Members of the Appalachian Hell Betties practice at Dow’s Roller Arena outside of Nelsonville. (WOUB/Emily Votaw)

Appalachian Hell Betties Come Back Home July 15

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On a muggy Sunday afternoon in early July the Athens Ohio Roller Derby’s Appalachian Hell Betties are practicing at Dow’s Roller Arena in Nelsonville.

The Betties viciously circle around the track, the satisfying clatter of roller skates on flat track echoing in throughout Dow’s. They scramble, they huddle, they have playful spats amongst themselves – they’re in the late stages of preparing for their first home bout in a number of years, taking place on Saturday, July 15.

“We haven’t had a roller derby bout since your grandmother skated with us,” joked Babz Jewell, whose derby name is Birdie Blackhart. “But really, many folks in the Athens area cannot remember the last time we had a home bout, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that we do not have a home base, really.”

The Betties take a quick break during one of their practices. (WOUB/Emily Votaw)
The Betties take a quick break during one of their practices. (WOUB/Emily Votaw)

Jewell said that the group was relieved when they discovered that they could use the Athens Community Center for a bout – a location they hope will entice locals to make it out to the event.

Like many of the Betties, Jewell found herself gravitating towards roller derby for a number of reasons.

“I went to undergraduate at Ohio University, and a couple of years elapsed and I found myself back in Athens, and I didn’t know anybody in town. I had always wanted to do roller derby, but I saw it as something that didn’t fit into my student lifestyle,” she said. “Once I was officially a community member, I started to mark my calendar for every Sunday to go to (derby) practice, but I was too terrified for about six months. But, one January Sunday I showed up to practice with a helmet that totally sucked – I have a better helmet now – and it hooked me immediately.”

Appalachian Hell Betty Sweet 'n' Low Down during a team practice. (WOUB/Emily Votaw)
Appalachian Hell Betty Sweet ‘n’ Low Down during a team practice. (WOUB/Emily Votaw)

Besides acting as intense exercise (the average player burns between 300-500 calories per hour of play,) Jewell said she enjoys the technically challenging aspects of the game.

“Roller derby is a team sport. You are in charge of your body and your own potential, as well as the potential that you have as a team,” she said. “You need to be able to covertly communicate to your teammates; and strategy is everything.”

Earlier this summer Jewell had to have hip surgery, an occasion she said her teammates all rose to.

“Right away there were people checking in on me, making sure that I had food, bringing me accessibility equipment, running errands for me,” she said. “The bonding within the group is fantastic. It’s a very unique, women-centered sport – and everyone shares experiences, whether we identify as trans, cis, or gender neutral.”

A steamy afternoon at Dow's Roller Arena. (WOUB/Emily Votaw)
A steamy afternoon at Dow’s Roller Arena. (WOUB/Emily Votaw)

The Hell Betties changed their bylaws last year to allow anyone who identifies as female or gender fluid or gender neutral to join the team, rather than only those who identify as female.

“It’s a very accepting community; and it made sense to change our bylaws to allow more people in the group; we used to be referred to as ‘girls’ during practice, but now everyone is just called a ‘Betty,’” said Angela Straw, a.k.a. PACKita Taquita. “Everyone is very careful and kind about it – if someone goes by ‘they,’ everyone respects that. It’s very important that we are a community that identifies everyone as they truly identify themselves. One of my friends goes by ‘they,’ and I love them so much, they’re so close to me – and when we’re out and someone misidentifies them – they just look down and don’t want to say anything. So I always say something – because I can’t imagine going so long and being misidentified like that – nobody looks at me and says ‘he,’ and even if they do, it’s almost laughable – and that is not how it is for everybody. It’s important to be an ally to everyone on my derby team.”

Knickknacks on display at Dow's Roller Arena. (WOUB/Emily Votaw)
Knickknacks on display at Dow’s Roller Arena. (WOUB/Emily Votaw)

Straw is an accomplished local chef, and she joined the Hell Betties after a little bit of persistent persuasion on the part of her family.

“When I first got to Athens a few years ago, my dad, who is the ref, and my stepmom, who was on the team at the time, told me I should try roller derby because I would love it. But I didn’t listen, I was going through some rough stuff at the time,” she said. “I actually had to go to another league’s bout to really be convinced that it was something for me. That’s where I first met the Betties and where I first fell in love with them.”

Much like Jewell, Straw never looked back after taking part in her first Sunday evening practice.

“I told myself that if I really wanted to be a derby girl, I had to keep doing it,” Straw said. “And now I think that I am a pretty integral part of the team.”

The Betties gather and strategize. (WOUB/Emily Votaw)
The Betties gather and strategize. (WOUB/Emily Votaw)

Straw said that roller derby has upped her confidence, as well as teach her how to socialize with other women – something that Straw expressed hasn’t always been easy for her.

“Growing up I was always the girl who was playing with the boys – and not in a weird way, but I just always connected better with boys than with girls,” she said. “I wanted to figure out why that was – and joining this team really showed me that I didn’t really have a reason I wasn’t connecting with other women. Being on this team really spotlights so many empowered women, and all of them are just incredible.”

Liz Hammer, who, as Brüzer von Hammerstein, is the acting president of Athens Ohio Roller Derby; said she simply stumbled upon roller derby upon moving to Athens.

The Betties make their way around the track. (WOUB/Emily Votaw)
The Betties make their way around the track. (WOUB/Emily Votaw)

“Before (roller derby) I never worked out, and I had never really been athletic – but I saw this poster for roller derby and I looked it up – I had always really enjoyed skating as a kid, and it looked really fun,” she said. “I talked a friend into going with me, and after that I was hooked.”

Hammer said that she has never been in better physical shape after several years of participating in the sport.

“One of the other benefits of roller derby is the fact that I’ve learned to respect my body. In the beginning, I would be pushing my body and all I could think is that I couldn’t possibly do this,” said Hammer. “I learned that with just a little pushing, I can make my body do so much more than I ever thought it could do. It’s really helped me appreciate my body – because it’s a bad ass body – all of our bodies are bad ass bodies.”

The Athens Ohio Roller Derby presents Betties and Brews, the Appalachian Hell Betties Homecoming Double Header against OHRD: Green Machine and the Silver Bridge Bruisers on Saturday, July 15 at the Athens Community Center. The event kicks off at 4 p.m., with the first whistle at 5 p.m. Food and drink will be available at the event, and a halftime show will be provided by Athens-area rockers Mobile Home. Tickets are $10 and children under the age of 10 are admitted free of charge.