The Axe Kickers bring roller derby to NAU
By Justin Regan
The amazing world of sports has a vast array of different competitions. Some of these sports are more conventional than others. However, it is the unconventional sports that seem to have the most personality. Such is the world of roller derby and the Northern Arizona University (NAU) student team known as the Axe Kickers.
Roller derby is a sport played on quad skates with the players skating around an elliptical track. There are five players on each team at a time. One player on each team is the “jammer”. Each team gets a point for every opposing player the jammer passes. This is easier said than done, because the jammer has to pass a gauntlet of players on the other team, called blockers, who try to block the jammer from passing. The blockers must also fight off opposing blockers, so their own jammer can pass through and score. The type of roller derby the Axe Kickers play is flat track, which means any flat surface will suffice for practice. The team currently uses the freshmen quad basketball courts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 4-6 to hone their derby skills, and there are many skills to be learned.
“We train our skaters to learn how to stop while going backwards on their skates as well as skate backwards, fall correctly and block,” said Rachel “Ester-gin” Ellis, a junior biomedical major and founder of the Axe Kickers.
This makes roller derby a very intense sport. To play full contact and on skates, you need to be committed. Ellis wants to show this to the NAU community.
“The purpose of the club, the reason I created it, was to try to spread education about roller derby,” said Ellis. “In the 1960’s when [roller derby] first became a thing, it was really dirty. It was almost like WWE fighting and nobody wore any padding so people would get pretty hurt that way and there was no real sport to it, it was just a show. There are some roller derby teams that still do that, but I like the sport aspect of it.”
As with most things bred out of the sixties, the sport of roller derby has developed a sub-culture all its own. One way this is shown is with the “derby name”. These names, like Ester-gin, are nicknames that players receive through the actions they take and the statements they make while on the team.
“You don’t find your derby name, the derby name finds you,” said Hailey “Royal Tenen-bomb” Bickel, a sophomore French major.
Katie Boot, a freshman environmental science major, who has yet to get her derby name, has played various sports throughout her life, such as soccer, volley ball, cross-country, track and field and swimming. She feels that there is something special about roller derby compared to other sports.
“I think [the team atmosphere] is more personal. We are much more personal with each other in general,” said Boot. “It’s not just a school activity that you do to get an extra P.E. credit.”
This team atmosphere founded on skates and baptized through vicious physical contact seems to bring the team together in a very close way.
“I kind of think of roller derby as my sorority,” says Bickel. “There is just something about it we connect on a much deeper level and these people are really amazing people.”
For men who are interested in playing, there are male roller derbies out there (called “merbies”) but there are none currently in Flagstaff. However, the club is always in need of men to help out in other ways.
“We definitely need coaches and refs, so any guy who wants to be involved please talk to me,” Ellis said.
For those who may see roller derby as unorthodox, Ellis says that you won’t know how much you love it until you try it.
“You need to try it just once,” said Ellis. “I just fell in love with it the first time I got into skates. For some people it’s a great experience and that’s it and for some people it’s a life-long love.”
If you want to contact the Axe Kickers, you can go to their website at www.flagstaffderbyfury.com or on Facebook Flagstaff Derby Fury.