Clock's ticking, derby still needs place to roll
The clock is counting down for the Rose City Rollers — and Kim "Rocket Mean" Stegeman can hear every second tick.
The executive director of Portland's roller derby league for women and girls has until Dec. 31 to find a new venue that can accommodate 600-plus skaters and hundreds of fans.
A regulation from the fire marshal's office will drop like a hammer on Jan. 1, 2019, drastically reducing the capacity at the nonprofit's Oaks Amusement Park roller rink inside a hangar without overhead sprinklers.
"It's the worst-case scenario," Stegeman says. "It just kind of sucks."
It's been nearly eight months since the Rollers got the word from the fire marshal and began the search for a new home. The original deadline was July 1. Last October, Stegeman said she already had been looking for several years for a building to serve as the club's headquarters and practice/competition facility.
The new rules will permit only 300 people inside the 11,000-square-foot structure. Stegeman says the loss in ticket revenue and programming would slash $120,000 from the Rollers' annual budget.
What no one can calculate is the loss to the community — and to the athletes who say flat-track roller derby has empowered them to do so much more than roll.
"It gives me a sense of ability, like I can do anything with anybody," says a woman named Martine during the Season 13 championships on Saturday, June 2. "I don't think people realize how much impact losing roller derby would have on so many people."
Martine — whose skate name is "Tiggz" — has played for the High Rollers team for more than three years. She's already a pro, but knows that less time on skates means less time honing her skills.
Rose City Rollers also serves about 300 kids who are still learning, including 9-year-old Tigris "TNT" Mackelprang.
"I've shown the world girls can be stronger than they think," says the Arleta Elementary third-grader. "I want to be a blocker, and I have the team spirit."
Her mom, Lisa Born, is decked out in green and gold glitter to support her partner, who skates for the High Rollers as well. She says the cutbacks would be "devastating" to the community.
"The players play in the cold, in the heat — with injuries — because they love the game," she says.
Then there are the superfans.
"Dancing Scott" Erickson, who also is wearing glittery headwear, says he's attended practically every game since the league was founded in 2004. He knows everybody, and everybody seems to know him.
What drives his attendance?
"The intensity," he says. "The level of focus and athleticism. Everybody's trying so hard, and there's a purity about it, because it's not for financial gain."
Rose City Rollers is seeking a 25,000-square-foot venue without beams or pillars and in a transit-friendly location. The organization can afford $20,000 a month in rent or a purchase price of $2.5 million. They're open to sharing the space if the right sports or community partner comes along.
The search for a new venue is focused on Portland proper or venues near the city limits served by mass transit. Stegeman says the Rose City Rollers membership does not want a site west of the West Hills or in a suburb.
According to Stegeman, several promising options have not worked out for different reasons, including transit and cost challenges.
A lease opportunity at a former Staples store at Northeast 122nd Avenue and Glison Street was scuttled because the cost of seismic upgrades was too costly for the property owner. An old bowling alley at Southeast 194th Avenue and Powell Boulevard had limited transit that would have impacted membership. Space for lease at Mall 205 was expensive and only would have allowed for a single track.
The Rollers want a space large enough to hold two oval tracks that are 110 feet long and 90 feet across, plus seating for 750 fans.
If all else fails, the Rollers will cut paid positions — children's programing is the most labor-intensive — and consider hosting some games in other locations.
"There's no way we would stop completely," Stegeman promises.
READY FOR THROWDOWN?
Top-tier roller derby teams will compete in Portland during the Hometown Throwdown June 22-24 at The Hangar at Oaks Amusement Park.
Portland's two-time world champs, Wheels of Justice, will face off against the Gotham All-Stars (New York City), the Hollywood Scarlets (Los Angeles) and the Crime City Rollers (MalmÃƒ¶, Sweden).
The Wheels of Justice are ranked No. 2 in the World Flat Track Derby Association international rankings. Gotham, five-time world champions, are No. 3. Hollywood is No. 4, and the Crime City is No. 10. There are more than 400 flat-track roller derby leagues around the world.
The Wheels of Justice opened their 2018 season in May at a tournament in Eugene with wins over two top-10 teams: the St. Louis Arch Rival Roller Derby All-Stars and Denver Roller Derby Mile High Club. Tickets for the Hometown Throwdown are $15 per day or $35 for the weekend. For information, click here.