Santa Cruz Derby Groms
The Gromshells, a team that is a part of the Santa Cruz Derby Groms. — submitted

Tucked away in a remote corner of Scotts Valley, kids ages seven to 17 can be found whipping around an indoor track, jamming and blocking their way through the rollerskating contact sport of roller derby with the Santa Cruz Derby Groms.

In the parlance of sports, the word “grom” is short for grommet and refers to a youngster who is über-passionate about surfing or skateboarding. 

But in the world of roller derby, that lingo is understood to mean youngsters who battle their way around the rink with unbridled strength and determination.

Anabelle Hardy and Isabella Bee Ducker, a pair of 11-year-old Santa Cruz natives, both started with the Grommets—a year-round training program focusing on the fundamentals of the sport.

Both girls agree they’re getting more out of the sport than they anticipated. 

“It’s just a great sport, and I love my community and my coaches,” Hardy said. “I think a lot of people enjoy becoming derby friends.”

Hardy, who identifies herself on the track as “Wrecking Belle,” has been skating for about six years, while Ducker (ZomBee) has been on wheels for five.

“We have some funny terms that we use,” Hardy said. 

Their efforts have landed them both on the Bumper Scars and Sugar Skulls teams. 

Once they reach the age of 12, Wrecking Belle and ZomBee are looking forward to the next level where they’ll play for the Lost Girls and Double Shots.

Despite their youth and petite sizing, both Hardy and Ducker try not to worry about injuries.

“In the back of our mind, we’re always kind of thinking about it,” said Ducker. 

Each full-contact team consists of 15 players, with five players (one jammer and four blockers) playing in each jam.

The first jammer that makes it through the wall of opposing blockers scores points, depending on how many people they pass in the process. While the sport itself is physically demanding, the players are outfitted in gear to make sure they stay safe with helmets, kneed and elbow pads, wrist guards and mouthpieces.

Led by coaches Shana Kerr (Ima Hotmess) and Chris Kerr (Neoscorin), the couple have poured their hearts into helping their group of groms grow into a force to be reckoned with.

Shana Kerr—president and head coach of the 150-person league—has been skating with Santa Cruz Roller Derby since 2012 and coaching since 2015.

By 2019, the number of younger players in derby had eclipsed the adults. 

The decision was made to break the youth group into its own entity, giving birth to the Santa Cruz Derby Groms, a nonprofit.

A year later, the team was hit hard by Covid-19 and many of the senior players aged out.

Chris Kerr said they’ve managed to bring up a whole new generation of very engaged, committed and skilled skaters. It helped the Groms rebound when the sport resumed in mid-2021.

“A lot of kids seemed to have picked up roller skating as a hobby during Covid, so we’ve had quite a few new skaters join our league—we’ve nearly doubled in size since May of 2020,” he said.

The Gromshells female division competitive charter team came out of the gate strong this year, and the Kerrs are looking forward to more wins in the year to come. 

“They have a legacy of success, and they’re ready to compete,” said Shana Kerr.

While roller derby was born in the 1930s on a banked track, its current iteration is played on a flat track. It forces players to work a little harder against gravity, and work hard they do.

This year, the Santa Cruz club has the receipts to prove it. 

With 80% new team members since the last championships in 2019, the Santa Cruz Derby Groms in July sent its all-female division Junior Roller Derby Association charter team (Gromshells) to the JRDA National Championships in Phoenix.

The girls came home with a silver medal. 

Chatting with an assortment of Scotts Valley-based groms, their enjoyment and excitement nearly bubble over when they talk about their teammates, their coaches, and the sport of roller derby in general.

“There are multiple things I love about this sport, and our coaches are amazing,” said Ducker. “They do so much for us, and the sense of community is great, but what I think is amazing is the awards that are given out at the end of the game.”

Teams distribute three awards (Most Valuable Blocker, Most Valuable Jammer, and Most Valuable Player) to the players on the opposing team, and vice-versa. 

“It’s a very fun sport, and no matter which team you’re on, you’ll feel at home,” Hardy said. 

Ducker added: “It’s a mostly feminine sport, and it makes you feel like a strong lady.”

The Gromshells’ players couldn’t agree more, including 15-year-old Shelby McConner (Curl Crusher) who’s been skating for seven years. She travels from San Jose to Scotts Valley for practice three times a week.

Evey Avila (Eve L Kneivel), 14, and has been skating for almost five years and Miel Ruckman, 16, has been skating for six years.

Ruckman is known on the track as Alice in Thunderland, but goes by the nickname Thunder and, like Avila, is from Santa Cruz.

The Gromshells are the league’s advanced team, which means plenty of travel for the players—Arizona, Colorado and Oregon to name a few—and an opportunity to coach the youngsters, as Avila does.

McConner said she appreciates the natural sisterhood that comes with the sport. 

“At the end of the day, we’re all family,” she said. “I joined derby because I felt like I didn’t really fit in anywhere else, and derby taught me how to be confident and a leader, and I carry that with me outside of the sport.”

Avila says the ability to shut out the troubles of the world and focus on the sport is something she really appreciates, and McConner agrees. 

“When you come to derby, all the team bonding makes you feel strong and confident,” McConner said. “And people should know, we hit hard.”

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Christina Wise covers politics, education, art & culture, and housing issues. She has a degree in Communication from San Diego State University, and has lived in the San Lorenzo Valley since 1996. She's a community advocate and a mother of two.


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