■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
They say there is nothing a woman can’t do once she sets her mind to it. Believe me; I just encountered a couple of gals from opposite parts of the world, from totally different cultures. When it comes to skates and roller derbies, however, they are in total sync.
Meet Kelly Koellsch (better known in the rink as ‘Kell on Wheels,” and Anika Hayes, whose moniker, “KGB Assassin,” says it all.
Koellsch is employed at the Hemet Unified School District. Hayes comes from Germany by way of Killeen, Texas. The one thing that binds them together? Roller skating – but in particular — roller derby.
Koellsch recently invited us down to The Wheelhouse (Hemet’s only and quite spacious roller-skating rink) to observe the birth of a roller derby team.
How, we queried, did it begin?
“We started it through The Fight Back Foundation, a 501(c)3 program. Luck has been with us because we soon found ourselves bound with others who support the idea,” said Koellsch. “Not all kids are equipped to play baseball, football, basketball or soccer. Our intention is to offer these younger and older ones the opportunity to participate in something most of us have been doing since childhood — skating.”
To listen and watch the enthusiasm emanate from the coaches, you would expect that they have been together for years. Not so. Koellsch reveals a secret.
“This is a fresh meat program. We started this journey a long time ago, but it didn’t get on the floor until a month ago.”
She allows that they are not yet ready for the big show, but says it will come.
“We plan to compete; scrimmages will soon be a reality,” Koellsch said with conviction. “Our immediate goal is to build confidence in these skaters, make them comfortable and confident on skates so they will be excited and able to compete. We will have derby. We will host derby from other places that have no facility for it. We are crusaders.”
Quite a spiel for a little lady who is flying around the rink. They’ve had quite a bit of support in this endeavor from Jesse Vivanco, owner of The Wheelhouse, and the community.
“We will try to give that support back by filling up the house and bringing to the floor a great derby to honor the people of Hemet and San Jacinto,” said Koellsch.
Koellsch introduced me to her head coach, Anika Hayes, better known in skate circles as “KGB Assassin,” and she has the tattoos to back it up.
“Roller derby is my thing,” says Hayes. “I am from Germany and I have been on roller skates all my life. I just never heard of it called ‘roller derby’ before.”
She expresses joyous glee, like a teenager, over Koellsch’s group.
“My enthusiasm for this group is pervasive. I can’t get it out of my mind,” said Hayes. “I look for the quality in them, not quantity. Energy is here. That’s what I love about it. They’re improving and starting to like the sport.”
One would think that Koellsch approached Hayes to be part of the team, but it was the other way around.
“I went to Kelly about a year ago,” says Hayes. “For some time I have considered starting a Roller Derby League.”
She also approached the affable and community conscious Jesse Vivanco, whose Wheelhouse skating rink would be the perfect place for the home team.
“She showed up maybe a year ago and I encouraged her,” says Vivanco. “Now she’s making her dream come to life.”
The roller derby community is small, says Hayes. “Everybody knows everything that is going on with everybody else. Not in a gossip sense, but in the action. It is like a hair salon.”
Hayes continues, “Most derby teams are composed of women. I would like to change that because we have men, women and children of all ages interested. Like I said, roller derby was not something I knew about. I moved from Germany and ended up in Killeen, Texas. Someone asked me to come to a rink and watch. That was six years ago and I knew immediately that roller derby was my sport.”
Germany to Killeen to Hemet; sounds like an interesting ride. Hayes believes that roller derby is a particularly good thing for Hemet.
“For one thing, people will come and that is good for businesses,” she said. “Folks will spend money in Hemet; I would like to see that.”
Koellsch wants everyone who supports them to get credit. “Jesse Vivanco, Fight Back Foundation (a grassroots foundation) and the ones that were also there from the start, Empire Skates in Upland, California. Amy Frilot from Empire Skates inspired me to start this trip. She is a long time skater and was at one time skating as ‘Amazon.’ She said, ‘Hey, I’d love to come and see what you’ve got going on.’ Come on out, I said.”
Ivy Eskandalo, who coaches the little ones, wasn’t present when I met Koellsch and company. “She and her husband have a TV show called ‘Hit Squad TV,’ which is shown all over the world,” Koellsch said. “All the folks that support and come along with this experience deserve plaudits from everyone who ever put on a pair of skates.”
Don’t forget, the group has “reorientation” on March 5 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at The Wheelhouse and they invite all ages interested in roller derby to come on down and join the party. On April 19th they are having a fundraising event at Del Taco on Stanford Street and Florida Avenue. You might want to check out their Facebook page at Hemet Roller Derby Tilted Halos. I was tempted to lace up myself, but thought better of it.