Roller Derby tournament wheels into Tulare

The V Town Roller Derby practice at the Visalia Boys & Girls Club in preparation for the Kaweah Kerfuffle.(Kason Clark)

V Town roller derby prepares to host a roller derby this weekend at the Agri-Center in Tulare; the local team faces some of the top teams in the North America West Division

VISALIA – Lace up your roller skates and fasten your helmets because the Kaweah Kerfuffle is coming to Tulare County this weekend. This Friday and Saturday at the International Agri Center in Tulare, V Town Roller Derby will host its first ever roller derby tournament. With a chance to host some of the best teams in their region, V Town Team President Michelle “Knuck-em-up” Goans and her team are excited to put on a show.

“This is huge for us. It’s the first time we’ve ever done this,” Goans said. “Being able to expand and grow as a team within the roller derby community is huge. I think a lot of teams that are well known became well known because they’re able to do things like tournaments so we’re really proud to be able to put something like this together.”

The tournament is sanctioned by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), which is rare in the Central Valley. With a chance to see what roller derby is all about, V Town players Karen “Lucky Eddie” Saldana and Lauren “Sunflower” McDaniel hope that locals will come out and enjoy the show.

“If people are interested in the sport, this is the highest level of the sport that they’ll probably see in this area,” Saldana said. “For Visalia, Tulare and the Central Valley, I don’t think that we’ve ever shown them this level of roller derby before.”

“It’s going to be a lot of fun and it’s a family friendly event,” McDaniel said.

The tournament will consist of six games through this Friday and Saturday. The games on Friday will be at 5:30 and 7:40 p.m. The games on Saturday will start at 9 a.m. and the last contest will start at 7 p.m. Pre-sale tickets are $20, with $40 for a full-weekend pass. Tickets are available at Tickets go up $5 at the door and kids under 10 will be allowed in for free.

(Kason Clark)

At the round-robin tournament, the V Town Roller Derby will face other teams such as Pikes Peak Roller Derby from Colorado Springs, Cherry City Roller Derby from Salem, Oregon and the Bakersfield Diamond Divas. These are some of the top teams in the North America West Division, which V Town is ranked 29th in out of about 80 total teams across the U.S.A., Canada and Mexico. It will be the last competition where the V Town Roller Derby can earn points towards their ranking. If they are ranked high enough, they might qualify for world rankings.

The tournament is a part of the V Town Roller Derby’s first full season since the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time period, the team suffered in numbers with several players retiring. But in the years since, the V Town Roller Derby has been able to grow their numbers and are now back in a groove this spring.

“It feels really great to get back into it and be able to be back on the track and be able to be around our fans again,” Goans said. “We’ve had great opportunities to grow and have probably doubled what we had numbers wise when we first came back from COVID.”

The V Town Roller Derby team was first established in 2008. Over the years, they have recruited through word of mouth, social media and going to local events to spread the word. V Town now has about 30 players on its roster with varying levels of roller derby experience.

Saldana has been competing in roller derby for 18 years and has been competing with V Town since 2017. Throughout the years, Saldana has seen the change and growth of roller derby. She plans on retiring from roller derby at the end of this season, but Saldana won’t forget the impact that roller derby has made on her life.

“It’s changed everything about my life. The confidence that I’ve gained from knowing what I can take and continue to take and to be able to get hit, stand back up and fight,” Saldana said. “It changed me. It taught me that I was smart because I know the rules and didn’t know that before. It’s taught me that I’m a leader, that I am a good role model, that people like me and want to be around me. I wouldn’t be the same person without 18 years of roller derby.”

McDaniel is one of the less experienced players on the V Town Roller Derby team as she has only been practicing with them for four and a half months. She discovered the team at Visalia Pride and decided to join the six-week beginners training course. Despite her short time with the team, McDaniel has already found community in roller derby.

“You build friendships,” McDaniel said. “I’ve been pretty busy raising children so it’s been really nice to come out with a group of peers and become an athlete. That’s been the best part and it’s just a great group of girls to be surrounded by.”

Along with creating those lifelong friendships with women from all walks of life, roller derby also gives you an avenue to vent any frustrations you have.

The V Town roller Derby team practice at the Visalia Boys & Girls Club. (Kason Clark)

“It’s a release of tensions in your personal life whether that be problems at work or if you’re stressed out with kids or relationships,” Saldana said. “You get to come here to people who take you at face value and you get to hit them, they get to hit you and then you get to high five each other afterwards and it’s great.”

Of course, that physicality might push people away from trying out for roller derby. But V Town Roller Derby will gladly accept people of any skill level and will take the time to teach them how to skate and how to play the game. V Town also takes the time to teach newcomers how to fall safely and they have players on the team who can give immediate medical aid in case of an injury.

“We take anybody at all skill levels. No matter where they’re at, we are happy to show them everything that they need to know,” Goans said. “We ease people into the physicality. We’re not going to have a player who has a lot of experience come in and hit somebody on their first day. We don’t put anybody in that position until they’re ready.”

And even if you don’t want to play at all, interested fans can get involved in roller derby in other ways. Because of her inexperience, McDaniel will not be competing for V Town in their tournament this weekend. But she will help in other ways to keep the event going. And for those who will be competing this weekend, they believe interested fans should come out to this weekend’s tournament to be a part of the community and just have a fun time.

“It’s going to be a great time to come and see something a little different that you might not see every day,” Saldana said. “Kids love to come out and see roller derby.”

“It’s so important being able to be a part of your local community and everybody on this team is a part of the Central Valley community,” Goans said. “We do everything that we can to be a part of this community. We go out to events and we donate to local organizations so we want others to participate with us being a part of the community.”

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