When we think of the competitive sport of roller derby, fast-paced, rough bouts and powerful women often come to mind. While true, many of these players may not be whom you’d expect.
The modern revival of this roller skate-based sport has a worldwide fandom, but it is much more than a game to the players who participate.
For the women of Casa Grande Roller Derby, the sport and spectacle have become a lifestyle, and they see each other as family. Four CGRD women from Maricopa have adopted this lifestyle.
Ellen Zoretic (Victoria Vangore)
Quote: “I try to eat, sleep and breathe roller derby.”
Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ellen Zoretic found herself moving to Maricopa in 2011 with most of her family for better weather and cheaper homes. She fell in love with the community.
“It’s been five years since I started roller derby,” Zoretic said. “The truth is that my boyfriend at the time, who I’m still currently with, got into a really serious car accident and he needed to go back to his mom in Illinois and recover. He almost lost his life.”
Zoretic said she and her family attended a roller derby match in Phoenix. Loving what she saw, she wanted to pick up a new hobby while her boyfriend was away. Zoretic went to beginner tryouts the next day. Starting on bank track, an angled field instead of flat, Zoretic developed her persona, “Victoria Vangore,” often shortened to just “Gore” by her team.
After a successful career on the Hot Shots traveling derby team, Gore now plays jammer with the Arizona Coffin Draggers. She also joined the Casa Grande league, became a star player and now plans to focus on being of CGRD’s flagship team, The Big House Bombers.
Balancing the team with her everyday job as a teacher has been challenging but worth it, she said. Graduating from Ohio Dominican University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Zoretic didn’t expect to become an art teacher. After coming to Maricopa, Ellen fell into teaching as a substitute for Maricopa Unified School District. After three years, the district offered her a position as an art teacher. She teaches at Pima Butte Elementary and Maricopa Elementary.
“This is my fifth year in art, kindergarten through fifth grade,” Zoretic said. “I love it. The satisfaction of just knowing that I’m making a difference in their lives and knowing that art is a special area. I mean, a lot of people come to me telling me about their students who have behavioral problems or aren’t good in math and writing. Then when they get to art, they just flourish.”
Zoretic eventually would like to combine her love of art and degree in psychology to work as an art therapist.
April Stovall (April May Dismember)
Quote: “If you’re not falling down, you’re not trying hard enough.”
Growing up in Arizona and graduating from Casa Grande and living in Maricopa, April Stovall has seen a lot of change in Western Pinal County. She has worked at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino for 20 years.
“I started in security back in 1999, then I transferred into surveillance and fell in love with it,” Stovall said. “I took on facilities about 10 years ago. It just kept growing over time, just working my way up.”
While Stovall loves her job, she admits to being a workaholic and wanting something more.
“My daughter graduated from high school, moved out. Things were changing,” Stovall said. “Roller derby was on my bucket list. I Googled “roller derby Arizona.” AZRD (Arizona Roller Derby) came up, and I went to their new-skater orientation. I skated with them for the first three years.”
Her derby name, April May Dismember, stemmed from using months and a word that “incorporated strength and power.”
“Kind of long, but it’s catchy,” Stovall said with a smile. She spoke of the fun of getting into her derby character as a nice contrast from her professional, busy work environment.
Once CGRD was established, Stovall and Chachi Patron transferred to the Bombers. April is now the CGRD manager and oversees all the organization’s operations as well as jam for the team. April is entering her fifth year of roller derby.
“Roller derby to me is probably the hardest, most empowering thing I’ve ever done in my entire life,” Stovall said. “It’s an inclusive sport for people of all backgrounds. I love our mission statement: “We empower women through roller derby and serving the community as a team.”
Corinna Velasco-Ivancovich (Chachi Patron)
Quote: “We’ve prayed a lot, and I really think our league has been blessed.”
