For just about any professional sports agency, the idea of making athletes perform game day preparation—as in setting up bleachers, merchandise booths, concession stands and more—may sound preposterous. Minnesota RollerGirls, however, has a completely different take on player participation. In order to become a member of the roller derby organization and compete in its monthly bouts, players are required to take on a league job.
As an example, when off the flat track, Jessica Sawicki is the RollerGirls’ public relations manager. But on bout nights, Sawicki becomes Hurtrude Stein, a 7-year RollerGirls veteran who plays at the blocker, jammer and pivot positions for the Atomic Bombshells. “There are a lot of different types of jobs,” Sawicki says. “There are people who do a lot of day-to-day admin stuff, like working on our website or our human resources committee, and others who may put their work in all the day before a bout.”
Altogether, some 100 skaters—about 20 players on the four teams and another 20 or so on the officials crew—hit the flat track each night while another 100 volunteers work security, the announcers booth, as mascots and other operations positions outside of the action. “The labor we do end up paying for is the Roy Wilkins professional staff who’ll work as ushers and in the box office and concession areas,” says Sawicki.
The largely volunteer effort is crucial to keeping costs down as much of the RollerGirls’ income comes from the 1,800 to 3,000 tickets it sells each bout during the six-month season. Ultimately, that money will go toward the organization’s four main costs: practice space, bout night expenses, travel for out-of-state events, and insurance. The rest of its income, Sawicki notes, is donated to the Ann Bancroft Foundation.
“It can be difficult at times when nobody is making any money doing this,” says Sawicki. “It’s a lot of work and sometimes I wonder if I want to keep doing it. But when we have our bouts and I look out to the crowd and I see all of the girls cheering for us and I look at all of the people that we make feel happy—it’s worth it to me.”