Photo by Danny Ngan
How painted track lines for roller derby in Seattle’s community centers came to reality.
By Amy Davis, PFM Roller Derby Leadership
Roller Derby in Seattle was facing a critical situation that was threatening its future in this beautiful city. I spoke with Amy Davis of the Potential Fresh Meat (PFM) roller derby team, this is their story.
In January 2018, PFM moved into Magnuson Community Center after 3 months of discussions and planning with the Magnuson Community Center Coordinator and Assistant Coordinator. These discussions included asking for painted lines, being denied, but compromising on tape after they watched roller derby and saw how integral the lines are to playing the sport, as is normal with sports that utilize lines. Magnuson staff tested the tape before we applied it. It was paid for and laid down by PFM and stayed down for 9 months, until the floor’s regular refinishing. At that time, PFM pulled the tape up ourselves. There was zero damage but there was some sticky residue, which was insignificant since the floor was scheduled to be stripped and refinished. The floors were refinished with zero issue noted or shared with PFM. Prior to refinishing, we had again asked to have our lines painted on and were denied for a second time. Once the new finish was completed, we scheduled with the new Community Center Coordinator, our second one, to reapply our taped track. We asked how long the floor needed to cure and they said they would ask the maintenance department and get back with us. The answer from Seattle Parks and Recreation’s (SPR) maintenance was 3 weeks. After 3 weeks of cure time, PFM purchased tape and laid a new track for the second time.
PFM’s Dilemma with Seattle Parks and Recreation
On March 27, 2019, PFM was suddenly notified by email that our taped track was to be removed as soon as possible, we would be charged for any damages, and we were to use cones to play roller derby. The Parks Planned Maintenance Manager also said that a discussion about “if roller skating in locations with hardwood flooring should happen” was needed. At this point we were on our third Community Center Coordinator and second Assistant Coordinator and were dealing with a host of other issues related to such a large staffing turnover.
On April 1, PFM sent out an emergency email requesting SPR to support the only roller derby track in the city! We stated the chain of events that had led us to this place, that losing lines would effectively stop our sport and programs, that we were the only program there servicing women and the LGBTQ community, that there are painted lines for sports not even being played, that roller skating has been done for 40 years in one SPR location on a wooden floor and 20 years in a second under the same circumstances, that wood floors are indeed what most roller rinks are made of, and that roller derby had been in Seattle community centers for 10 years; so why were we being discriminated against? They replied that they were “in the process of gathering additional information to provide a more complete answer”.
On April 18, SPR staff responded that the tape had not been elevated high enough through management for approval and thus we needed to remove it, and we were advised to use cones to play roller derby. A list of highly questionable reasons for why the tape needed to be removed were included – we chose not to argue those points. SPR originally scheduled a meeting to discuss how to remove the tape “while also supporting our use needs” on May 7 but missed the meeting and eventually rescheduled to May 21. In the interim, we started planning for how to keep our lines, as they are of the utmost importance.
PFM’s Realization of the Need for Action
At this point PFM understood we were in imminent danger of losing the solitary track in the city and felt discriminated against. We also felt that the entire roller derby situation in the city was highly inequitable. PFM realized, at that time, we were one of six leagues (Rat City Roller Derby, Seattle Derby Brats, Rainier Roller Girls – now Rainier Roller Riot, Tilted Thunder Railbirds, and Puget Sound Outcasts) forced into the city’s community centers due to the rising cost of living in the City of Seattle. Roller derby had been practicing in community centers for 10 years (One World Roller Derby 10 years ago first introduced roller derby in our community centers, helping to pave the way for the rest of us to even be able to skate on those floors, many community centers across the country ban skates outright due to misinformed fear) and it was long past time we got lines painted. This was clearly the only compromise to be made if tape was no longer allowed—but we also knew the staff we had been dealing with at Magnuson could not make this decision and seemed unwilling to escalate the matter within the city. After all, we had asked for painted lines twice been denied twice, and the staff did not seem too concerned at all about the demand from maintenance that our tape be removed. As it was SPR that had been denying paint and was now demanding we remove the only track in the city, we felt we needed to go above SPR—and since the request for paint would benefit the entire roller derby community, we began to represent all of Seattle’s Roller Derby Community. This was a natural role to step into for PFM; as the training and recreation league, we have always worked with and had deep connections to all the local leagues. Our PFM Core members skate simultaneously for many other leagues in the city, thus even within Core we cover many leagues. We knew that we would need City support to pressure SPR into doing the right thing. We came up with a very simple two-part ask: 1) for roller derby lines in the community centers that have roller derby to be painted during the floors’ regularly scheduled refinishing to save on cost and displacement from the gym for other sports, and 2) until that time temporary taped tracks for roller derby be allowed so we may play our sport. This is simply asking for what other sports have, nothing extra, just focusing on equity.