Corinna Velasco-Ivancovich has been in the world of derby the longest between the three women. When InMaricopa met Velasco-Ivancovich in 2011, she was a member of the Surlie Gurlies in Phoenix, out with a torn meniscus. Having fully recovered, Velasco-Ivancovich has continued her derby career of 14 years, playing with the Big House Bombers since 2018.
“When I started, I was 36. I just got out of a really bad relationship that was kind of abusive,” Velasco-Ivancovich said. “My kid’s dad was an alcoholic, and I wanted to get into something that kept me busy.”
While Velasco-Ivancovich grew up, she watched her father play hockey. Fascinated by the female hockey players she would see at the rink, she decided to take up a different kind of skating. After learning the sport of roller derby, she joined an AZRD team.
“I think there’s a lot of people that’ll lift you up,” said the 10-year Maricopa resident. “If you don’t have like a lot of women that don’t have really close friends, they can find friends.”
The name Chachi Patron was born from banter with a work friend with whom she would always talk like mobsters.
“She would always call me Chachi, so I was like maybe I’ll keep it then,” Velasco-Ivancovich said with a laugh. “I came up with Patron because it was kind of catchy and I’m short and stubby like Patron.”
A single mother of three for many years, Velasco-Ivancovich married in 2009 and cited her Christian beliefs for many of her and the league’s successes.
“There’s been a lot of blessings. You can see in the short amount of time, like the whole community supports us.”
CGRD continues to grow, most recently with its purchase and revitalization of the Casa Grande Boys and Girls Club gymnasium as their base of operations and practice facility. With local women joining the league frequently, a Maricopa roller derby league may be in the future.
Hannah Norby (Julia Wild)
Quote: “Once you do it, you’ll fall in love with it”
CGRD welcomes new players into their league with open arms, just as they were welcomed when they began. This has led to more “fresh meat,” what they call newcomers. Still fairly new to the Roller Derby scene, Hannah Norby has fully embraced the sport and finds it as a perfect outlet to get some aggression out.
“In March will be my year anniversary playing derby,” Norby said. “I thought this sport would be up my alley, so I just took the leap of faith and went to one of the meets-and-greets in Casa Grande. Everyone was so sweet and nice, so I ordered my skates and started soon after.”
In her day-to-day life, Norby is a Culinary Arts teacher at Maricopa High School, where she graduated in 2016. After working a handful of cooking jobs in Las Vegas and graduating from the Art Institute there, she decided to move back to her hometown and apply for the open culinary position. Norby now works with her old culinary mentor from high school, teaching the programs she went through. With a clear passion for the kitchen and the art of cooking, picking a derby identity that reflected it was important.
Keeping the theme of food and chefs in mind, Norby decided on the name, “Julia Wild,” inspired by the famous American cooking teacher and TV personality Julia Child.
“It would have been Julie Wild or Bobby Slay,” Norby laughed. “Wild just really stuck with me and felt like it described me.”
Norby finds the balance between work and derby to be a very familiar one.
“I used to play soccer in high school, and I ended up quitting,” She said. “I had like a few years of not doing anything athletic and I really wanted to get into another sport, something to have fun.”
Confident in the growth of the league and becoming a stronger player, Norby is excited to see new faces and encourages anyone with doubts or are nervous to come check them out.
“Every girl felt the same way when they started,” she said. “You just have to take that leap of faith.”
Hannah Norby is the wife of author/photographer Kyle Norby.
Teams of up to five players skate two 30-minute periods, which are comprised of jams lasting up to two minutes each. During a jam, four blockers on each team form a pack with their jammer behind them. Jammers must get through the pack and then around to lap the blockers. A point is scored for every opposing blocker lapped. There are 30 seconds between each jam.
Jammer, wearing a star helmet cover, scores points by lapping opposing blockers.
Blocker forms the pack, hinders the opposing jammer from passing through the pack, and helps their team’s jammer pass through the pack.
Pivot blocker may become a jammer during a legal transfer of the star.
This story appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.