Derby Double Header:
Grand Raggidy Roller Derby vs Deathrow Maidens
Grand Raggidy All Stars vs Carolina Rollergirls
Saturday, May 2, 4–9:30 p.m., $12
(616) 752-8475, grandraggidy.com
In the event Amy Zyck and her husband should ever decide to leave Grand Rapids, she’s already made it very clear wherever they go next will be contingent on the town’s roller derby ranking.
“I told him, ‘These are the towns I will move to because they are ranked better than Grand Raggidy,” Zyck said. “I will move up, I will not move down.”
Zyck has been a member of Grand Raggidy Roller Derby, formerly known as Grand Raggedy Roller Girls, since its inception in 2005, celebrating a decade with the league’s 10-year-anniversary this year. She took over partial ownership of GRRD about seven years ago, which she has shared for the past five years with co-owner Jenn Lynch.
“I got hooked as soon as I got there on that first day,” Zyck said. “I haven’t looked back. I can’t imagine my life without it, really.”
As far as full-contact sports go, roller derby is relatively new in town. However, GRRD was one of only 30 founding member leagues of what is now the sports international governing body, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, which since its start in 2005 has grown to include over 300 member and apprentice leagues worldwide.
Recruiting wise, GRRD organizers host basic training sessions, open to women ages 18 and up. The practices teach the basic skating skills and knowledge of the game. From there, derby go-getters can eventually land a spot on one of the competitive team rosters.
The game itself is played in short match-ups between two five-person teams – each is comprised one jammer (the designated scorer) and four blockers. While jammers’ main objective is to gain points by lapping the opposing team’s skaters, blockers are tasked with both impeding the opposing jammer and protecting and advancing their own.
“For me, as a jammer, it’s just mostly survival,” said Jenn Lynch, her team’s jammer and the current co-owner of GRRD. “There are a lot of people coming at you and you’ve just got to keep going and you’ve got to score points and help your team out.”
Kristin Bileth was a skater at the beginning of her now eight-year tenure with GRRD, but after an ACL injury took her out of the game, she’s now a referee and WFTDA liaison. Her duties are now focused on enforcing rules and ensuring the skaters’ safety.
Bileth said the overall game has become more serious as it’s matured into a more mainstream place in today’s sports culture.
“It’s not as much of a spectacle sport,” she said. “There used to be people wearing tutus and we had a penalty wheel and pillow fights and penalty spankings. Probably about six years ago it started really changing and shifting.”
Breaking the Mold
As leagues make further strides toward legitimization in their own communities, roller derby has begun its transition into the mainstream with players from larger leagues in New York and earning national recognition on ESPN.
However, as the WFTDA seeks to create new avenues for more men to get involved not only with its governing body, but also with the sport itself through the creation of new men’s and junior leagues, the all-inclusive attitude has rubbed off on GRRD.
The team says part of the name change from Grand Raggedy Roller Girls to Grand Raggedy Roller Derby is not to forget the empowerment in a league founded by women, but to celebrate and embrace its evolution, regardless of gender.
“We wanted to do this little makeover for our 10-year,” Lynch said. “Let’s make it more welcoming to both guys and girls and help people realize that it’s not just all women in this league. We have officials that are men. We have non-skating officials, volunteers and announcers that are men.”
Another common thread with roller derby teams: everyone is busy with day-to-day life.
“We get it. You’re a mom, you had a busy day, and you have a really stressful job,” said Rachel Crowther, blocker for the team. “It’s harder for a woman, when you get to a certain point in your life, and there are certain expectations for you to be a housewife or a mother. I think roller derby kind of breaks the mold and says, ‘I can have those things and I can have this, too – and be good at it.’”
Crowther is not only a mother but also the general manager for a Grand Rapids hotel and three other hotels in Michigan. Lynch is a business development manager, Bileth a customer service representative, trainer, and team leader and Zyck is a physical therapist and manager overseeing home health care.
So yeah, they get it. And though the league might not be open to male skaters quite yet, they still want to encourage more people — men and women — to get involved. The team is looking referees, volunteering at merchandise tables, coordinating events, helping with ticket sales or just bringing their families out to Rivertown Sports in Grandville to watch one of its home games.