By day, Erin Gay is SCU’s assistant director for annual and special giving—and she’s completing a master’s in higher education administration. But by night, when she straps on her skates and hits the flat track, she becomes Death by Dollface of the Silicon Valley Roller Girls.
You might remember the banked-track, smash-and-crash Roller Derby of yore. There’s still some of that bad-girl cache to women’s flat track derby, a sport that has seen increased interest across the nation during the past few years. The San Jose–based SVRG are far from pro wrestlers in motion, though. They’re an apprentice team in a nascent league owned and operated by the women who skate. And Gay just finished a stint as their president.
Death by Dollface
How’s it played?
A game lasts an hour. Two teams—each with four blockers and one jammer. The referee blows the whistle, and that starts a “jam.” Skaters circle the track, and jammers score points by passing the other team’s blockers. When I’m a jammer, every time I pass an opposing blocker’s hips, that’s a point for me. A jam can last up to two minutes.
So you’re a jammer?
Actually, to toot my own horn, I got Most Versatile Player last year. They can put me in anywhere. I’m a long-distance runner as well, which helps with endurance. I can block two or three in a row, take a time off, jam, and go back in and block.
What about penalties?
In the old days, skaters could elbow other women in the face, pull them down. Now there’s absolutely no pulling, no elbows. Instead, there’s a lot of body checking. Below the knee and the whole back area is off limits. Still, we probably see one major injury per game. Usually knees. A blog called “Hall of Pain” lists all of our injuries. And we have specific insurance for roller derby.
Yet there are still these larger-than-life bad-girl personas.
|The jam: Silicon Valley Roller Girls in action.
Photo: Charles Barry
Sure, that’s the biggest piece brought over from the old style of derby. But it’s gone from theatrical to a sport where we pride ourselves in the strength and intelligence it takes—plus tons of core strength, lots of focus. You play offense and defense at the same time. Everything happens so quickly; it’s like combining hockey and speed-skating. Some national champion speed skaters play derby as a secondary sport. Plus, we run this business by ourselves; that really attracts some girls. I’ve applied a lot of what I’ve been learning in my master’s program—understanding leadership and the function of a board, being able to work with our attorneys, creating job descriptions for a sports league, budgeting, and finance. Before I was president, I headed up work with sponsors.
We have some highly educated women on the team; one gal is finishing her Ph.D. in communication. There’s also a cohort of women who identify with that hard-knocks thing, who have been in trouble with the law before. But we all come together on a Saturday and build a house for Habitat for Humanity as part of our annual community service contribution. So the girls that came from the wrong side of the tracks are now getting involved in this totally different kind of community. It’s truly a special kind of family. We even have different terms we use because there’s so much time that goes into this; derby widows, for instance—those are our fiancés and families.
Who are the fans?
Word has really spread. One of our superfans is Steve Wozniak. After we had our first front-page article in the San Jose Mercury News, he showed up at our game. He wanted to become a ref. Apparently, he skates well. So we gave him his own derby name—Smackbook Pro. Next time he comes, we’ll present him a jersey.
» Learn more about the Silicon Valley Roller Girls here.