Tradition, spirit, derby: Derby rolls into a family-friendly grocery store

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Epic moments in sports are no respecter of location or setting. Brightly lit stadiums filled to capacity, dusty summer sandlots in front of the whole neighborhood, back-alley blacktops hidden behind chain link fences — these are where the moments happen. In Spanish Fork, these moments happen inside an old, abandoned grocery store.

Better known as “The Hive” among fans and players, the hollowed-out Food 4 Less just off of I-15 hosts the Happy Valley Derby Darlins, Utah County’s first and only roller derby league and second home to BYU student and derby girl Rachel Loose.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve done in my life, but it’s also the most rewarding,” said Loose, a pre-illustration major from Tacoma, Washington. “We are just as much athletes as football players and soccer players are; we just have a different sport that’s kind of sub-mainstream.”

With scores reaching upwards of 200 points, this fast-paced sport reached its heyday during the late 1960s and early 1970s, according to Loose. Roller derby even garnered a national television audience, but as the sport began to decrease in popularity, gimmicks and excessive violence were introduced to try and maintain viewership until the fans eventually lost all interest.

“It became more like wrestling, where it began to be staged near the end of its life,” Loose said. “There were lots of fights, but when it was revived in 2005 they changed parts of the rules, and they decided to make it a legitimate sport. They wanted to be taken seriously.”

Loose got her first real glimpse of roller derby during the first Roller Derby World Cup of roller in March 2011. After streaming six hours of a live feed covering the event, she was hooked.

“I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to do this,’” she said. “’I have to find a place where I can do this.’”

She soon found her chance with The Happy Valley Derby Darlins, Utah County’s own flat track roller derby league.

The Happy Valley Derby Darlins (HVDD) was founded in 2011 by a group of women who wanted to bring the sport to Utah Valley. After a year of recruiting and organization, they formed two teams: the Sirens of Steel and the Rollin’ Rebellion. A travel team known as the Molly Morbids, containing experienced players from both teams, was later formed in order to compete with other teams in the western United States. An additional home team, named the Daughters of Anarchy, and an intermediate team called the Bridal Veil Dolls also currently participate in the league.

The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association and the HVDD have aimed to establish roller derby as a more serious sport than it was portrayed in the past. And while the HVDD still holds to the traditions of intimidating costumes and player monikers such as “BreakHer,” “Demoraliza” and Loose’s personal moniker, “Slamwise Gamgee,” spectators have discovered a surprisingly family-friendly sporting event.

“To be honest, my first impression of roller derby was from ‘Psych,’ and it was violent,” said Anissa Patter, a first-time vendor at The Hive, from Orem. “But once we got here and saw the place, we invited the whole family to come down next month. I have a three-year-old, and I would definitely bring him here!”

Rebecca Chappell, an elementary education major at BYU, said she also enjoyed the energy and sense of community in the venue.

“It kind of felt like a high school sporting event,” Chappell said.

Loose attributes the positivity found at the games and within the community to the kind nature of the women who participate.

“There’s such a sisterhood there,” she said. “They’re my family. It’s kind of like having a lot of extra sisters and moms.”

“There’s an old song called ‘Roller Derby Saved My Soul,’” Loose said. “I forget who it’s by, but roller derby has done a lot for me.”

The last game of the season is on Oct. 25 and has been declared the “Monster Bash: Vampires vs. Zombies” in honor of Halloween. The bout begins at 7 p.m. at costs of $5 online or $7 at the door. More information about the match and about the league can be found at happyvalleyderbydarlins.com.

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