Gorge Roller Girls debut bout draws sell-out crowd

Turning fans away at the door isn’t normally something to be proud of, but in the case of Saturday evening’s Gorge Roller Girls debut home bout, it was an excellent sign.

With a sold-out crowd of 900 people packed into the Hood River Valley High School gym, Gorge Roller Girls teams River Reapers and Cherry Bombers battled head-to-head in an exciting display of just how far the players have come since the group was formed a year ago.

Team River Reapers’ jammer Wreck-Less finessed her way around the track to a bout-high 77 points to lead both teams in scoring and propel her team to a 139-100 victory. Balancing scoring for the Cherry Bombers was Ginger Binger Danger Hips, who skated her way to a team-high 68 points in the no-mercy matchup.

“We were thrilled to see the reception that we had from the community,” said GRG’s Anya Kawka (a.k.a. Agony). “We had to turn about 150 people away at the door who didn’t have tickets. That was a wonderful surprise. We are very grateful to the staff at Hood River Valley High School. They went out on a limb to let us hold the event there, and without the facility it would not have been possible.”

The Gorge Roller Girls have been skating together for about a year and have enough players to field two separate teams. Saturday’s event was between those teams, and for many players was the first official bout of their lives.

As is the custom after each bout, an MVP from each team is selected. For the River Reapers, Wreck-Less earned the honors and for the Cherry Bombers Helda Contempt got the nod for her indomitable blocking abilities in the pack.

“It was pretty nerve-wracking at first,” Agony said. “But the crowd was really supportive and once everyone got loosened-up it was a lot of fun. We’ve worked so hard over the last year and it was an amazing experience to get out there and compete in front of so many people. We have some lifelong athletes, but for many on the team, being competitive is a new experience. It’s something they need in their lives. That’s a big part of what derby is all about.

“Derby is about empowering women, allowing them to be bold and brave and strong and beautiful all at the same time.”

Agony pointed out a few other highlights from the bout: “Standout blockers were definitely Helda Contempt and Hot Dog for the Cherry Bombers. Those two are the hardest hitters in our league and as a Jammer I can say it is no fun getting stuck behind either of those skaters,” she said. “Helda Contempt got voted MVP by the opposing team because of the way she was blocking and making their lives miserable. Ophelia Fury, Agony and Bad Abbott were blocking like madwomen for the River Reapers. Cinda Rolla of the River Reapers made her debut and drew admiration for blocking steadily as well as serving some good hits to the Cherry Bombers’ jammers, sending them flying out of bounds.

“We were fortunate to have the talents of Scarlene and French Tickler as our jam coaches. Those two have been playing roller derby for years with our big-sister league, the Rose City Rollers, in Portland. They came out to the Gorge to give us some advice and guidance on the track, because we only have one coach locally and he couldn’t be in two places at once.”

Jack was credited with 46 points as the River Reapers’ second-highest scorer and Lady One-Eighty scored 20 for the Cherry Bombers.

Next up for GRG is a bout against Medford’s Southern Oregon Rollergirls, scheduled for April 13 at Hood River Valley High School. An all-star squad made up of the best players from both Gorge teams will represent GRG in the bout.

Tickets for the family-friendly event are available at www.gorgerollergirls.com and should be purchased in advance.

Want to join? The next intake event is March 24, 2 p.m., for skaters 18 and older. RSVP at join@gorgerollergirls.com.

Roller derby basics (as explained by Agony): In its essence, roller derby is a race around a track. Each team tries not to let the other team’s jammer pass them. The jammers score points by passing the opposing team’s skaters. Those other skaters are called blockers — four from each team — and they skate in what's called “the pack,” and try to prevent the opposing jammer from passing them. They do this by hitting her out of bounds. At the same time, they have to keep an eye on their own jammer, and help her get through the pack and score. It’s an intense sport, because it requires you to play offense and defense simultaneously. So it’s very intellectual as well as physical. I’ve heard it described as playing speed chess while having bricks thrown at you!

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