by Brian Bergen-Aurand
December kicks off the 13th season of the Rat City Rollergirls—Seattle’s premiere all-female, flat-track, member-owned roller derby league. The month began with the Debutante Brawl on Saturday, 3 December, and the next event is scheduled for Saturday, 17 December at 5:30 P.M., when the home teams battle one another in a holiday-themed tournament of short bouts at The Rat’s Nest (19022 Aurora Ave N in Shoreline). Doors open at 4:30 P.M.
The Rat City Rollergirls league is composed of more than eighty active and retired skaters, who are divided among four home teams: Derby Liberation Front, Grave Danger, Sockit Wenches, and Throttle Rockets, which compete against one another throughout the season. The league is also represented by a regional and national travelling team—The Rat City Rollergirls All Stars—which participates in tournaments and special events.
The league began in April 2004, when, according to legend, “a group of good friends with glasses of good wine sat around a lamb stir-fry and Minute Rice dinner swapping stories about a roller derby resurgence in Texas.” The Rat City Rollergirls, the first league in the Northwest, got on track a few weeks later at the Southgate Roller Rink in White Center or “Rat City.”
White Center is a census-designate place (CDP)—one of only two heavily-urbanized but unincorporated areas in King County (the other being Skyway)—that lies to the South West of Seattle, just north of Burien. The area’s nickname may have come from stories of actual rat infestations in the 1940s, the proximity of a military Relocation and Training (RAT) Center during WWII, or the designation of a Restricted Alcohol Territory in the region. Or, it may come from a combination of all three.
The Rat City Rollergirls have since skated at Magnuson Park, ShoWare Center in Kent, and Key Arena—reportedly before the largest crowd ever for a rollerderby bout in 2010. They now train and compete at The Rat’s Nest, their dedicated facility in Shorline, just north of Seattle.
Although they were once ranked number one in the league and have finished second in the championship tournament on two occassions, the Ratgirls have never clinched the title. Since their inception, they have always been competitive, and after their November 2016 appearance in the national championship tournament ended with a 50-238 loss to The Texas Rollergirls, the Rat City Rollergirls look to assert themselves this year.
With bouts scheduled over the next five months and the national tournament waiting in the wings next fall, it is an exciting time to begin developing an appreciation for the revival of what once was (in the 1950s especially) a significant niche sport that combines athleticism, feminist and post-punk aesthetics, and an expression of communal involvement and pride.
If you have not seen roller derby in a long time—or have never seen it—you might want to check out this amateur league that rolls about town and hopes to roll past more than a few competitors in 2017.
[This article originally appeared in Parachute on 7 December 2016.]