By Bill Foley
The first rule of roller derby, surprisingly, isn’t knowing how to roller skate.
If you can take a fall and get back up, you might have what it takes to complete with the Copper City Queens.
“Step 1 in derby is you learn how to fall,” said Meredith (LaFond) St. John, the league vice president of the Butte club. “Then you learn how to skate.”
If you just like to watch people take a big hit and a fall, well, then roller derby might also be for you. Sept. 16 is your chance to find out.
That’s when the Copper City Queens will open the season with a bout against the Heart Mountain Wrech On Wheels in the “School of Hard Knocks Roller Derby” at the Butte Civic Center.
The collection of rough-and-tumble Butte women — many of whom are mothers — entire their fourth season looking to start piling up victories after three years learning the ropes of the sport that shares a mantra with rodeo: “It’s not if you get hurt, it’s when.”
Casey “Case Closed” Vanatta is the league president in Butte. She says the Copper City Queens are no longer simply the new kids on the block. They are a bona fide organization that is here for the long haul.
“We’re competitive now,” Vanatta said.
The Copper City Queens first began practicing in March of 2014 behind the Thunder Alley bar on Montana Street.
A month later, the club brought in a Missoula team for a bout. The Queens were basically the halftime act of that bout. In September of 2014, the Copper City Queens played their first actual bout against Helena’s Hel’z Belles.
Roller derby isn’t just a sport where you can jump in feet first and start winning bouts. It takes time to learn the rules and understand the subtleties of the sport. It could take years for an expansion team to become competitive.
The Copper City Queens are hoping that time is now.
“When you start, you’re learning the strategies and rules,” said St. John, whose derby name is “Megadeth.” “If you don’t know the rules, you’ll end up in the penalty box and give away points.”
The Butte club started with about 45 members. That numbers now stands at 24, and about half are original members. The roster number includes coach Rob “Slam-Rock” Daugherty, referees, contact members, part-time members and bout members.
Ages of the players has ranged in age from 18 to 55 since the Queens held their first camp.
Current bout members are Amber “Althea Later” Smith, Bridgett “Tricky Treatz” Petritz, DeeDee “Tenacious Dee” Thurmond, Erin “Orange is the New Block” Grunhuvd, Jamie “Jamie from the Block” Lazzari, Jennifer “Jen-A-Fire” Kueffler, Kaleena “Mother Earth” Miller, Kim “KimAkaze” Walsh-Daugherty, Kylee “Identity CrySis” Angle, Melanie “Melicious Motherlode” Maki, Melissa “Metal Militia” Kindt, and St. John.
Contact members include Vanatta, Alicia “Freak On Alicia” Bogert, Jacqueline “Bam Ban” Venard, and Patricia “Patti Whack Her” Brown.
Britton Toner and Lisa “Swearin’ Rodgers” Rooney are part-time members, while Demetrius “Cash Only Bribes” Fassas, Fred “Pacman” Juarez, Heatherlynn “Gonna Go There” Meeks, Jedediah “Jedi” Wilson and Monica “Dyna Moe” Juarez are referees.
Derby isn’t a sport any of the club members take lightly. The Copper City Queens practice — and practice intensely — a couple of times a week at a makeshift rink inside the old Rocker Repair building.
Since the Rocker rink is way smaller than regulation, the Queens practice at the Butte Community Ice Center when they can. The time is limited on that rink.
The dream is to one day have their own rink.
The Copper City Queens try to pick up new members with their “fresh meet camp,” which takes place once a year.
Daugherty, whose wife is on the team, is one a product of that camp. He went out looking to be a referee only to be recruited as a coach.
“We wouldn’t be anywhere without him,” St. John said.
The No. 1 draw to derby is the camaraderie.
“We’re actually friends with the other teams,” St. John said. “So when there’s a good hit (by an opposing player), you’ll say ‘That was a good hit.’ You appreciate the hits.”
Rooney, who says she needs to go through another “fresh meet camp” to become a full-time member, said the family aspect of the club and sport is what piqued her interest in derby.
“I like the community aspect of being a part of something, as corny as it sounds,” Rooney said. “Even if I never ever make the bout team, I’ll still stay and be a part of the organization.”
Rooney also likes the workouts that the practices provide.
“It’s a better workout than any class I’ve ever taken,” she said.
Playing for the Copper City Queens is also an investment. Some players have skates that cost as much as $600. Plus there’s the helmet and other pads players have to wear.
“It’s so worth it,” St. John said of the high cost.
Of course, watching roller derby has a much lower price tag.
Tickets for the Sept. 16 derby are $10 in advance or $12 at the door. Children 12 and under are free with a school supply donation.
The doors open at 6 p.m., and the bout begins at 7.