Sixteen people signed up for the Hel'z Belles roller derby eight-week training course during a meet-and-greet at Ten Mile Creek Brewery on Sunday. The significant interest in the rough-and-tumble sport had Laura "Sherley Temper" Sherley, Paige "404 Not Found" O'Neill and Sara Feilzer excited for the upcoming derby season.
You don't need to have prior experience in roller derby to get started, Sherley said. She has been a blocker/jammer with the team for more than three years. "We take you as you come, there is always a place for anybody in derby," she said.
Sherley said the team gets many women who have never even been on a pair of skates before. That's where they eight-week "Fresh Meat" training camp comes in. The Hel'z Belles take newbies under their wings and first teach them how to skate and fall safely. Falling is inevitable in a contact sport like roller derby, and the Belles want to make sure their new players don't get seriously injured.
After the fresh meat course, an additional two weeks of "White Star" training takes place. Here the Belles teach recruits the finer aspects of the sport. Recruits who pass this test can then practice with the team. The final test is the "Belle test," if a recruit passes this then they are a trainee no more and can actively participate in live competition.
A data analyst by day, Michelle Vered had just signed up for this tough training regiment and was excited to get to practice. Vered previously competed in ice skating as a young woman and wanted to get involved in a new sport. She said an out-of-town friend competes in derby, making her aware of the sport. "It always seemed like fun," she said. When she saw the recruitment poster, she jumped at the chance to sign up.
"Derby is one of the few sports for adult women," Vered said, excited to be a part of the sport.
O'Neill went through last year's training course. "I had always wanted to do it, but never had the time," she said. Once O'Neill started working at the Grandstreet Theatre, she had more free time on her hands.
"I figured eight weeks to try it out was a great 'might as well' moment," O'Neill said.
What O'Neill found was a welcoming community of women that made her want to stick with the team. "Everyone involved was so nice and accepting," she said. "Regardless of what you wanted to do."
Competing as part of the team isn't the only roll in the Hel'z Belles organization. Feilzer started out doing the fresh meat training last year, but couldn't complete it because "life kept getting in the way."
However, due to a love for the sport and community surrounding it, Feilzer remained involved. She eventually landed a spot on the Hel'z Belles decision-making board and became a nonskating official for the competitions.
"I don't think I've ever met a group of women so positive who are dedicated to making you the best you can be," Feilzer said. "They are just so encouraging."
Sherley said roller derby is an all-inclusive sport. Of the 16 individuals who signed up, one was a man interested in officiating competitions. Everyone is invited to participate in some way or another. Sherley mentioned that although competition is for adults ages 18 and older, younger people who are interested can still practice and hang out with the Belles.
The Hel'z Belles was founded approximately nine years ago, bringing the sport of roller derby to Helena. Sherley now finds herself being one of the more veteran members of the team. Many of the founding members have moved on or retired from the sport.
"I had never done something with this skill set," Sherley said. "It terrified me, but I wanted to try it. So I forced myself to try it for a year and I fell in love."
Though roller derby may have disappeared prior to the new millennium, the sport has old-school ties to Helena. Leo Seltzer, generally credited as the sport's creator, was born in Helena — a fact that the Hel'z Belles love to share as part of the sport's long history.
Sherley encourages anyone interested in roller derby to reach out to the Hel'z Belles. Regardless of skill level, the Belles work with recruits to shape them into derby competitors.