By Josh Moniz
Journal Staff Writer
NEW ULM The Goosetown Roller Girls can easily be billed as the ultimate "locals makes good" organization.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
The Goosetown Roller Girls (in black) hosted the Duluth Derby Divas in a Roller Derby event Saturday at the New Ulm Civic Center.
The entirely self-made organization has built its team and audience from the ground up with hard work, even being prominent enough to encourage other regional cities like Mankato to form their own teams.
The group started after a member of a roller derby team from Bemidji moved to New Ulm and sent out notices for a team. The sport of roller derby itself has had resurgence in the last few years, more than doubling the number of teams in Minnesota alone in the last four years.
Cat Manchack, a member of the Roller Girls, said the appeal of the sport is that it can be very empowering, especially for women, and it has an intense sense of community among the participants.
"Unlike most some sports, this is something that's athletically competitive, but its still open to everybody," Manchack said. "It's even empowering because there is no set body type you have to have. There's so much different things in the sport that anybody can bring something to a game."
She said this sensibility has led to the fun and exotic elements of the sport. Each team member registers for the sport under a show name, such as an IT worker going by "Blue Screen of Death" or a current member of the team going by "Bruiseberry Jam."
Manchack, who also serves as photographer for the team, goes by Trigger Happy Kitty. This extends into the theme and dress worn at each bout, often focused around their the theme of the event or the player's individual personality.
Along with that, the sport emphasizes giving back to the community. Each bout dedicates proceeds of the ticket to a charity of their choice. Each team member individually volunteers a certain number of hours each month around the community.
Manchack equally emphasized how seriously team members supported each other and show dedication to the sport.
"[Each team] Might be serious rivals on the floor, but by the end of the night, we're all good friends," Manchack said. "The team seriously becomes a second family. We can even get close with our fans."
From the ground up
The dedication proved to be important for the Roller Girls, because their route to starting up their team and growing an audience has been very difficult.
The team officially organized in early 2012, but the sheer amount of certification, the cost for equipment and the practice needed to get a roller derby team running made them unable to hold their first game until January of 2013.
Additionally, they are required to find and fund things like an on-site medical team and referees. The team currently has the standard 24-member team, but only 14-member certified to skate in a bout.
Several of the other team members are in the process of being certified, with the end goal of having at least the standard of 15 certified players for each event.
The team has dedicated a good amount of their free time to fundraise because they lack a dedicated practice space, so they have to generate funds for expensive rental space. Keeping in theme with their sport's sensibility, they organized fundraisers around a "zombie pub crawl" style event and a "Punk Rock Prom" event. The two events are now planned as annual events.
Their work to grow the team has tied into the equally hard work of growing an audience. Manchack said the biggest challenge has just been making people aware they are an existing and active team. The team has pursued awareness through face-to-face talk about the sport, social media awareness work and frequent participation in other events, like Autofest, to bring public attention.
Luckily, the Roller Girls have had genuine success in this area. Their first official home game was held Saturday at the New Ulm Civic Center had nearly all the bleach space filled up. On their Facebook outreach page, they have gone from struggling to get 50 likes last year to more than 700 likes already this year.
Looking into the future, Manchack said their short-term goal is continuing to grow their audience. She said it would be a big benefit to find somebody willing to rent or loan a dedicated practice space.
For the longer term, she said they want to grow enough team members to host two local teams and possibly a junior league team for younger kids. She said they are equally open to starting up a men's league roller derby team, which will depend on gaining enough participants. They are also working on improving their infrastructure and playing skills enough to join larger league roller derby organizations.
The Roller Girls currently are running their own league, which contains mostly regional roller derby teams.
"This is something really cool we're working on,"?Manchack said. "We're really hoping to grow it a lot in the next few years."
Saturday night was the Goosetown Roller Girl's first official home match. Duluth ended up winning the bout 130-118 at the New Ulm Civic Center.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)