Gathering Support and Spreading Awareness
We quickly realized we had to educate everybody, including Commissioners and SPR staff, on the difference between being able to play roller derby with lines and just rolling around and practicing with no lines. People had a very hard time differentiating between the two initially, especially since roller derby had been in community centers for 10 years, and little had been said previously about the need for lines.
On April 5, we reached out to The Stranger, and together with Rainier Roller Derby, had an article written on the state of roller derby in community centers in Seattle.
On April 18, we went to the LGBTQ Commission to request a letter of support for painted lines. Together we came up with the following letter of support that was sent to the Mayor, City Council, and SPR Superintendent. The LGBTQ Commission noted that we were not the first LGBTQ sport to be pushed around by SPR and they had no intention of letting roller derby go the same way in our public spaces. This was about more than lines for them too, but for all of us about equity in sports.
On May 15, PFM requested a letter of support from the Magnuson Community Center Advisory Council, and they voted to provide one.
On May 17, we contacted the Women’s Commission—our sport is 95% women. Both Rainier Roller Girls and PFM Roller Derby requested support of our plan with the LGBTQ Commission.
The Commission Administrator took a bit of time with PFM to help direct us beyond the Women’s Commission and to garner the support of all the commissions under the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) since together they are more of a political force. We attended the Women’s Commission meeting and they agreed to sign on to the letter of support from the LGBTQ Commission. They also approved us to sign their support onto other letters in support of our cause.
On May 20, PFM went to the Community Involvement Commission to ask them for a letter of support. They wrote their own version and sent it to everyone from the Mayor down.
On May 21, PFM met with staff from our community center about scheduling a date to remove our tape. We met with our new Community Center Coordinator, the Assistant Community Center Coordinator, their immediate boss, and the Recreation Deputy Director. At this point we explained that the issue was much larger than PFM Roller Derby and Magnuson Community Center, but that we had elevated it to be all of Seattle roller derby in all of Seattle’s community centers. We explained that we realized this was not a decision that could be made with the people in the room, so we were taking the matter to the City to get support. We asked that they not remove our lines until directed by either the Mayor, the City Council, or the SPR Superintendent. After reading the letter of support from the LGBTQ Commission, they agreed they would wait until hearing anything further before removing our tape.
On May 23, PFM went before the Board of Park Commissioners and Joint Park District Oversight Commission. When asking the Superintendent about creating a process for requesting such things as painted lines, as opposed to us running around creating chaos, he said that what we’ve been doing is the process… okay, then; we kept up with it.
PFM went before the Board of Park Commissioners and Joint Park District Oversight Commission on many occasions through the months of May, June, July, and August. We would remind them we were there, update them as to new support for our cause, and eventually thank them for SPR’s support.
From mid-May to June we reached out to the entire roller derby community and asked the constituents to write letters asking for line equity. We offered a form letter, talking points, and email addresses. We got a great response and many letters were sent out with personal thoughts on why the city should support us and why we should have lines for roller derby. During the summer we also shared many public social media polls set up by SPR to help them hear our community’s voice.
On May 29, Council Member Lisa Herbold sent a reply to her constituents. She happened to oversee both the Women’s and LGBTQ Commissions (who had both previously voted to support us). She was very positive about learning more about roller derby and the issues that we face.
On June 6, the SPR Superintendent replied to these emails. We were not pleased with their response. Questioning gym floor use, questioning if we fit into programming, and saying that they would look nationally to see what others were doing… As many roller derby leagues speak to each other, we were already very aware of the discrimination nationally against roller derby leagues being able to skate on community center floors, let alone getting lines painted on them.
The LGBTQ Commissioners got more assistance from the Office of Civil Rights, as this was not seen as a favorable response.
On June 6, PFM went to the Human Rights Commission to request a letter of support. They voted to do so and sent it Mayor down.
n June 12, we went to the Magnuson Park Advisory Committee and requested a letter of support, they voted in approval. This was a general letter of support for PFM at Magnuson. It went SPR Superintendent down.
