SHERIDAN — Sarah Erickson brags about her sign twirling skills as she stands on West Works Street with a bright orange poster board in her hands. Erickson and some of her Wild West Wreckers teammates are promoting a fundraiser, a garage sale to raise money for their team.
If you aren’t one of the 440 people who like the Wild West Wreckers on Facebook, one of their goals is to let you know who they are: Sheridan’s first female roller derby team.
“It’s such an empowering thing for women,” team secretary Jennifer Smith said of the sport. “It showcases strong, athletic women in a competitive environment.
“It’s a sport, it’s fitness,” Smith added. “It’s bettering yourself as a person and that attracts a lot of girls.”
Roller derby is much more than the casual skating you take your date to on a Friday night. Derby consists of two five-person squads skating around the track, pushing and bumping each other while the jammer scores points by lapping the opposing skaters. The four other girls, the blockers, do their best to prevent the other team’s jammer from scoring points while simultaneously helping their own jammer score. Essentially, all 10 girls are playing offense and defense at the same time.
Bouts, as roller derby competitions are called, consist of two 30-minute periods. Body contact and tactical position changes are key techniques used by blockers to help their jammer score and hinder the opposing jammer.
The Sheridan roller derby team, which was established in 2013, now features 14 girls who are all crafting their skills and learning the sport together.
In a sport that features jammers, blockers, packs and bouts, there was a lot of terminology to be learned and a hefty amount of rules to be followed, but these women were all-in from the start.
“For us it’s like it’s all on the line out there,” Smith said. “We’ve got something to prove. That kind of has us all a little hungry, and we’re going to finish off that plate of food.”
When they aren’t bumping and blocking each other in the rink, the Wreckers are working on establishing themselves in both the Sheridan and roller derby communities. Saturday’s garage sale was just one way they are raising money to get the team up and going.
“We did the garage sale,” Fundraising Chairman Crystal Rose said. “We want to do a car wash. We want to do a team calendar that we can sell. We’ve got a lot of ideas.
“Right now we are paying out of our own pockets for stuff, which we don’t mind because we know it’s going to take some time to get going,” Rose added. “But we want to buy backup equipment, team uniforms, gas to travel to our bouts. That’s basically what our fundraising is for.”
Thanks to some help from the community, the Wreckers have hit a steady stride as they make their way to their first bout in the fall.
The Eagle’s Club and the YMCA have provided facilities for the team to practice, which has given some of the less experienced skaters some much needed time on their skates. The organization also plans to apply for nonprofit status.
“I had never even skated before,” Rose said. “My first practice I probably fell 20 or 30 times, and now I can skate almost as well as anybody else.”
The team also plans to give back to the community. Organizers say that when they get going, 10 percent of ticket sales at competitions will go to a rotating list of nonprofits.
In addition, the girls are active in the community and will volunteer as a team or individual anywhere they are needed. They are not just a sport, but a community support system designed to promote women and the entire community through volunteerism and shared profits.
Practice isn’t the only thing that the team needed before jumping into the rink to square off against their opponents. Along with finding a place to practice, the team must get insurance coverage, buy equipment, and most importantly, learn the sport.
“We are financially invested and emotionally invested in this sport,” Smith said. “We’ve sunk our own money into getting our gear. We’ve rearranged our work schedules for practices. We are all in.
“As far as learning derby as a sport, we are all in the same boat,” Smith added. “There is a 100-question written test. There is a minimum skills test. You have to do 27 laps in five minutes. There are all these skills that we are trying to learn that don’t just come with general recreational skating.”
Although each girl has her own individual skillset and skating ability, Smith says the team has a collective desire to compete and use each other to get better.
“All of our strengths are different,” Smith said. “One girl on our team can stop like nobody’s business. Another girl does amazing crossovers. As a group, we’ll watch each other and ask questions. It’s very much a give and take between the team.”
When it comes down to it, though, the number one goal for these girls is to go out and show Sheridan what they’re made of.
“Half the town doesn’t even know that we’re here,” Rose said. “It’s going to be really cool when they figure out that ‘Oh my gosh, we have a roller derby team in Sheridan,’ and I feel so honored to be a part of that.
“It’s kind of empowering to other women,” Rose added. “We want to show women and children that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what you’ve done, you can do this. It’s pretty special.”