Members of the Arizona Derby Dames roller derby league don't tend to shrink from fights, but lately, these tough, battle-tested skaters have been engaged in an off-the-track struggle: to keep making the rent on their warehouse space.
The league has a bit of cash on hand, but not much.
“We have about a few months of rent saved up right now,” says Nikki Jones, also known as Nikki BadAzz, president of AZDD and captain of the Schoolyard Scrappers. “We’ve been doing a lot of fundraising and donations. We’ve been clearing out our merchandise. We don’t even have the money to [order more] merch, but it’s money going to our bills.”
The league, like pretty much everything and everyone, has taken a big financial hit due to the pandemic. Competitive events (called bouts) are its main source of revenue, but they've been suspended for a year now. The dues that skaters pay to participate in the Derby Dames aren't coming in, either. “A lot of people lost their jobs," Rodriguez says. "We can’t expect everyone to pay their dues right now."
A December GoFundMe raised $5,000, but now the league is looking to raise $20,000 more with its latest fundraising effort, which will cover the rent through the fall, which is the earliest it would resume holding bouts. That figure would also cover a few months' worth of rent beyond that in case a fall reopening isn't possible.
If the league lost its lease on its warehouse space due to nonpayment of rent, it would be a much bigger issue than just finding a new place to practice.
The Derby Dames, who have been around since 2005, kick it old-school by training and holding bouts on a banked track — the original setting of roller derby, but one that has gone by the wayside in recent years as more leagues around the country use the easier, cheaper flat-track format. Their building in west Phoenix can accommodate the banked track, but not many places can.
Though the league is organized around the sport of roller derby, it gives a lot more to the community than entertainment value.
AZDD Inspire is the nonprofit arm of the Derby Dames; its stated goal is to mentor young female athletes and promote sportsmanship, healthy habits, leadership, and volunteerism in girls ages 10 to 18. (Underage skaters participate in the league on the Minor Assaults team.)
Inspire has been heavily involved in working with the Arizona Department of Education to hand out free meals to kids even before the pandemic started, but they increased their efforts when COVID hit. From March 2020 to February 2021, they served 750,000 meals around Arizona.
The league also changes the lives of its members, such as Mourning Madness skater and mother of three Kim Hester.
“It’s the family I don’t have,” Hester says, tearing up. "I'm a single mom widowed eight years ago. I know I’m not raising my girls alone. This is a village. We take care of each other.”
Kim and her three daughters are a roller derby family and Inspire volunteers. Her oldest, Kalyssa (Kryptic Kaly), is 22. She skates for the Runaway Brides and coaches newcomers to the Minor Assaults. Mary, 14 (Black Eyed Please), and Taylor, 12 (Taylor Terror), both skate for the Minor Assaults.
Olive Gestson, who skates as Olive You Die, is another person whose life has been changed by the Derby Dames. Gestson says that when she started, “I was unnatural being around a bunch of people." Now, she wakes up at 5 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays to skate eight miles with Jones and a distanced group of derby skaters.
“I don’t make a lot of friends at school,” says Mary Hester, who joined the league when she was 10. “All of my teammates, they’re my friends. ... It’s a sense of community you don’t find anywhere else.”
So to keep their derby family together in their longtime warehouse space, the league is reaching out to the community for help. You can donate on the Inspire website.