On June 13, Crosscut published an editorial called “Why is SPR Hip Checking Roller Derby?” written by PFM Board Member Emily C. Skaftun.
On June 20, we went to the Disability Commission to request a letter of support. They voted to provide one and sent it Mayor down.
On June 22, PFM responded officially to the SPR Superintendent’s response. This was an email, as we had already responded to him in person at a Parks meeting.
The same day, PFM sent an email out on behalf of Seattle roller derby to every council member on the City Council. We broke roller derby and roller skating down by district to show how their constituents were affected and what they could do to help.
On June 24, several PFM Core members went to the Seattle Park District Board meeting in City Council chambers run by the Seattle City Council. Our message to them was well received. The SPR Superintendent was also there to give a presentation and he was questioned a bit by a Councilmember about roller derby in community centers.
SPR Finalizing their Decision to Support Roller Derby
On July 10, the Office of Civil Rights met with SPR before SPR met with roller derby leagues to help set the stage, with guidance from PFM before and after the meeting to be sure we were all on the same page.
The Recreation Division Director, who oversees every community center in Seattle, reached out to all six leagues directly after that meeting to schedule an initial meeting directly with us. This was to better understand our needs and intended outcomes. The meeting was scheduled for July 24.
On July 24, all six leagues were present as well as the OCR. PFM had a phone meeting with OCR before going into that meeting to again make sure we were all on the same page. There was no real forward movement at this meeting, as all the leagues took it as a chance to air their grievances with the city. PFM understood this as we had been having the opportunity to do so, but the others had not yet been able to.
On August 14, all 6 leagues were present at the second SPR meeting where they showed us a list of up to 17 of 28 community centers that would potentially have painted lines by 2022. This was far more than we had expected. We were ecstatic and thankful for this list. We also learned that staff had been re-trained about equity and roller derby. One SPR staff member had been appointed to be the point person for all roller derby needs when working with SPR community centers, to alleviate any confusion and streamline the process for our rentals. They also went out and measured every community center to see which could fit a full-size roller derby rack. We did not discuss tape or how basketball would continue to affect the availability of gym time and scheduled a third meeting to have these discussions.
The First Set of Painted Roller Derby Lines in a Seattle Community Center!
On September 4, 2019, we learned that Bitter Lake Community Center had freshly painted roller derby lines! They were the first community center to get them, an effort led by the Recreation Division Director.
September 18, was the third meeting with the leagues and SPR. Only PFM and SDB were present. We discussed taping at Magnuson plus two or three other gyms that would soon have painted lines. This was where roller derby could be played until they got lines painted. We also discussed the celebration that was to happen on October 5 in collaboration with SPR.
All during this time, since PFM was representing all of Seattle roller derby, we sent a few mass emails out to keep all the leagues in the loop. We sent them out in May, July, and September. The leagues either did not reply, offered support, or thanked us for spearheading the effort – which we were more than happy to do.
October 4, PFM received an email from the office of a Councilmember, requesting dollar amounts for their 2020 Seattle budget requests; to add painted lines in community centers for roller derby. We were very thankful they were including roller derby in their budget request, but it turned out to be unnecessary as the Recreation Division Director had already approved the budget and was painting roller derby tracks through SPR’s own budget.
October 5, there was a celebration at Bitter Lake Community Center for the very first set of painted lines! OCR and SPR’s Superintendent spoke first, and then PFM thanked all the people and groups that helped get us to where we were that day. There was a ribbon “cutting” ceremony done by skaters skating through the red ribbon held by the SPR Superintendent, Recreation Division Director, Director of OCR, and Deputy Director of OCR on the pivot line. The Tootsys presented a 4-jam exhibition mini-bout and then we ended with cake and an open skate to music.
October 11, KOMO news asked to do a Feel-Good Friday story highlighting the battle for painted lines and what’s still to come.
Questions of when exactly the other gyms will be painted, whether tape or other interventions will be allowed in the meantime in additional gyms, and how gym time demands will be balanced with other sports – especially during the basketball season, are still being worked out with SPR, though we are very much over the hump.
What an INCREDIBLE story of grit and determination! It is this type of attitude that will grow our sport throughout the nation and world!
THANK YOU AMY AND PFM!