Whidbey Island Roller Derby has begun its first fully fledged season since the pandemic shut them down in 2020 and the head coach thinks that’s movie worthy.
Nic “Kay Oss” O’Neill, who has been in the league for 11 years, is currently filming a documentary about the team. The film, she said, will be about the heart and soul of the team, not its path to glory or a championship game.
“Our goal has nothing to do with the scoreboard,” O’Neill said. “It’s going to be a different tally of how we calculate our wins and losses and that’s what I think really speaks to the heart of our league. It’s not a trophy.”
For Whidbey Island Roller Derby, accomplishing personal and team goals is more important than winning or national rankings, O’Neill said. The documentary will explore how the team rediscovered this idea after the COVID-19 pandemic – which has changed the league, seemingly for the better. O’Neill said that this year, athletes are more relaxed and more focused on having fun.
She started filming back in November and will cover the entirety of the 2023 season. This year, over half the team had never played in a game before. They still managed to win their first bout earlier this month.
O’Neill plans to capture the progress of the players, their ups and downs and the commitment that goes into being a derby athlete. Last weekend, they traveled all the way to Pullman in Eastern Washington for a game.
She wants to showcase the reason team members continue to play for Whidbey Island Roller Derby, even if they could qualify for top level teams in Seattle.
“We keep having people want to come back and stay with our team even though we’re this small little team out on Whidbey Island,” she said.
So far, O’Neill has done most of the filming but is hoping to expand the crew in the next couple of months to capture more intimate scenes, she said. She’s interviewing current and past players, as well as the original founder of the league. The team was formed back in 2010. O’Neill said she will also focus on community partnerships the league has, in particular with James Croft, owner of the Roller Barn, the historic structure where the team practices.
The film won’t all be highlights and glory, however.
“It’s been a learning process, so just really being open and honest about some of the stuff we’ve had to deal with,” she said.
Megan “Kirbo Charged” Speece began playing for Whidbey Island Roller Derby last April and had a rough introduction to the sport. She was a member of the first post-pandemic boot camp, the months-long program that new players must complete. Speece was hesitant to try roller derby at first.
“I bruise like a peach and cry over everything,” she said with a laugh.
O’Neill assured her that everyone on the team could relate to that statement. Roller Derby athletes may have a reputation for being tough, but that doesn’t mean they’re immune to pain and emotion.
At Speece’s first game, due to a miscommunication, Whidbey Island Roller Derby ended up playing a higher-ranking team instead of a beginner team as they were supposed to.
“Unfortunately, I had to see what the inside of an ambulance looks like in my very first game,” Speece recalled.
Despite that, both women said that the full contact sport is not as violent as people think.
“Yes, there are instances of aggressiveness and violence and those tend to get the most eyes, and that’s what people associate with it,” O’Neill said. “Does that define the whole sport? No.”
“Our goal is never to go out and hurt another person,” Speece added.
O’Neill said their team, in particular, keeps violence at a minimum and tends not to play other teams that have a reputation for playing rough.
O’Neill’s goal is to finish the film by October or November of this year.
Whidbey Island Roller Derby is extremely welcoming to newcomers, according to organizers. Anyone who is interested in the sport is encouraged to attend a boot camp where newcomers to roller derby and skating practice a couple times a week. There are two boot camps a year, in the spring and fall.
Whidbey Island Roller Derby’s next home game is from 6-8 p.m. on April 29 at the Oak Harbor High School Fieldhouse.