DeKALB – Bri Kness knew she wanted to be a Barbed Wire Betty from the time she attended the roller derby team’s first meeting in June of 2011.
“I liked the idea of the physicality of it,” Kness said. “I have always liked working out, and it just seemed like a different way to go about that. The opportunity to start something new in the community was also exciting.”
Kness and the rest of the Betties are preparing for their third “boot camp” to recruit and orient new members on Jan. 6 and 7.
The team is also raising funds to purchase a temporary floor that can be moved from venue to venue to protect a facility’s permanent flooring. The team practices three times a week at the Kishwaukee Family YMCA, but they do not have a local venue where they can host bouts.
“We’re really looking forward to bringing derby home to DeKalb County,” she said.
Kness met with MidWeek reporter Curtis Clegg to discuss what it means to be a Betty.
MidWeek: Are you one of the original Betties?
Bri Kness: Yes I am. I was at the first meeting.
MW: What is your role both on and off the track?
BK: Right now I am head of the training committee, and I have been doing that for about a year now. I’m a skater like everybody else when we skate, so I have done both blocking and jamming, and I have done pivot, so I have done all the roles.
MW: What is the mission of the team?
BK: A big part of our mission is to bring something positive to the community. We are big in doing community events. We have helped Feed’em Soup, we have helped out Barnes and Noble, and the community garden project. We really wanted to be a positive supporting force for women in the community. We want to promote fitness and health and safety.
MW: When you give presentations for elementary school girls, are they amazed at the things you do?
BK: Yes! Right now we are in talks with the Y to put on an open skate for kids in March. It would be for any age, and we’ll have a safety bit and we’ll teach kids how to skate safely. We’ll have some music and a good time. We have also been invited by the Y to be part of their kids fun fair in April. ...We’re hoping to eventually have a junior roller derby league.
MW: When will the team have a place to have bouts locally?
BK: Pretty much since we started a year-and-a-half ago, we have been trying to find that magical space here in DeKalb County, and we finally decided that we need to focus our efforts on fundraising for a (portable) floor, because a lot of buildings don’t know what our wheels will do to their flooring. I think we are about halfway to what we need to purchase our own floor. At that point, we’re hoping more opportunities will open themselves up to us once we have a floor that we can lay over an existing floor. We are talking to schools and warehouse owners, any big open space.
MW: What about roller derby appeals to skaters?
BK: I think what it has become to a lot of us, is it’s something for you. A lot of us are moms, a lot of us are wives, a lot of us have significant others, but this is something for yourself. I’m not Mom, I’m not wife, I am Brawl Burner when I am at derby. It’s something I do for me, although my family is super-involved to support me in this. It’s something very empowering for yourself, and it’s meeting great women in the community that you probably wouldn’t have met any other way because we’re all from such different backgrounds. It’s a great social opportunity and it’s a great workout opportunity.
MW: Do you form bonds with derby girls from other teams?
BK: From our very first practice we had guest skaters come help us, because none of us who started it had ever played before. Even though there are different leagues, derby is like one big family that supports each other to make this sport grow, because there aren’t owners and there isn’t a lot of money. We could ask the Rockford Rage or the 88s in Aurora or another team to send someone out to, say, help out with agility work. We’re competitors, but we support derby together.
MW: Where and when do the Betties practice?
BK: At the Y. We are officially a program of the Y, and they have been very supportive of us.
MW: If someone wanted to come to the boot camp or watch a practice, do they have to be a member of the Y?
BK: They do not. The Y is a membership organization but you can pay $10 for a guest pass for the two days (of the boot camp). The front desk has been great about letting people in to watch the Betties practice.
MW: I’m guessing that most women, after attending a boot camp, either love it or hate it.
BK: (Laughing) Yes. Most girls do come back. We don’t lose that many people between boot camp and fresh meat.
MW: What is fresh meat?
BK: Fresh meat is how the derby community refers to new skaters. After boot camp, we have two to three weeks before the start of our fresh meat program so people have time to get all their gear. Our fresh meat program is a 12-week program.
MW: Tell me about the boot camp coming up.
BK: This will be our third boot camp. It’s a Monday and Tuesday this year and it goes from 5 to 8 p.m. The purpose is to make women aware of the financial and time commitments, since we practice three times a week for two hours at a shot. There are meetings and events and all that, so we want people to have a really solid idea of the commitment they need to have. ...We will also demonstrate the kind of basic on-skate skills that they will need to learn and we’ll have a few jams to show what it looks like when it all comes together. That’s day one. Day two, they’ll come back and put on skates and we teach them the four basic stops and how to fall safely. We will also have one-on-one interviews with each person that is interested and there will be plenty of time for questions and answers. The last group of fresh meat graduates will also be there to answer questions.
MW: Do women need their own equipment for boot camp?
BK: We do have some donated equipment and a few skates, but it would be easier if they had their own skates. For boot camp, you can do blades or you can do quads, but you will need quads for fresh meat. We do have padding – knees, elbow, wrist guards, and a few helmets.
MW: Is there a cost for the boot camp?
BK: The boot camp itself is free.
MW: When is your next bout?
BK: Our next scheduled bout is in April in Beloit against the Beloit Bombshells, so we are looking forward to that.