Posted // 2012-04-19 -
With all the roller-derby leagues gearing up and growing, you knew there was bound to be one down in Utah Country someday. That prediction came to fruition just one month ago with the inaugural game of the Happy Valley Derby Darlins (on St. Patrick's Day, no less) at the UCCU Event Center not only giving U.C. fans a taste of things to come, but encouraging those interested who don't have the means to hike up north to join the league before their first official tryouts.
Today, we chat with league president Natalie Swenson and the league's media rep Danica Levanger about HVDD and its humble beginnings, the current season and coming tryouts, thoughts on Utah roller derby and a few other questions. (All pictures by Ron Horton.)
Natalie Swenson & Danica Levanger
Gavin: Hello, ladies. First thing, tell us a bit about yourselves.
Natalie: My name is Natalie Swenson, 31 years old. My derby name/alter-ego is Raggedy Slamm. I became involved in roller derby seven years ago with the Rose City Rollers in Portland, Oregon. I was later asked to help form a derby league for Eugene, Oregon, now known as the Emerald City Rollergirls.
Danica: My name is Danica Levanger a.k.a Lil' Misfit. I was born and raised in Utah. Married with two boys. I work part-time as a cosmetologist at Sage Creek Salon in Springville. I have always been super-active and love sports, which include roller derby, softball, snowboarding and scuba diving, to name a few.
Gavin: How did each of you take an interest in roller derby, and what motivated you to get involved?
Danica: I learned about roller derby from my cousin Natalie, Raggedy Slamm. She played in Oregon and Arizona. She would show me her videos when she came home for the holidays and I always thought it looked like a ton of fun! She moved home and wanted to start a Utah County league and I told her I would love to help her get it going, not knowing at all what it would take.
Gavin: Natalie, what was your prior derby experience like, and how did you like your time playing the game?
Natalie: After living in Oregon for almost nine years, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, and joined Arizona Roller Derby before moving back home to Utah County. I loved getting back to my old stomping grounds -- except for the derby withdrawals -- so my cousin Lil' Misfit helped me round up a few gals and we put my previous derby skills to work, forming Utah County's first and only roller-derby league, the Happy Valley Derby Darlins.
Gavin: Seeing how there was nothing formally established yet, how was it for you putting everything together before anything even had started up?
Danica: I helped Raggedy Slamm start a Facebook page
and started getting the word out about the league. We had our first meeting at Classic Skating in Orem and had about 20 girls show up. From there, we started renting out the roller rink after-hours on Monday nights and started training. We have found a ton of amazing women who we could not do without! Running a league takes an army; we could never do it all on our own. It is amazing how everything came together, and I feel our league is running extremely well for only being established for a little over a year.
Natalie: At our first meeting we had 13 girls show up; from there, they just continued to multiply and we established a board of directors comprised of such motivated women that our league could not have formed without their hard work and dedication. We exchanged ideas on a name for our league and the colors to represent us, then had a vote. After a full year of recruiting and learning the intricacies of the game, we were ready to split into teams.
Gavin: How did you come up with the league name and the teams, and what was the initial tryout session like to bring members on?
Natalie: Happy Valley Derby Darlins have three official teams and a pool of fresh meat. The Molly Morbids became our traveling all-star team comprised of the more advanced skaters of our two home teams, Rollin' Rebellion and Sirens of Steel. Tryouts require full safety gear, roller skates, guts, dedication and minimal skating ability. Each new member attends a 12-week training program before being assessed and placed on a team.
Danica: The name came fairly easy because the Valley has always had the nickname "Happy Valley." Team names were chosen by the member of the teams. Sirens of Steel came from Geneva Steel, Rollin' Rebellion came from our team all being pretty hard headed and rebel-like. I remember our first scrimmage practices were crazy! I would literally be shaking on the jammer line because I knew as soon as I hit the pack we were going to be in a dog pile! We had only one girl -- Raggedy Slamm) -- who had any experience; I felt for her trying to control all us crazy chicks -- ha ha!
Gavin: You formed the league during 2011, but this year marks your inaugural year. What was it like getting everyone up to speed with the rules and gameplay before launching the league?
Danica: Everyone has to pass a skills-assessment test and a written rules test before they are cleared to play. We now have a 12-week training program for fresh meat to do before they test and play.
Gavin: You had your first game a few weeks ago. What was the experience like for everyone, and what did you think of the turnout from the county?
Danica: I am always amazed at our turnout; our community is really excited and supportive of the league! The referees from Wasatch Roller Derby said that they have never seen so many people come to a first home game!
Natalie: Our fist bout of our official competitive season was a great success. We found that there is great interest in roller derby in Utah County. Our fans are incredibly supportive!
Gavin: Unlike other leagues, you aren't a member of the Women's Flat-Track Derby Association. Are you looking to gain membership into the organization, or are you looking more into establishing yourselves at the moment?
Natalie: We have recently been approved for an apprenticeship with the WFTDA and are fully committed to gaining full membership once our apprenticeship is complete.
Danica: Yes, we will be WFTDA soon. This is not my expertise, but I believe you first have to be an apprentice league, which we are, or will be soon.
Gavin: You're going to have Fresh Meat tryouts coming up on April 24 in Spanish Fork. What kind of players are you looking for and what advice do you have for those coming to tryout?
Danica: Yes, we are excited for try-outs. We are looking for dedicated, hard-working girls; we never turn anyone away. Anyone who can stick with it through the 12-week program and pass assessments will be put on a team. Girls 18 and older just need to show up with proper gear -- skates,helmet, knee/elbow pads, wrist guards and mouth guard -- and start skating.
Gavin: Considering this is your first year, and there any non-skater positions you're looking to fill or areas you'd like to expand on and are looking for help?
Natalie: We are currently in need of both skating and non-skating officials, for those interested in becoming involved but not wanting to play the game.
Danica: Yes, we still need skating and non-skating referees! We have jobs such as scorekeeping, penalty tracking, stat tracking, time keepers, etc. Referees do not have to pay dues, they just need to donate their time to a few practices and, of course, show up to the games. It is a great way to get into every game for free!
Gavin: Moving on to local stuff, what's your take on the way roller derby has grown in appeal and participation around the state?
Danica: Roller derby has grown a lot in the past few years and I believe will just continue to grow.
Natalie: We are so pleased that there are other leagues to learn from, and compete against, around the state. I feel roller derby has definitely found its new era; it is more a matter of the community finding roller derby! It is a new and exciting sport that is growing fast and a lot of people want to either watch and support it or be a part of it, which is possible in many ways.
Gavin: What are your thoughts on the other local leagues around the state and the work they've done to promote the sport?
Natalie: Utah can surely expect to see a whole lot of hard-hitting, competitive action from HVDD in 2012!
Danica: The great thing about roller derby is everyone is super-supportive of one another. Wasatch Roller Derby has been a great support to our league. They are willing to help us grow because the faster we do, the faster they get to play us.
Gavin: With the growth in competition and fandom, do you believe roller derby has found its new era, or does it still have some growing to do before it reaches that point?
Danica: I think it has found a new era, for sure. I think it is much more structured now and more of a sport than a show, but, of course, still a blast to watch! There is a U.S.A team and they are looking to be in the Olympics!
Gavin: What can we expect from all of you during the season and the rest of the year?
Natalie: We are looking for sponsors from both small local businesses and larger corporations to assist in our growth and promote the local economy. Happy Valley Derby Darlins are a not-for-profit organization and look for charities around the community to donate portions of our proceeds.
Danica: We are playing twice a month through October. Check out our website
for our schedule.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?