KINGSPORT — The Little City Roller Girls have taken their fair share of bumps and bruises over the years.
Now, the ladies are facing one of their hardest hits yet.
Coach Jacob Vitums told the Times-News last week the Little City Roller Girls — the Tri-Cities’ only roller derby team — are in need of a place to call home.
“We were originally in the Johnson City skating rink and the rent became too high, so we had to leave,” Vitums explained. “We’ve had some transitory periods where we were in a warehouse, but that ended up falling through. Then we found a skate owner in Marion, Va., but going back and forth was taking a toll on our team.”
Eventually, the girls were approached last year by a skating rink owner in Bristol who let the team practice and compete. However, as bad luck would have it for Little City, the skating rink owner ended up losing the property because of unpaid taxes and bills.
“We were homeless again,” Vitums said. “We tried to approach the Marion owner again, but that can’t be a permanent solution. We have to have something in the Tri-Cities where we can recruit and build up our numbers.”
The Little City Roller Girls were founded about 10 years ago and are part of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, a worldwide organization with nearly 400 full-member teams and 50 apprentice leagues.
Hundreds of leagues can be found all around the world and are typically dominated by all-female teams.
Gone are the days of scripted bouts. Roller derby today is a contact sport played between two teams of five members skating around a flat track. Game play consists of a series of short match-ups (jams), where both teams designate a jammer who scores points by lapping members of the opposing team.
Each team attempts to hinder the opposing jammer while assisting its own jammer, thus playing both offense and defense at the same time.
Heather Justis, or “White Rushin” when on the track, is the president of the Little City Roller Girls and has been competing with the team the past seven years. In that time, both of Justis’ children had E. coli, her husband was deployed, she was in a motorcycle wreck and just this past week, her mother passed away.
“Little City has been with me literally through everything the past seven years,” Justis said. “We go beyond the track. We’re sisters, brothers, best friends and family. When we say that, I can’t stress enough how true that is. It’s not just coming and skating.”
At its apex, the team had more than 40 skaters and volunteers among its ranks, ranging in age from 18 to 50. At one time, Little City even had a juniors team. Today, due to numerous relocations, the team has only 14 members who are committed to the league. When traveling back and forth to Marion to train, Little City had as few as seven members, Vitums said.
“It’s a big time commitment for people,” Vitums said. “Eighty to 90 percent of the women on the team are mothers, so while they can afford to come to a three-hour practice somewhere in the Tri-Cities, adding two more hours on to that (traveling to and from Marion), that was a pretty big chunk of their day.”
What Little City is looking for is practice space for lease, rent or an in-kind sponsorship tradeoff. Ideally, the team would like have 10,000 to 15,000 square feet of space with a concrete or wooden floor, either smooth or polished. For practice space, only about 5,000 to 6,000 square feet would be needed.
That would give Little City just enough space for a track and a place to put their gear, Vitums said.
“We’re getting a few interests, people calling us here and there. But they want $2,000 to $3,000 a month, and it’s not in our budget,” Vitums said. “We’d like somebody to take chance on us, give a discount for a while until we can build our numbers up.”
Anywhere in the Tri-Cities would work, although someplace centrally located for most of the skaters on the Little City team would be the most beneficial, Vitums said. He believes that Little City’s being a nonprofit organization could also help sway someone to come forward with a financially reasonable offer to give the team a place to call home.
Vitums and Justis are both hopeful someone will step up and help the team.
“It’s more than just a sport people do occasionally,” Vitums said. “It’s a lifestyle, a family and a community. It’s a place people can come and be themselves.”
For more information about the team visit www.littlecityrollergirls.com.