Hard hits on wheels ignite derby crowd

Peter Clark

This past Saturday night, Walla Walla’s roller derby team, Crush Town Mafia, squared off against the visiting Rodeo City Rollergirls. The women put on a 60 minute show for a crowd that came close to filling the Walla Walla YMCA gym. When the night was through, Rodeo City came out with the victory 160-150, but the score alone does not give justice to the type of thrill that Crush Town Mafia provided for their loyal fan base.

Credit: Allie Felt

For those who haven’t had the opportunity to ever watch a roller derby live or even on television, it is hard to describe the sheer physicality of the sport. With every hard fall or brutal takedown, the crowd erupts the same way as when a heavyweight fighter hits the canvas after being knocked out. The security guard, Pete Michael, put the noise level in perspective.

“I work security at hockey games and other roller derby games in the Tri-Cities, the fair in Walla Walla, and at the Stone Hut Bar & Grill here in Walla Walla, and this is by far the loudest venue I have heard in a long time. It gets louder in here than any other place,” said Michael.

While roller derby is relatively new compared to other sports, it is easy to pick up. The ultimate goal for each team is to get their jammer (designated point scoring player) through the pack of other blockers (players trying to stop the other team’s jammer). Points are scored when the jammer makes a loop through the pack. Some Crush Town Mafia players such as Cherri Neal have only been playing the sport for less than a year and are enjoying their time working towards becoming a roster player.

Credit: Allie Felt

“I went into it looking at it as a way to get healthier, but it’s been a struggle. Some players have been skating their whole lives, but they are still willing to work with you no matter what,” said Neal.

According to Neal, her decision to give the sport a try was sort a spur of the moment decision.

“I was at the YMCA and I saw some chick with dreads, and I just said, ‘Why not?'” said Neal.

With practice three times a week and plenty of guaranteed bumps and bruises, these women have to juggle practice and other commitments with families and regular jobs. One Crush Town Mafia player is Whitman’s own Senior Assistant for the President, Jennifer Casper. While known as Jennifer Casper to most, on derby nights she is known as “Spider Monkey.” Every derby girl has an outrageous nickname, which Casper says is part of the fun. The energy of the crowd is a huge advantage, says Casper––a supportive audience is half the battle for home matches.

“It was a fantastic match, we were very evenly matched. We played cohesively as a team, but just came up a little bit short. The crowd was great though, everyone was behind us,” said Casper.

The next home game for Crush Town Mafia is on Aug. 20 at the YMCA, just in time for students’ return to Walla Walla for school in the fall semester.