SHERIDAN — Hunter S. Thompson once said, “Anything that gets your blood racing is probably worth doing.”
If you ask Paula Crosley, she would say he was probably talking about roller derby.
Pretty soon women of the Sheridan County area will be able to take to the track for fun, exercise, camaraderie and maybe a couple bruises.
Crosley and a team of roller derby enthusiasts are working hard to open Sheridan’s first Women’s Flat Track Derby league, the Bomber Mountain Derby Devils.
Modern roller derby is a contact sport played by two teams of five skaters circling a track in a series or “bout” of short matchups, called jams, in which both teams designate a scoring player, the jammer, who scores points by lapping members of the opposing team, while their teammates attempt to assist their jammer and simultaneously hinder the opposing jammer.
Roller derby is played by approximately 1,250 amateur leagues worldwide, nearly half of them housed outside the United States. The sport began in the 1930s as a banked-track roller skating marathon and evolved into its current form.
In recent decades, the sport has become more theatrical with ornate costumes, creative player pseudonyms and even some scripted bouts with predetermined winners, which have since discontinued.
Current roller derby has expanded to include male, co-ed and even some junior teams and was under consideration for the 2020 Olympics.
The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association currently oversees 234 full member leagues and 89 apprentice leagues, which are leagues learning to become full member leagues.
To apply for the WFTDA apprentice program, leagues must have 14 or more skaters skating at least two hours a week together, but that is just the beginning.
Opening a new league is like starting a small business and involves marketing, recruiting, acquiring a location for practices and bouts, selecting a business structure such as becoming a legally recognized nonprofit organization, arranging liability insurance, hiring and training referees, developing a logo, website, uniforms, merchandise and more.
Crosley and team have been feverishly digging through piles of research to bring their passion to Sheridan.
Their first hurdle will be attaining non-profit status so they can start receiving donations for equipment and a facility.
They already have support from several members of the community including the Big Horn Mountain Eagles Club #4169.
Rachel Webb of BHME is trying to contribute by offering food, a liquor license and a sound system to use for future bouts as well as the club itself to use for practices.
The measurements of the clubhouse will work well as a free practice space for the skaters until a building of their own can be acquired.
Webb’s daughter Breanne has been assisting in the start-up efforts as well and plans to be a skater once she turns 18 and the league is up and running.
“Once we start getting donations together,” Breanne said, “we’ll know what we can handle and that’s the most important step right now.”
Crosley is also half of a mother-daughter team in this endeavor with her daughter Jasmine Crosley by her side.
“I’m here for my mom,” Jasmine Crosley said. “I have done small business endeavors in the past and I have some idea of how to run things.”
She also plans to skate after giving birth to her second child, which is on its way, and attributes the endeavor to her mother’s passion but is equally motivated.
“I grew up here and there’s not much to do,” she said, “especially for girls. I didn’t fit into the sports most kids did, I tripped over my feet in basketball. I like the idea of somewhere that everyone fits in. It’s empowering.”
Her mother couldn’t agree more and already sees the empowering affect it can have on women even through the planning stages.
“I talk to people about derby and they get excited about what they’re going to wear and what their player name will be,” Crosley said. “It’s a tough sport and you have to be an athlete but it’s also fun and exciting.”
Paula Crosley says the idea was born during a trip to Casper.
While talking with a friend, she inquired as to what he does in town for family fun and he said “We go to roller derby.”
“I didn’t know it was still real,” Crosley said. “Growing up I always wanted to be in the Derby.”
Upon returning home to Sheridan, she began emailing existing teams and asking for start-up advice.
A Facebook status brought in friends and daughters of friends with similar interest in helping.
A trip to a store and a mention of the league brought Doyle White on board, who will serve as a board member, coach, referees, and wherever else he is needed.
“I mentioned starting a team in his store and he said ‘I was going to do that,’” Crosley said.
White also grew up watching the roller derby and said after watching a live bout of the Billingham Bombers in Washington he knew the sport was something Sheridan needed.
The team of enthusiasts hope to open men’s and junior’s leagues in the future, and will even apply for a grant to build their own rink.
In the meantime, they need more skaters, more board members, equipment and money.
According to Crosley, the biggest of these hurdles is going to be the gear.
“You can’t buy it here,” she said. “It needs to be specially fitted and for that you need to go to Billings or elsewhere.”
The cost of the gear as well as the personal injury insurance may also be a deterrent for new members joining the sport.
In some larger markets and more well-established leagues, extra equipment is available for women to come try the sport before committing to purchasing their own equipment, but in a small start-up league such as this, that option isn’t yet available.
The ladies are currently in talks with more established leagues to “hire” them to load a bus with their equipment and head to Sheridan for a weekend long boot camp, hoping to get the community exposure without the fear of commitment.
“It’s like rock climbing,” Jasmine Crosley said. “First time I tried it I was scared and didn’t know if I would like it, but then I was hooked so I went out and got all my own equipment.”
Until that happens, Paula Crosley hopes to get women skating, spending time together and helping the cause by hosting open skate nights at Scotty’s Skate Castle.
“A lot of this younger generation doesn’t know how to skate on quads,” she said, “they’ve only been on rollerblades (in-line skates). We just need to get them on roller-skates.”
The next skate session will be held Jan. 11 at 1 p.m. and the only cost to attend is $5 for skate rentals if needed.
While some see the sport as violent and the fishnet-laden costumes can give an initial shock, the Crosley women know once people get to know the sport more, they’ll see it’s exactly what this town needs.
“It’s like football,” Jasmine said. “It has violent parts but there is a lot more to it and people enjoy watching.”
“It is family-friendly entertainment,” Crosley said. “The league in Casper does food drives and many community activities. It’s something for everyone to come watch and once a junior league is formed, everyone can play. It’s nothing like the movies portray. Just go to WFTDA online and watch some bouts and you’ll see.”
Anyone interested in helping with the start-up, skating or more information is encouraged to see the league’s Facebook page, Bomber Mountain Derby Devils, email firstname.lastname@example.org or learn more at wftda.com.
The board met this weekend to elect members and assign duties but still needs participants, specifically a treasurer or accountant, a lawyer or paralegal and people to help with recruiting, managing and coaching skaters.
The league is open to anyone in the surrounding areas including Big Horn, Story, Ranchester, Dayton and even Buffalo.
“This is such an important endeavor,” Jasmine Crosley said. “We need more activities here, especially for the women and youth of this town.”