Atlanta Roller Girls in action at the Yaarab Shrine. (File photo by Isadora Pennington)

Atlanta Roller Derby is still plotting how and when to return to play during its pandemic timeout. Meanwhile, the inclusive, women-run league is rolling out responses to another historic part of the past year: the movement for racial and social justice.

Prior to COVID-19, ARD’s teams — the Apocalypstix, the Glamma Rays and the Toxic Shocks — competed in bouts at the Yaarab Shrine Center on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Midtown. The 2020 season was called off. ARD’s parent league, the Texas-based Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, has a phased return-to-play plan in place, but has not reached the reopening stage. 

“Unfortunately, we don’t have an end in sight just yet, so no status updates,” said ARD spokesperson Anna Benbrook, who also plays in the league under the derby name Gucci Maim. “We are following the WFTDA return-to-play guidelines closely and will update our fans once we have a definitive plan.”

“While Georgia has lifted restrictions, other states with teams that compete in the league have not,” added Beth Huss, the officer manager at the Yaarab Shrine. “It is possible that we may hear something in the fall about a season being scheduled.”

Owned and operated by its own skaters, ARD strove to be an inclusive league long before the recent protest movements, with a roster diverse in races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and cis and trans players. During the pandemic shutdown, much of ARD’s social media has been devoted to advice and tactics on supporting racial and social justice movements. The league has been doing similar anti-racism work internally, Benbrook said.

“Atlanta Roller Derby is promoting anti-racism within our league by practicing ongoing anti-racism education and scrutiny of our policies,” Benbrook said. “In 2020, we voted to create a new league Access and Equity (A&E) department. Through this department, league members are reviewing and re-writing ARD policies and our Code of Conduct to find ways to make league policy more inclusive and equitable.”

She said that includes new league jobs coordinating every other ARD department with the A&E department; creating an anonymous reporting system for members who aren’t comfortable filing a formal grievance for harm or behavior; and running “ongoing anti-racism education reading and discussion groups” on Zoom and the league forum.

“While we believe that the work we’re doing is essential, we also know that this isn’t enough,” said Benbrook. “Anti-racism work is never finished, and personal anti-racism among our white league members will always be imperfect. We aim to cultivate a culture that encourages individual members to partake in this work and hold themselves accountable.”

For more, see AtlantaRollerDerby.com or follow the league on Facebook and Instagram.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.