Hamilton's roller derby team is on a roll

The Hammer City Roller Girls celebrate their sixth anniversary and a game win this July weekend.
The referee calls the lead jammer during a jam at the Hammer City Harlot's game Saturday night. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

At half time, the 35-79 score was not promising.

The Hammer City Harlots women’s roller derby team spent the first half of Saturday’s game behind Kitchener’s Tri-City Total Knock-Outs.

It’s a big weekend for the Hammer City Roller Girls. Six years ago on July 22, the league played its first game, or bout as it’s called in roller derby, at the Burlington Central Arena.

This is important history in the roller derby community. The HCRG was the second international team (after Montreal) in the U.S.-based Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.

That means these ambitious ladies from Steel Town are kind of a big deal.

"We’re innovators, I guess you could say," said HCRG president Zoe Siskos, or ZoeDisco on skates. "We had a really, really strong team, very unbeatable, we have a good reputation of pushing roller derby forward."

Despite the score halfway through Saturday’s bout at the Mountain Arena, Siskos doesn’t miss a beat. She speaks enthusiastically about the game and explains the rules to this reporter, a roller derby newbie.

The whistle blows and the ‘pack,’ both teams, start to skate. Each team has a ‘jammer,’ the player who is able to score points by passing through the pack and skating a lap. The first jammer to make a full circle becomes the ‘lead jammer’ and can call off the ‘jam,’ or round, at any time to maintain a higher score.

The women practice and play hard, said Siskos, dodging hips, shoulders and behinds on the track. The passion they have for the game is evident.

"Behind every derby girl is a very supportive network,’ she said. "It’s a big commitment."

At a June tournament in Milwaukee, the team had one of its biggest accomplishments on the track. They won a major game.

"It was our first official WFTDA sanctioned win ever," said Siskos, who was on the track when the whistle blew and Hammer City took the win. "It was the greatest feeling."

Now that the league has a big win under its belt, the board of directors can take steps towards become more competitive — both on and off the track.

"We’re focused on running a sustainable business," said Siskos. "We’re focused on training … we want to play derby not only as a sport but as a mind game."

Siskos said the team is placing greater emphasis on strategy, goal setting and projecting the supportive community that surrounds roller derby.

Saturday’s bout was a double header, and Hamilton hosted two out-of-town junior girls' teams from Toronto and Buffalo, NY.

"People see junior derby and say, ‘wow, you can play that?’" said Siskos. "It shows that, yes, you can. What’s good for anyone in derby is good for us."

But on Saturday, even with the effort of organizing a double header, the stands are almost empty. It’s the same night as a Hamilton Tiger-Cats game and the league’s challenges show.

"We just don’t have enough," Siskos said. "We don’t have enough playing time, we don’t enough resources, we don’t have enough publicity. We’re struggling and it makes you run ragged."

In the second half, jammers Dicey (number 905), Scooby Doom (K9) and Ginger Wilde (1980), known respectively as Jacquie Malley, Tara Pledge and Lesley Taylor off skates, skated circles around the Tri-City players.

With 13 minutes to go, major points were scored and the crowd gets loud.

Part of derby culture, said Siskos, is for the audience to line the track when the game is over and for the winning team to skate the inside, high-fiving their fans.

With a final score of 165-118 projected on the screen behind, the Hammer City roller girls smile big and proud as they circle the track with one hand out.

Watch cbc.ca/hamilton for ongoing, in-depth coverage of the Hammer City Roller Girls over the next few weeks.