HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The Harrisburg Area Roller Derby (HARD) has been bringing together roller derby enthusiasts and representing the capital city since 2006. They compete as part of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), which was created in 2004, as one of the early members of the league.
“It is a lot more legit than I think a lot of people think of when they think of roller derby,” said Kat Fyte, the 2023 public relations chair of HARD. “I think that the idea or the expectation is the roller derby of the 1970s that you would see on TV that was much more like pro wrestling, but it is very much more of a structured sport.”
Roller derby bouts involve five skaters from two teams competing on a single track. There are four blockers on each team and one jammer. The object is for the jammers to try and get past the opposing teams’ blockers. It requires blockers to play both offensively as they try to get their jammer through and defensively as they try to block the other team’s jammer.
There is also a pivot, who is one of the blockers, who is able to score points for their team as well.
HARD started competitive play in March this year and this is the first season any teams in the WFTDA have been able to compete in sanctioned bouts since COVID in 2020. They played regulation games prior to this season, but now their bouts count towards their rankings.
So far this season HARD has gone 5-1 in sanctioned bouts.
“We’re having an awesome season,” said Mare of Beasttown, vice president of the league and the chair of bout production. “Our team has been just really improving, working together, strategizing, and growing a lot this year.”
HARD is open to anyone. They hold recruitment nights a few times a year where people can come out and learn about HARD. If they decide they want to join they are put through the “Fresh Meat” program for at least 12 weeks. There, participants are taught the basics of roller derby and how to be safe on the track.
After passing the program and proving they meet the minimum skill requirements, the “fresh meat” are certified receive their name, and are eligible to compete.
“It’s a rite of passage and something people are always really excited about, especially as they’re getting closer, trying to come up with lists of names, getting people to help them,” Beast said. “Most of us don’t know each other’s actual names because we use our derby names.”
The team practices twice a week and consists of an A team and a B team. There are currently about 60 skaters in HARD, but only so many skaters can compete at each bout. For example, if they have a doubleheader only 15 skaters can compete per competition. The skaters chosen for each sanctioned bout are picked by the coaches based on how much work skaters are putting in and what abilities they have shown to the coaches.
All skaters have to work together to make HARD happen and for bouts to take place because it is completely run by the athletes themselves.
“There’s so much that happens behind the scenes that I think spectators don’t recognize,” Fyte said. “We are a league that is for skaters by skaters. It is a completely volunteer league.”
On game days the team is at the rink hours before the bout. They lay down the track tape, put out the chairs and benches, set up the official’s area and the ticket window, and more to set the stage.
“It is a full team effort before we even step on the floor to skate,” Beast said. “We are all working to get the show on the road.”
The community that the skaters have gained from being a part of HARD and the ability to compete in a sport they love makes the hard work worth it according to Fyte and Beast.
Fyte joined HARD after going to a recruiting event in May of 2019. While she was bartending in downtown Harrisburg her manager at the time, Eternal Damnation, was a “roller derby girl” and introduced Fyte to others in the scene as well.
However, it wasn’t until Fyte’s high school best friend encouraged her to go to recruitment night that Fyte made the leap to join HARD.
“It was really the inspiration of the people that I met outside derby and just their resiliency, their entire attitude that they had toward everything else and the fact that they were able to play this sport, and they created such lifelong friendships through it,” Fyte said. “That really inspired me to get into the sport.”
Beast also became hooked to HARD after a recruitment event. Beast saw an advertisement for the event and decided to try it out to possibly meet others. Beast was new to Harrisburg and knew no one in the community at the time.
“I had no intention or inkling that I was going to join . . . here I am two plus years later and I just cannot imagine my life without it.”
Beast said that joining HARD has changed her life.
“We are a family like this is my family here and I just can’t imagine had I not gone to that recruitment night where I would be right now,” Beast said.
HARD is a melting pot of people according to Kat and Beast. There are mothers like Fyte, recent high school graduates, veteran skaters, and people who first put on skates a year ago. The age range is huge with athletes from 19 to those in their late 50s.
“There’s really great mentorship on the team, so just because someone’s more experienced doesn’t mean they’re going to treat the newer skater any differently,” Beast said. “We all started somewhere, and we all want to be bringing out the best in each other as a team.”
HARD competes with many local teams such as Reading Roller Derby and Schuylkill County Scream Queens and the HARD athletes are grateful that the area is so rich for roller derby.
“Within three hours we have a lot of teams that we have the opportunity to play, which is not the case for everyone around the globe, and we have really great relationships with those teams,” Beast said.
HARD just competed with the Scream Queens on Sept. 17. Their next game will be on Oct. 14 in an away bout against the Dutchland Derby Rollers. HARD will be back in Harrisburg on Nov. 5 to take on Wilkes-Barre Scranton Roller Derby. Their final bout of the season will be Nov. 19.
Fyte noted that they are always recruiting. Both Fyte and Beast always encourage anyone interested in roller derby to come try it with them at a recruiting event or to attend one of their bouts.