February 1, 2015
Celebrating their 11th season this year, the Rat City Rollergirls of Seattle, WA, have been leading the pack on and off the track since the very start. A founding member league of the WFTDA, Rat City continues to foster the growth of roller derby and remain a powerhouse of talented skaters and devoted fans. Learn more about Rat City, their perspective on WFTDA’s first 10 years, and where they see the future heading.
Where are you located?
We are Seattle, Washington's premier roller derby league, with our main bouts held at Key Arena in Seattle, and smaller bouts and practices at our Rat's Nest facility in beautiful Shoreline, WA, just north of the city.
How does your season run?
Our home team season runs from January to April of every year, and our All-Star season runs from May to November of every year.
What are the closest WFTDA leagues to you?
The closest WFTDA leagues to us would be the Jet City Rollergirls in Everett, WA, the Rose City Rollers in Portland, OR, and our apprentice league, the Rainier Roller Girls, in Seattle, WA.
How many skaters/teams do you have?
We have our development team: the Rat Lab, where skaters are trained and prepared to be drafted to home teams. We have four home teams: the Derby Liberation Front, the Throttle Rockets, Grave Danger, and the Sockit Wenches. Players from those four teams tryout every year for our 2 travel teams: The Rat City All-Stars, and the Rain of Terror. All in all, we have about 80 skaters in our league.
How is your league structured (home teams, travel team, management)?
We have four home teams: the Derby Liberation Front, the Throttle Rockets, Grave Danger, and the Sockit Wenches. Players from those four teams tryout every year for our 2 travel teams: The Rat City All-Stars, and the Rain of Terror. We also have a partnership with the Seattle Derby Brats, the premier youth roller derby league in the metro Seattle area, serving girls from ages 6-18. We also have an amazing support staff of over 15 referees in our Rat Fink team, over 20 NSO staff in our Lightning Fists of Science group, and numerous volunteers and supporters.
We have a Board of Directors comprised of a five-member Executive Board and a six-member Advisory Board comprised of one representative from each of the 4 home teams, one from our support staff (refs/NSOs), and one from the travel teams. The Executive Board is made up of the Chairwoman, the Vice Chairwoman, and three Pillar Directors-- one Production and Games Director, one Marketing and Development Director, and one Business Operations Director. Each pillar encompasses smaller committees that are dedicated to specific jobs, such as facilities and merchandising. We also have an External Advisory Board, comprised of leaders from our community, our legal counsel, city government, media, and subject matter experts on specific topics.
Who is your biggest rival? And have you had any outstanding, memorable moments when you've played them?
Our biggest rival is the Rose City Rollers, from Portland, OR. We have a great relationship with them, having our annual 4x4 home team vs. home team games to kick off our seasons, and often traveling there, or hosting them here in Seattle for huge audiences. There are always memorable moments when we play each other, but the most recent one had to be last year, when Scald Eagle, as a jammer, dealt a stunning sternum check to our own Ophelia Melons. Melons, ever the great sportswoman, gave her applause for a good hit. It even went viral!
Do you have any sister leagues you’d like to give a shout out to?
There are so many, but we want to especially give a shout to the Seattle Derby Brats, Rose City Rollers, to Jet City Roller Girls, and last but not least, our brothers, the Puget Sound Outcasts!
What are the individual challenges of your city?
Seattle is a great place for roller derby. The market is strong, the audience is great, and there is a lot of support for the sport here. As a result, there are many different places where you can see great derby, and that contributes to saturation, which is great for developing great athletes, but challenging for business. One of our missions is to make sure that we help contribute to an environment where derby is accessible, welcoming, and competitive so that we continue to grow interest in the sport, and thus grow the market so that all leagues can thrive.
What are your biggest training challenges?
We are constantly evolving our approach to training. We seek to find the right balance of on-skates and off-skates training that allows us to develop elite athletes, while reducing the chance of injury as much as possible. To do this, we have entered into a partnership with a local gym, Get Strong First, where our skaters have been required to take part in a pre-season strength training and movement improvement camp, and each team has added off-skates plyometrics and calisthenics to their on-skates practice sessions.
