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Roller derby making comeback

Fergus Falls team latest to roll into revamped sport Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the sport of roller derby had a healthy fan base. It was fast moving, hard hitting and entertaining. As the sport evolved, like professional wrestling, it began seeing more theatrics and less sport, which turned many of its fans away. By the 1980s, roller derby was all but dead. As the century turned, so did the sport of roller derby. There was a big resurgence in the United States about 11 year ago and it was a direct result of a simple but important change — the track. Up until the year 2000, roller derby rules required banked tracks that were bulky, cumbersome and hard to store and transport. The development of a flat track opened the playing field. Roller derby could now be set up in any gymnasium with very little set up and storage hassles. “First you started seeing clubs forming in the larger cities like Seattle, Los Angeles and the Twin Cities, then it moved into a little smaller cities like Fargo, and Duluth. Now it is moving into the more rural areas,” said Erica Karger-Gatzow of Morris. Fergus Falls was one of those rural towns to start up a roller derby team and Karger-Gatzow is both a manager and a skater on the team. Like classic roller derby, all the players have colorful names. Karger-Gatzow goes by “Suzy Contusion,” when she is on the track. “My husband came up with the name,” she said. “It stuck right away. I have friends who only refer to me by Suzy, that’s how much it suits me.” Karger-Gatzow first got hooked on roller derby about eight years ago when she joined the TC Rollers in the Twin Cities. She would drive from Morris to the cities each week to compete. “I just love the playful aspect to it,” she said. “And you get very close to the people on your team. They call it a sisterhood in roller derby because of how close you become.” She played for the TC Rollers (which became the North Star Roller Girls) for two years but then retired upon getting a new job and not being able to make the 2.5 hour one-way commute to practice. About a year ago, she learned that someone in Fergus Falls was trying to get a roller derby team together and so she decided to give it a shot. She was a little rusty to start, but gradually got up to speed. Now she is a board member of the group and excited about the possibilities ahead. The Fergus Falls Roller Girls (FFRG) are made up of a diverse group of women. Karger-Gatzow is a mental health counselor at the University of Minnesota, Morris. There is a florist, an insurance sales rep, a hospice nurse, a computer programmer and a woman who works at a manufacturer. “To be part of the team, you need to be motivated, willing to try new things, able to afford gear, insurance and dues, and dedicated to put the time in to the league. We teach you all the skating stuff. To be able to skate in a bout, you need some minimum skills so you don’t put yourself in danger and others in danger,” said Karger-Gatzow. “You need to be a decent skater and have some strength, agility and endurance. All of which comes with practice; we’ll teach you everything.” Since the sport switched to a flat track, the theatrics of the sport have changed some. There is still a good dose of showmanship involved, but the sport has gotten more fast paced and athletic. Stiffer rules on conduct have cleaned up some of the on- and off-track violence that turned off many of its fans. The women of the FFRG meet regularly for practice and are working to improve their organization by adding members, building networks and competing along the way. “We are a community-focused organization,” said Karger-Gatzow. “It a non-profit organization and we are all vested partners in our success of our league and all aspects of the business. To be on a team like this, you need to be willing to put in the time, not only skating but also helping with the business.” The league is completely volunteer and all profits are reinvested and redistributed in the Fergus Falls and central Minnesota area. The team follows the rules of the national organization, Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, and works hard to promote the sport and women in athletics in the Fergus Falls area. If you would like to see the FFRG in action, they will be (having an event in Fergus Falls on April 9th, 2011, the action starts at 7:30. The event will be held at the Old High School Gym (502 Friberg Ave). Tickets can be purchased at the door: $10 for adults, $5 for kids aged 6-12, and kids 5 & under are free.) Interested in helping/competing? The FFRG is currently adding new members. If you or someone you know would like to get involved with the team contact Karger-Gatzow at the number below. “We are also in need of people to help refereeing,” said Karger-Gatzow. “Our league has a shortage of qualified officials, so we are looking for people interesting in learning the game so they can officiate. People with a hockey background would be able to catch on quickly.” Karger-Gatzow said the group could also use help with the business size of the organization including help accounting, organizing volunteers, graphic designers, web designers, fund raising people, etc. Karger-Gatzow can be reached at (320-585-5745 or email

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