By Marisa Petrich, Northwest GuardianFebruary 10, 2012
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- The Joint Base Lewis-McChord Bettie Brigade's season opener ended in nothing but victory for the roller derby team -- both on and off the track.
The Betties started their second season Saturday by soundly defeating the Dockyard Derby Dames' Femme Fianna in front of a packed house at AFC Arena. More than 400 people showed up for the bout, which had a final score of 148 to 74.
But more than that, the team showed how far it's come since it was founded in October 2010.
"The interest has been huge. We're getting emails every day," league founder Sarah Howard, who skates under the name Gloria Sass, said.
The full-contact women's skating sport has been around for decades, but has seen a resurgence in popularity in the last few years. As a whole it's both athletic and sassy (just take a look at some of the pseudonyms skaters use for matches), and something Howard saw a need for in the military community.
As a former Soldier and Army spouse, Howard knows what it's like to move frequently, and she's all-too familiar with the stresses associated with military life. She wanted to create a place where women could build connections and stay in shape.
Today, that's the Betties' biggest draw -- and biggest obstacle.
The Bettie Brigade boasts three teams -- two that skate in bouts, or matches, against each other and another "fresh meat" team for new skaters. All told, about 40 women regularly attend practice. They also have sent their all stars out to bout with other area teams, and hosted an outside team (the Femme Fianna) on the Brigade's home turf for the first time Saturday.
Though it stays involved with the civilian derby community, the group is very conscious of its military roots. Soldiers, Airmen, spouses, DOD civilians and retirees and family members are all welcome to join and get to know a group of women who get them.
"I think it's really a cool bunch of girls. They're really accepting of you," Alex Arbogast, aka Ginger Minge, said. Arbogast is an Air Force spouse and mother of two who joined the group about a month ago. She did it because she's athletic, she likes to skate -- and because she felt like she would fit in.
With two full sleeves of tattoos, Arbogast sometimes had trouble making friends. In roller derby, she found that people cared far more about what she did on the track than what was on her arms.
But that same aspect -- instantly having a derby family to welcome you to a new place -- can be tough. With deployments and changes of station, the Betties have an extremely high turnover rate.
"I don't think we've had the same roster twice," Howard said at the bout as the team sent off a departing player with a round of traditional spankings.
To that end, Howard formed the Military Women's Roller Derby Association last year. The group helps provide support and resources for the network of teams forming on military installations worldwide.
For now, the Betties have only played bouts with each other and civilian teams, but the hope is that one day they can challenge a military counterpart -- or join it, the next time they move.