When it comes to women on roller skates bumping and bruising each other around the Bay Area, Jennifer Banks saw a void — and an opportunity — in the Tri-Valley.
So she started the Golden State Roller Girls, a Pleasanton-based roller derby league for women looking for a chance to compete and get out some aggressions.
After her mother passed away in August, “I knew I needed an outlet,” said Banks, a Dublin resident and former roller derby competitor. “I thought, ‘You know, maybe I can get some girls together and skate.’ It’s grown from there. One step at a time, though.”
The team launched in February and has been growing since. But the start-up process is presenting some challenges, including recruiting enough women to field a team and getting the money to run a league. The Roller Girls have to rent a practice facility and advertise to get the word out about the team.
Each league fields multiple teams with different skill levels, each of which competes against teams from leagues in other areas.
There are about a dozen Roller Girls, though that number fluctuates, what with newcomers and those who put on skates but decide a full-contact sport on wheels is not their thing.
“When you put a bunch of women together, it’s a challenge,” Banks said. “When you’re trying to build a team and you have all these strong personalities, it’s really tough. Because derby girls are really mentally tough."
There are roller derby leagues for men and women, but the sport has gained considerably more traction among women in recent years. Its popularity has fluctuated since its first incarnation in the 1920s. After a down period for the last couple of decades, roller derby has exploded recently, with teams popping up all around the world, including eight teams in the greater Bay Area.
That includes the Tri-Valley team, but before they can compete, the Roller Girls need more teammates. A roller derby team needs 20 members on its roster to take part in bouts. Some teams have up to 80 women in their organizations, many of whom don’t get the chance to compete or, if they do, it’s on teams that aren't ready for the big time.
For now, the Tri-Valley team is eight short of a full roster but could use dozens of skaters. Banks said she expects about 15 more women to come out for the team this month.
If its Facebook page (more than 760 "likes") is any indication, there's some interest.
“Those girls are out there,” said Roller Girl member Lindsay Martens, 28. “We just have to find them.”
Martens, who lives in Alameda, is a wife, a mother of two and holds down a full-time job. Despite an already-busy life, she said she joined the Roller Girls because she is a fan of the sport and needed an outlet.
“It’s the first thing I’ve done for myself in eight years,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, but I recommend it.”
Martens said that in recruiting women for the team, she finds that many are intimidated by the idea of jumping into a sport they have never tried.
That didn’t stop Selene Bazarnick, 28, of Livermore. Though she grew up roller skating, she said she had never tried roller derby before joining the team earlier this year.
“I wanted to do something a little brutal and new,” Bazarnick said. “I’m so new to this sport it’s like I’m building from the ground up.”
The team’s infant stage is evident in its members, some of whom are learning basic skating skills such as speeding up, slowing and turning.
Experience levels range from that of Courtney Hendrix, 26, of Alameda, who competed on a roller derby team for about six months, to Renee Henderson, a 46-year-old school teacher from Hayward who just started last week.
“I realized I should do this before I get too old,” said Henderson, adding that she has been having a blast practicing with the team. “Even when I fall it’s awesome.”
The team is so new that some of its members have yet to anoint themselves with derby names, those light-hearted yet slightly macabre monikers that they go by in bouts.
Derby names, which are registered in an international database, must be unique. Banks goes by Jennifer Love Screw-It, derived from the name of actress Jennifer Love-Hewitt.
The website twoevils.org lists all registered names, including War Diva, Sweet Misery and Shirley Temple of Doom. And those are some of the tamer ones.
The team, which requires its members be at least 21, practices three times a week on the outdoor, cement roller hockey court at Pleasanton’s Val Vista Community Park, off the Interstate 680 Stoneridge Drive exit.
The cost is $65 a month plus skates and safety gear, including helmet, knee pads and a mouth guard.
Because of her experience, Hendrix, a student at San Francisco State University, runs practices as the de facto coach.
“I’m seeing improvement every week,” she said. “I’m feeling pretty positive that we’re going to make it work.”