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New-style roller derby puts an emphasis on community

In modern roller derby, the women skaters are part of every aspect of the operation, including choosing charities to help that are close to their own hearts.

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    From left: Assassination City Roller Derby member Nicole Johnson, Vicki LaRoe from Jonathan's Place, and ACRD members Kim Naples Bice and Jessy Wise. These Dallas-area roller derby skaters are committed to supporting a charity each month; it's often a cause close the experience of one or more of the skaters themselves.


    Courtesy of Mark Alonso
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Roller derby doesn’t always generate the most salubrious of reputations.

The sport’s time-honored image speaks of blood lust, gaudy uniforms, and pre-determined results.

Yet today competitors in a modern version of the sport are trying to re-define what it means to be a roller derby player. Many now play on a flat track, and gone are the days of bruising fights and staged bouts.

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But there’s another side to contemporary flat track derby. And there’s perhaps no more useful example than the ironically named Assassination City Roller Derby (ACRD), based in the northern Dallas suburb of Plano.

Modern roller derby is rooted in feminism, with participants taking control of their own destinies. For Assassination City, that means members handling everything from ticket sales to accounting – in addition to taking part on the track. It also means electing a charity of choice every month.

The latest charity may be perhaps the most apt yet, one which seeks to lift abused and abandoned children from precarious situations and give them the chance for a better life. ACRD had played matchmaker for a couple among its number, and now the organization is set to follow up by providing foster care for a child together.

The nonprofit group Jonathan’s Place is the recipient.

“Assassination City Roller Derby is all about empowerment,” says Jennifer Genson, Assassination City’s charity coordinator. “We dedicate ourselves to the sport we love, and we run every single aspect of the business ourselves. We’re a grass-roots sport. Our local communities [provide] our fans, sponsors, practice rinks, and local haunts, and we never forget that – so we almost always partner with local charities.

“Our partnerships are also much more meaningful if they affect our skaters personally." Past examples have included Genesis Women’s Shelter, because one of the Assassination City members had left an abusive relationship. The ACRD has also supported Operation Kindness, because several of its players have adopted pets there; and the Malignant Hyperthermia Association, because it lost a member to that disease.

“Along those lines, two of our skaters – a married couple who met through ACRD – will soon become foster parents through Jonathan’s Place. They heard about JP from a mutual friend, went to an orientation session, and decided to help. It’s been a great partnership so far, and we can’t wait to welcome new foster members to the ACRD family.”

Donations collected by the roller derby group for Jonathan’s Place included an assortment of clothing, bedding, and cleaning supplies, says Assassination City spokesperson Amanda Warner. A monetary donation contributed by both the skaters and their fans, along with a portion of the gate proceeds from two bouts, were also passed on to the charity. 

Jonathan’s Place, based in Garland, Texas, near Dallas, places abused, abandoned, and neglected children in safe, loving homes. It was reputedly the only such organization in Dallas County when it opened in 1994 as a licensed foster group home to offer specialized services to children 11 and under. The name Jonathan is derived from the first child fostered by the charity’s founder, Lisa Matthews.

Such charity efforts are at the heart of flat-track roller derby. They are designed to illustrate a spirit of community surrounding this modern version of roller derby, which emerged out of Austin, Texas, a little more than a decade ago.

• For more information on Assassination City Roller Derby, visit: www.acderby.com. For Jonathan’s Place, visit: www.jpkids.org.

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