A ‘Barbarian Librarian’
Monterey bookkeeper joins the rollicking (and growing) local roller derby circuit.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Like all librarians, Kim Smith hits the books. Unlike other bookworms, she hits other things too. Like other women. While flying around on roller skates.
“The power of being able to knock someone over appealed to me,” she says about her passion for roller derby. “It is empowering for women.”
Smith has worked at Monterey Public Library for the four years and skated with the Harbor Hellcats in Santa Cruz for 12 months. As one of four blockers on the rink at a time, she shoves the other team out of the way so her “jammer” can squeeze through and score a point. As she does, the standard sold-out crowd of around 1,200 stands ups and celebrates.
“It is overwhelming,” Smith says. “There are so many people cheering.”
Three years ago, she saw the San Francisco Derby Girls – and that Santa Cruz Derby Girls were holding tryouts.
“All the girls seemed so cool and I thought, ‘Can I really hang out with them?’ Smith says with a laugh. “I hadn’t really skated since pre-school, but still wanted to go for it.”
A long first practice immediately tested her mettle.
“I was ready to cry, but the girls were really supportive,” she says. “Everyone remembers the first time, so the team’s compassionate to new skaters.”
Last season Smith’s coworker Katie Schwirze took her daughters to a bout – watching blockers like Smith deploy everything from slingshot moves to locked arm walls to advance their jammer and slow down the opponent’s. (Almost everything goes on the rink – though tripping and malicious shoves are illegal.)
“Kim had been raving about how great it was, so we went and there was all this girl power,” says Schwirze. “It is great to see girls be involved in a sport where they are not afraid to be brave and strong.”
Her daughters even dressed up as derby girls for Halloween, making costumes and coming up with their own derby names and homemade jerseys. Sophia, 12, was Made Ja Look and Ella named herself Silent but Deadly. The enthusiasm didn’t end there: They bought skates the next week.
Schwize has noticed changes in Smith, too. “Ever since Kim found derby, she has just lit up inside,” Schwize says. “She has that spark for it, and even now at the library, she has a touch of derby in her, like wearing striped socks.”
On the library floor, Smith helps patrons find books at the reference desk, but on the track, she earns her moniker: The Barbarian Librarian.
The first name she wanted, The Dewey Decimator, was already taken – every name has to be registered with the International Registry of Derby Names in order not to have duplicates – so Smith had to find another. Smith adorns her jersey with the number 020.9, the Dewey decimal code for books about libraries and librarians.
Names aren’t the only thing that skaters use to individualize themselves. Striking colors adorn hair, helmets and skates. Smith’s teammate Pippi Hardstocking rocks red pigtails to match her bright freckles. Snarls Darwin’s name pays homage to her background in “super biology nerd studies” as an undergrad at UC Santa Cruz.
Like Smith, Darwin cannot get enough of it. “It is awesome that there is a sport that lets girls knock each other around,” she says.
The fans are feeling it. Outside the Civic Auditorium, a line of spectators holding banners for their favorite players (and ranging from children to grandparents) wraps around the block.
“We watched one game last year and then bought season tickets,” Santa Cruz’s Zac Reynolds says. “That’s a testament to the sport.”
Reynolds’ friend Robin Dodd, a Salinas resident, is even more enthusiastic. “This is the best sport ever invented,” he says. “You get to have a beer and watch a bunch of tattooed, really hot girls on rollerskates race around a track and mess each other up.”
A Monterey County woman similarly loved the league, but not the commute to Santa Cruz – especially as a single parent and Seaside firefighter – so she’s starting Monterey Bay Derby Dames.
“Seeing anything at all about derby drives me nuts,” Celeste Sippel says. “I love it. I was jealous when I watched, because I wanted to skate too.”
Sippel says her kids are into it. The family skates at Del Monte Gardens in Monterey a few times every week.
“My daughter’s asking when I’ll start a team for young girls,” she says.