Who are some “behind the scenes” skaters/members who really help your league run?
There are so many, but we would love to recognize Moe Ya Down, who has been our financial genius as we navigate through our recent changes, and some of our newer members, such as Jill Nye, Deva, Betsy Nails, Sister Slaughter, and Aalto Ego, who have really been our backbone. Thank you so much!
Who are some of your star skaters on the track, and why?
Naturally, Carmen Getsome, our Team USA star, is at the top of the list, but she is also instrumental in making sure our tenants are happy and that we are efficiently maximizing our space. Luna Negra is amazing, and so is LeBrawn Maimes, whom we are thrilled to have join us this year. Nehi Nightmare is also a standout, as well as the always effervescent (and dangerous) Sun Shiner!
How many days a week do you practice? How are your practices divided/organized among your teams/skaters?
Practices occur every day of the week at the Rat's Nest. League practices-- where every cleared skater in the league can participate-- typically occur Monday through Thursday, with Friday being an open-skate night or practice for one of our tenants. Team-specific practices are typically on Sundays. Our Rat Lab skaters typically practice on Thursdays and Saturdays, and our Rec League has fitness skates on Wednesdays. Other times, we rent out practice time to other leagues and organizations.
What kind of training/bouting facilities do you have?
Our main facility is the Rat's Nest, located in Shoreline, Washington. It is our headquarters, where we have our practice track, the bulk of our bouts and practices, and event space. We lease the space to derby leagues all around the region, as well. The Get Strong First gym is also within our space, adjacent to the track, and skaters are encouraged to do their off-skates training there as well. We are also fortunate to go into our 7th year of partnership with the City of Seattle and having our major bouts at the Key Arena. We consistently play for 1500-3000 people when we play there, and it's a great venue for us and for derby as a sport.
We understand that you recently wrapped up a successful fundraising campaign to save the Rat's Nest. What can you share about your fundraising efforts and those who helped to make it a success? Yes, we did! Our marketing gurus Aalto Ego and Raven Seaward were instrumental in making this a success. Without them, and the generosity of our fans and supporters, we would have lost the Nest, and let down our derby community. Overall, what contributed to our success was the love and goodwill that our community has for us because we have been giving to our community. We can't stress enough how important it is for a derby league to be in touch with their fans, community organizers, city governments, and business owners and building those relationships. Our friends in the media were instrumental in getting the word out as well. Last but not least, we were able to give things in response for donor generosity-- it wasn't just us begging on the internet. We were able to provide value for what people were giving to us.
What can you share about your journey to your amazing home venue, the Key Arena? What are the challenges of such a massive venue?
The current members of Rat City have a strong foundation, thanks to the 60 women who started this league 11 years ago. Many of those folks are now members of our Founders' Club, and without their strength, dedication, and sheer will, this league wouldn't exist, let alone have made it to the Key. Like many businesses, Rat City started small, having bouts at Southgate Skate Center (a skating rink), and eventually outgrowing it and moving to Hangar 49 at Magnusson Park. Once we outgrew the Hangar, we moved to the Key Arena, and have been there ever since.
The major challenge of skating at the Key is the intimacy of the bout experience. Unlike the Hangar, and definitely Southgate, the audience is a minimum of 50 feet away from the action, unless they are in the VIP seats. This detracts from the feeling of being close to the action, so we often have to bring the excitement to the audience, by making the experience more of a spectacle. We often have to fuse the athleticism on the track with more fun and silly entertainment. Another challenge is making it cost-effective. We found that we were losing a lot of our audience and ticket sales in the summer, when people would rather be outside than inside, so we reduced our dates at the Key to those that we felt were the most profitable, and started focusing on going back to basics and making the experience at the Nest as close as we can to what it was like at Southgate and the Hangar.
Do you have any big bouts coming up that you're really looking forward to? Why?
We are kicking off our season at the Nest with our second home team bout on February 7th. This will also mark our official welcoming from the City of Shoreline, and be our first Nest bout since we met our fundraising goals this past fall. We are thrilled to share our space with everyone!
