A New Version of Meals on Wheels

Athol Daily News, April 15, 2017

By Mary C. Barclay

Gardner- More than 80 people were in attendance recently– a number of them on roller skates– at the Fraternal Order of Eagles Club in Gardner for the Bay State Brawlers Roller Derby league’s third annual Chili Cook-off. The largest fundraising event of the year, the event helps defray expenses of this up-and-coming sport, and gives a whole new meaning to “meals on wheels.”

Eighteen slow-cooker pots of chili- ranging from classic chili con carne to vegetarian- were simmering on tables along an entire wall of the Eagles pool hall. Accoutrements like shredded cheese, chopped onion, hot sauce, and tortilla chips were at the ready. This year’s cook-off brought in $1,300 to defray expenses like practice space rent, accident insurance (have you SEEN these women compete?!) and uniforms.

When all was said and done, the crowd voted the following the top three chili cooks as their favorites: The first place chili went to Carl Peterson of Nashua, NH. He won $100 for his entry. Rob Suwinski’s chili earned second place, along with a $50 prize, which was accepted by Liz “Breakneck Bambi” Suwinksi of Boston. Third place went to Stephanie Hart of Gardner for her contribution. Each winner also received two season tickets to 2017 BSB bouts.

The growth of the sport has been phenomenal, and claims to be “the fastest-growing sport in the world!” Just one women’s flat track roller derby league existed in 2001. By 2005, there were 50, and by 2010, 470. It was estimated that in 2014 that more than 1,300 women’s flat track roller derby leagues were in existence. The United States presently has about 390 leagues.

The Bay State Brawlers Roller Derby is a nonprofit organization in its sixth season and a proud member of the Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association (WFTDA) consisting of two travel teams. The “Punishers” is an internationally-ranked WFTDA charter team, and the “Brawlin’ Broads” is locally recognized, highly competitive “B Team.” Both teams are comprised of dedicated athletes from across the state, including three skaters from Athol and one who was raised in Royalston.

The training is both physically challenging and rigorous. Brawlers are committed to the safety of their players, officials and fans, and are dedicated to promotion of a quality sport. The group values hard work, open communication and friendly competition.

BSB is always on the lookout for businesses and individuals to help support the league. Just last year, it cost the league a little less than $25,000 to operate, nearly 75 percent of which went to rental fees for practice space and game venues. Other major expenses include league membership to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association  (the international roller derby governing body) and insurance.

Investments are also made on supplies to host bouts, and to make the experience a great ones for fans. Basic expenses include the track, programs and a scoreboard, as well as promotional expenses like fliers and online advertisements for games.

Unless provided through the generosity of a sponsor, each skater will pay for her own equipment and jerseys. The Brawlers keep gently used gear on hand for interested new skaters, so everyone afford to give it a try. The Brawlers are thankful for the sponsorship of “The Bruised Boutique” in Nashua, N.H., which provides affordable gear packages for new skaters and offers a league discount.

Sponsors can also provide a space or money toward space rental, “in kind” services, contributions toward bout production, and can “adopt” individual skaters, helping them defray the costs of the sport. Monthly dues run $45 per skater per month. Uniforms and equipment cost about $200 to get started. Expenses for replacement wheels, mandatory helmets, mouth guards and pads, and upgrades for equipment vary widely depending on time on wheels and skater preferences.

New members do not need to know how to skate; skating lessons, overall sport-specific physical conditioning and coaching are all provided. Members come from a wide array of social and work backgrounds, and any women interested are invited to explore and develop their strengths as skaters. New skater programs are generally conducted three times throughout the year.

For information on upcoming bouts, sponsor opportunities, or on giving the sport of roller derby a try, email info@baystatebrawlers.com.