looking forward to learning from the international slate of teams coming to town this weekend.

“The coolest part is interacting with other skaters and learning new strategies,” she said. “Roller derby is one of the fastest growing women’s sports in the world.”

“Seeing some of these amazing skaters in person is an amazing opportunity,” Wardell added. “It’s different than watching a local scrimmage.”

Both Jenkins and Wardell were initially drawn to roller derby by the physicality of the sport.

“There aren’t many opportunities for women to play contact sports,” Wardell said.

“I grew up playing ice hockey,” Jenkins said. “I thought it would be fun to try something different.”

But the real core of the team, Wardell says, is its sense of community. In addition to the camaraderie among the skaters, the team also gives back to the surrounding community. To date, the Lansing Derby Vixens have donated over $60,000 in cash and in-kind gifts to local charities and community events.

“I love the community focus,” Wardell said. “We work with nonprofits. We really love Lansing.”

The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association is the largest roller derby organization in the world, boasting 376 full member teams and 74 apprentice teams. The league’s Division 1 tournaments take the top 40 teams in the league and divide them into four regional tournaments. The next 20 teams are split between two Division 2 tournaments. Both divisions feed into a championship tournament November in Portland, Ore.

“They’re playing for a spot in the championship tournament,” Wardell said. “It’s a pretty high level.”

The chance to see these skaters in person is especially helpful for the junior teams.

“It’s an excellent opportunity for them to see some of these high level skaters,” Wardell said. “To see it firsthand is a much different experience than watching a video online.”

WFTDA Division 2 Tournament

9 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26 and Saturday, Aug. 27; 9 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28
Three day passes: $65/$45 ages 9-12 or 55+/children 8 and under FREE
Single day passes: $28/$20 ages 9-12 or 55+/children 8 and under FREE
Evening passes (entry after 3 p.m.): $18/$15 ages 9-12 or 55+/children 8 and under FREE
The Summit Sports and Ice Complex
9410 Davis Highway, Dimondale

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