By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — Zabs Avery lives in Rockford thanks to a full-contact sport and a Google search.
“I had been looking at Rochelle, DeKalb, all of those towns, but I picked Rockford because I googled roller derby and Illinois, and Rockford popped up on Google,” Avery said. “I think it’s fair to say I live in Rockford because of the Rage.”
Avery moved here in January 2021 but had to wait for more than a year and a half to compete because of restrictions on roller derby over concerns about the coronvirus.
Now, the wait is over.
The Rockford Rage are returning to the oval track on Saturday for the first time since late 2019. It was forced to cancel its bout in March 2020 when the pandemic took hold here, and Saturday will be its first bout since.
“It’s indescribable,” said Avery, a blocker who goes by the name B-Ko Sparkles on the track. “We’re really happy to just be out doing what we love to do together.”
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The Rage will take on the Kentucky Black-n-Bluegrass at 6 p.m. at the UW Health Sports Factory, 305 S. Madison St., in downtown. Doors open at 5 p.m.
“It was horrible being without roller derby,” said Sabrena Ferguson, who serves as vice president, coach and plays jammer for the Rage. “I will probably cry several times Saturday I’m so excited.”
Roller-derby is a fast-paced series of short matches, called jams, in which both teams designate a player to score points by lapping members of the opposing team. That player, called the jammer, is hindered by four blockers who work to stop them from passing while assisting their own jammer.
“We’re a unique sport, full-contact, always action,” said Ferguson, whose nickname is Bratty Cake on the track. “There’s only 30 seconds in between jams.”
The team is looking for a caterer for food and drinks for this Saturday’s bout as the Sports Factory is without a full-service restaurant until the Rockford Park District opens Courtside Grill this fall.
The Rage also always support a charity at each bout, and this week’s matchup will benefit the Liam Foundation, a nonprofit that supports people in the LGBTQIA+ community.
The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, the international governing body for roller derby on six continents, lifted its restrictions on practice and competition this year. The team has been practicing since February, and Saturday’s bout is the Rage’s first since the pandemic began. So far it’s the only home match on their schedule. The team expects to add more later this year.
“We are so ready. We’re so excited,” Ferguson said. “We’re going to go hard for sure.”
Know before you go | Rockford Rage roller derby
When: 5 p.m. doors open, 6 p.m. bout starts; Saturday, Aug. 27
Where: UW Health Sports Factory, 305 S. Madison St., Rockford
About: The Rockford Rage take on the Kentucky Black-n-Bluegrass. Proceeds from ticket sales benefit the Liam Foundation, a nonprofit which supports people in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Tickets: $10 in advance; $15 at the door. Free for children 12 and younger. You can get tickets HERE.
On the web: facebook.com/rockfordragerollerderby