Lewis-McChord's rowdiest women get new home for roller derby

Members of the Bettie Brigade roller derby team practice drills on February 9, 2012, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord's AFC Arena.


By LISA PEMBERTON | The (Olympia, Wash.) Olympian | Published: April 12, 2014

LACEY, Wash. — After nearly nine years, members of the JBLM Bettie Brigade have a place of their own, and it’s called the Bettie Bunker.

The nonprofit roller derby league recently moved into the 15,976-square-foot former warehouse that’s at 5700 Lacey Blvd., in Lacey, Wash.

Before that, they practiced and played at the AFC Arena on post.

“I love that we have our own space,” said Lisa “Bomb-Diggity” Rathbun, 47, of Yelm. “It gives us a lot of freedom. … People had trouble getting on post, so we had a limited civilian fan base.”

Last weekend, the Betties hosted a fundraiser and a double-header in the Bunker against the I-5 Rollergirls.

Even though Erin “Foxy Blocker” Dafoe plays a mean game, she said she got a little emotional during the bout when she saw her teammates skate past their new mural, which features a silhouette of women on roller skates carrying an American flag. About 250 people attended the event, sitting in folding chairs and old couches around the rink and in the beer garden.

“It kind of gives me, like, goose bumps to see how far we’ve come,” says Dafoe, who co-founded the organization and coaches its youth team. “From the beginning, (having their own place) was the dream.”

The Betties is a military affiliated team, which means all of its players are somehow connected to the armed forces. Many of them are military wives, a few are veterans, and some are civilians who work for the Department of Defense.

“We’re all military affected, so everybody understands the struggles of military life — moving a lot,” said Adrianne “Annie Mae-Hem” Pavlik, 31, who lives on post. “When people move here, you’re starting all over again and have to make new friends.”

Staff Sgt. Melissa “Melicious Beast” Provencio, 33, of Tacoma, joined the team last month and is participating in its six-week boot camp.

“They train us how to fall, how to take hits and how to give hits,” Provencio said.

Before they’re allowed on the roster, new players must pass boot camp and a skill test that includes skating 27 laps in five minutes.

Provencio compared it to the Army’s basic training.

“Actually I think this boot camp is harder,” she said.

Roller derby as a sport has grown tremendously during the past decade. The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association had 30 teams in 2005. Today, it has 160 member leagues and 87 leagues in its apprentice program.

And there are even more teams that aren’t associated with the derby association, according to Erin “Flogging Maul-E” Zimmerman, 26, of the Betties.

She said roller derby takes strength and strategy.

“I read this quote that says, ‘Playing roller derby is like speed chess while bricks are being thrown at you,’ ” Zimmerman said.

Thurston County is home to four teams: The Betties, the Oly Rollers, the Underground and the M.I.A. Derby Girls, Dafoe said. There also are teams in Tacoma and Centralia.

Bouts usually include a DJ, a concession stand and a beer garden.

“The crowd can get pretty rowdy, especially where there are big hits,” said Bettie Brigade member Sarah “Ad Minist’er Payne” Payne, 32, who is both a veteran and a military wife.

“It’s really exciting — we usually get this place pretty packed,” said Betties coach Gerald “Ill Will” Rael, who is a human resources specialist at JBLM. “The atmosphere is unreal because you have two teams of girls who are beating each other up for an hour, and at the end, they’re hugging,”

Since the Betties are affiliated with the military, there’s a constant need for new members due to a high rate of turnover, Zimmerman said.

But they also want to grow their league and raise money to make improvements for the Bunker, she added.

“It was just a big dusty warehouse,” she said. “We just cleaned it, we laid tape down and we started skating it.”

The organization hopes to eventually repair or replace the concrete floor, which is uneven in some areas, Rauel said. They also want to install permanent seating and spruce the place up.

Meantime, they’ll continue to skate, hold special events and share the space with MIA, which rents from them.

Rathbun, whose husband is active duty Army at JBLM, said derby has been a great way to make friends and get exercise.

She used to inline skate on post, and someone stopped her and said she should join the Betties.

“I said, ‘Are you kidding? I’m old. I’d fall down and break a hip,’ ” Rathbun said.

But she tried out for it about a year ago and fell in love with the sport.

She’s no longer terrified that she’ll get seriously hurt. During Thursday’s practice, she bragged about the softball-size bruise on her hip.

“It’s really painful,” she said. “That’s part of the fun. Actually, we’re very proud of our bruises.”

The culture of roller derby is all about being tough. It’s about having tattoos, body piercings, sexy outfits and alternate personas.

But it’s also an activity that brings people closer to each other, Rathbun said.

“This is our family,” she said. “We’re all sisters.”


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