Please tell us more about the "Rat Lab."
We are super proud of our Rat Lab! When a skater joins Rat City, they are not immediately placed on a home team. Starting derby, and particularly competitive derby, is a bit of a meat grinder, so we formulated a development team called the Rat Lab, which is where new skaters are trained both on and off-skates, they are introduced to derby as a sport and to Rat City as a league, and they are developed so that when they are drafted to a home team, they are ready to hit the ground running with strategies, teamwork, and athleticism. A skater can spend as much time as they want in the Rat Lab, and since we have recently formed Rat Lab as its own team, it gives skaters the ability to scrimmage other fresh meat teams in the area and have the pride of being on their own team without the pressure that skaters often experience being drafted to a competitive team before they are really qualified to be there. Plus, when your fellow Rat Labbers get drafted to other teams, you still have that bond, so it reduces friction between our home teams-- although the competition is still fierce!
Congratulations on starting your 11th season this winter! As one of the leagues that were a huge part of both the rebirth of modern roller derby and formation of WFTDA, what has the experience been as both roller derby and WFTDA have grown and changed? How has your organization grown and changed in turn?
Thank you! Both WFTDA and Rat City have grown in so many ways over the years, it's been a wild progression. Some of those growth periods have been rocky-- remember the no-start debacle at the 2011 West Region playoffs?-- but for the most part, we are grateful for the things we have learned along the way. We are happier with the faster starts and the evolving ruleset, and we are always interested in seeing where the game goes so that we can create a great experience for our skaters and our audiences. I think that what stays the same is our emphasis on strong strategy and being students of the game. What has changed is our ability to execute, grow skaters from wall-huggers to brick walls, and to see our organization as a growing business just as much as it is a group for women to grow athletically and emotionally. We are growing as a business, as an athletic organization, and most importantly, as people.
After taking home 4th in the 2014 D1 Playoffs in Sacramento and narrowly missing out on a trip to Championships, what are your ambitions for playoffs in 2015? Which teams are you preparing to face off with to make it all the way to Champs this year?
Our goal is always to win, so while we were proud of our 4th place showing, we always see areas where we can improve. And, we are always shooting for the best, so we are most definitely thinking about Gotham as we prepare for playoffs. Rose City and Denver are also serious threats, not to mention Minnesota and the always dangerous Texecutioners. One of those areas was in changing up our internal structure so that All-Star team members could choose to skate just the All-Star season instead of both the home and All-Star team seasons-- this is intended to minimize both sudden-onset and fatigue injuries by allowing them the rest they need, which is something that we haven't done in years past. Our plan is by having a rested, strengthened All-Star team, and a brand new head coach, the phenomenal Vito Ramon, we will be not only ready to dominate the playoffs, but take Championships too!
How does your league give back to the community?
We have a long-standing commitment to our community, and our Community Care department is in full swing. We have had a long-standing partnership with Goodwill, and we raise money for a charity with every game, ranging from the Ballard Food Bank to the Girl Scouts, to First Read. We encourage youth and community groups to perform at halftime during our bouts, and we offer a 10% discount on our tickets to Nest bouts to our partners at Shoreline Community College. We are always looking to do more!
Do you have any big fundraisers coming up?
We recently rescheduled this year's Black Eyed Ball because we realized that it was rushed, and that it wouldn't be a good experience for our audience, so we are taking the time to make it better, focus it, and make sure that we are creating a great party. At this point, we are focusing on a big Sponsorship Drive, to increase our sponsorship offerings and sponsor base. We are developing new products and new ways that our sponsors can advertise with us that will be useful for their businesses.
Do you have a special message for your fans?
To our awesome and amazing fans: This has been a hard year, and it has taken all of your love, faith, and belief in us to bring us to Season 11. We are so thankful for your support, and with your help, we will be here for years to come, promoting the sport of roller derby and uplifting female, male, and youth athletes. We are forever grateful, thankful, and appreciative of you and we will never forget the kindness you have shown us. Thank you so very much!
--Rat City Rollergirls
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