They’re on a roll

Published 8:27 pm Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Locals find community through roller derby team


For love of the game.

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Talk to any member of the Minnesota Southbound Rollers about how they got into roller derby, and you’ll hear a variation of that answer.

“I fell in love with the sport,” said Alisa Bawek, known as “Ms. Behave” on the track.

Bawek, now a coach with the team, was first introduced to the sport when she came to see a friend of hers about two years ago. That friend was Albert Lean Marie Karow, “Loca” in the derby world. Friends since high school, Bawek became a non-skating official as well as a timer with the team.

In 2017, Bawek decided she wanted to be even more involved with the sport.

“Even though I was nervous to skate, I wanted roller derby in my life,” she said.

So Bawek started watching bouts on YouTube and different training videos. She read any derby article she could find and printed out the rulebook.

“I learned as much as I could about roller derby,” she said.

In May 2017, she bench-coached her first bout. While she’s not sure if she helped much, Bawek said she learned a lot.

Now, she’s in charge of planning practices and lineups for the team’s bouts, and schedules bouts with other teams.

Karow, on the other hand, is entering her fifth season with the Southbound Rollers, and hopefully her third as the team’s captain, she said.

Karow brought her sister, Savanna “Baby-D” Bangs, as well as another sister and a cousin, onto the team with her.

Bangs has mainly coached during her four years on the team, as she is recovering from a broken leg suffered during a tomahawk attempt — a 180-degree move. She said she’s looking forward to getting to skate, though.

As derby is a full-contact sport, injuries come with the territory. According to six-year referee Toby Leonard, one-third of derby athletes get injured each year, forcing a number of them to drop out. Leonard himself has broken both legs. Thus the reason for refs and officials, as well as for the insurance policies each member must have when competing in the league.

“Our main purpose is to keep it safe, and then it’s to keep it fair,” he said.

Bawek said a common misconception for those unfamiliar with roller derby is how athletic it is.

“(Skaters) make it look easy on the track because they put in the work off skates and on skates,” she said. “You need a really strong core and legs. Cardio is key. Jams last up to two minutes, which doesn’t seem like a long time, but you are skating hard and fast or pushing and hitting the entire time.

“Not only do skaters need to be physically fit, but mental preparedness is just as important. You need to be present at practice and focus on what you can do.”

Founded in 2013, the team is a B-level roller derby team. A-level is considered more professional with highly experienced skaters, whereas B-level has a broader range of experience levels, including beginner skaters. While they don’t play every single team each season, there are about 15 or 16 teams the Southbound Rollers have competed against.

Something the team also partakes in is fostering — hosting other skaters or loaning their own skaters out to help a team fill its roster spots in order to be bout-eligible. The team has fostered with teams in Mason City, New Ulm and Mankato, and has traveled as far as Brookings, or Watertown, South Dakota, to compete.

Karow and Bangs live in Albert Lea, with other team members hailing from Hollandale, Osage, Mankato and Austin. The team calls Packer Arena in Austin its home during the regular season, which typically runs from late May/early June through late September/early October. The team starts meeting for regular practice sessions in March.

The team is always looking to add to its roster, and no experience is necessary. The Southbound Rollers will set up training for those getting used to the rules of derby, and once they’re ready will integrate them in with the team. They also will loan out gear to first-timers, so people can see if it’s a good fit for them without putting down the money for equipment right away.

“Every time you put on skates is an improvement,” Bangs said.

Those interested in getting involved can find out more through the Minnesota Southbound Rollers Facebook page.

Why should people consider getting involved?

“Derby people are amazing people,” Bawek said. “Skaters come from all walks of life — we have single moms, stay-at-home moms, career women, doctors, educators, students, shy or outgoing, loud or quiet. We are inclusive and welcoming. We are always looking for new skaters, (non-skating officials), refs and volunteers.”

What’s the best part of being involved with derby?

“It’s empowering, being with other females and defending a team together,” Karow said. “Seeing others come out and meet their personal goals, it’s a fun thing to be a part of.”

About Colleen Harrison

Colleen Harrison is the photo editor at the Albert Lea Tribune. She does photography and writes general-assignment stories.

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