Roller derby league pushes forward despite challenges
Kayleigh Bywater | Senior Staff Writer
When the North Texas Roller Derby League rolled into Denton in 2011, Stacey Bzdok, an active league member, was excited to bring the fast-paced sport to the community.
She has been around since the league had its own 20,000-square-foot facility, House of Quad, on Mayhill Road. But since the league lost the space in August, Bzdok and other league members have been working to maintain the spirit of the sport in Denton.
“Roller derby is something I followed with my mom growing up,” Bzdok said. “It used to be on TV, and we would watch it together. When I heard people wanted to start a league, I jumped right in.
Roller derby bouts take place on an oval track with two teams of five people. Each team has four blockers who try to keep the opponent’s jammer – the skater with a star on his or her helmet – from breaking through the pack by using their hips, rear and shoulders. The jammer’s goal, however, is to break through the pack to score points. For every member of the opposing team the jammer passes, the team gets one point.
In August, Aurelia Anna Campbell, NTRD’s general manager, was arrested for theft of around $200,000 and swindling her Bedford employer for over $900,000. Authorities believed Campbell used some of the money to buy the House of Quad roller derby facility for NTRD. Because of this, the league lost their facility and some of their following.
Campbell was extremely well liked in NTRD, which was why the league was shocked when they found out. Despite the challenges, the league has tried not to lose their values.
Coming back from this incident has been hard on NTRD, Bzdok said, but they have not let the actions of one person bring down everyone’s friendships.
“I’m a 41-year-old single mom, but I play with girls who are 18 and I don’t feel so different from them,” Bzdok said. “I know it sounds cliché, but we are family. It is sometimes hard to find a group of people who you can count on to be there for you at any time. But through everything, it’s still a constant churning of support.”
Bzdok, who is a captain of Main Street Mafia and a blocker for the Fighting Unicorns, said after the incident, the number of athletes in NTRD has declined. North Texans have felt hesitant in joining due to Campbell’s actions and have not been able to adapt with the facility changes.
“Because we lost House of Quad, we have to practice outside now,” Bzdok said. “A lot of our members have kids, so it’s just a difficult situation until we can find a new facility. This situation has definitely been a curveball for us.”
NTRD media consultant Lauren Williamson said the group of women in NTRD has banded together to keep pushing forward in sharing roller derby with Denton.
“There’s more to roller derby than people know,” Williamson said. “If people look at it with the old school view, they wouldn’t realize how intense it is. It’s more about athletics and skill than costumes and fighting.”
Bzdok said despite common views and recent findings, roller derby is not a sport centered on violence. Instead, it’s a sport centered on community.
“When we compete against each other, there is no malicious intent,” Bzdok said. “I’m a heavy hitter. I can lay you flat out on your butt if I am blocking you, but you better believe I’ll give you a high five when you get up and grab a beer with you afterwards.”
Psychology junior Amanda Wachtler participates in roller derby and skates with Assassination City Roller Derby in Plano. She knows members of NTRD since group members sometimes practice with Wachtler’s league. Even though NTRD has run into some problems, Wachtler said the roller derby community sticks together.
“The roller derby community is such a great one to be a part of,” Wachtler said. “There is no bad blood or ill-will between us and the other groups around here. We stick together in roller derby despite how violent it looks.”
Although NTRD has a long way to go before the start of their season in February, Bzdok said they are ready to face the challenges that are ahead.
In the coming months, NTRD hopes to find a new facility they can utilize, recruit more women to join them and develop both their skating skills and friendships.
“We are on a growing path,” Bzdok said. “It’s sort of like a rebirth of the league. We have lost a lot, but we are staying alive and pushing forward. We are coming back strong.”
Featured Image: Groups of “blockers” teamed up against individual “jammers” at North Texas Roller Derby’s practice. Haley Yates | Staff Photographer