Give me your moms, your college girls, your nine-to-five women.

Those aren’t the words carved beneath a new Statue of Liberty.

Instead, they describe the roster of Butte’s Copper City Queens roller derby team, which is made up of just about every type of woman you can think of.

It’s been four years since Butte’s Copper City Queens established their team, going from a ragtag crew of lovable underdogs — if their saga was a sports movie — to a competitive team that has so far won three of its last four games, including a bout March 24 against Kalispell’s Flathead Valley Roller Derby, where Butte won 194 to 125 at the Butte Civic Center.

Flat track roller derby has seen considerable growth over the years.

The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, whose rules are observed by the Copper City Queens and leagues throughout Montana, began in 2004 and consisted of just 20-some leagues.

Today the organization boasts over 420 full-member leagues worldwide and 46 apprentice leagues.

That’s according to Jenna Cloughley, director of marketing and communications for WFTDA, who attributes the growth of the sport to its flat, not sloped, track, which can be set up just about anywhere.

It’s also about accessibility, she said, offering opportunities to women with a variety of body types, ethnicities and backgrounds and operating on a message of empowerment.

The roller derby of today looks much different than the very first iterations of the sport in the 1920s or the staged dramas of the 1970s, which were reminiscent of professional wrestling.

Copper City Queens Jennifer Kueffler, Bridgett Petritz, Kaleena Miller and coach Rob Daugherty sat down with The Montana Standard at Galena Street’s Butte Brewing Company Tuesday.

The four said the game is no longer the staged spectacle it was in the 1970s but has maintained much of the era’s pizazz. It’s not uncommon for players to paint their faces, and each team member goes by a unique player name to express her style. And of course, a game of roller derby wouldn’t be complete without at least one pair of fishnet stockings.

But don’t let the players’ flashy style fool you.

A lot of work goes into creating a successful roller derby team, the three players and coach said.

To become a Copper City Queen, prospective players have to go through an eight-week boot camp called a “fresh meat camp,” which culminates in a skills test.

Kueffler said about five to 20 women try out for the team each year, and of those only a handful go on to become full-contact players.

In addition to training and learning strategies, becoming a competitive team also means knowing what your opponents are up to.

“We study their videos to see what strategies they’re bringing in,” said Kueffler. “There’s a lot of research.”

But the work doesn’t stop where the track ends, the four team reps said, noting that the Copper City Queens consist of 10 committees and a five-member board and is a bit like running a business. In addition to raising funds for the team, the Copper City Queens also raise funds on behalf of other Butte organizations and nonprofits.

Daugherty, the team’s coach, said coaching the Copper City Queens has been fun, adding that “it has its moments.”

Daugherty is known for his spirited coaching style, to say the least, and has been known to draw a penalty or two for his passionate displays.

His coaching style was on full display during a game two weeks ago against Kalispell’s Flathead Valley Roller Derby.

Wiping sweat from her face, Copper City Queen Melanie Maki, aka “Melicious Motherlode,” said after the game that she thought the bout went well and was happy the team placed on its home turf.

“It was nice to play at home and having the home crowd cheer us on,” she said.

Origin story

The March 24 win was a far cry from where the team was in 2014, when the league was founded by Butte nurse Angela Wells.

Petritz was part of the first batch of women to join the team.

She had recently moved back to Butte and had only been in the Mining City for about two weeks when she saw a poster for the Copper City Queens.

“I can do that. I can skate,” Petritz thought at the time.

But soon Petritz and the other women who joined learned the game involved much more than skating.

“When this team came together we had zero experience,” said Miller, aka “Mother Earth.” “No one had played roller derby. We had one trainer, Angela, and she only had … eight weeks of fresh meat camp in Bozeman.”

The newly formed team watched YouTube videos and read everything they could find on the internet to learn the sport. Players from other Montana leagues even pitched in, coming to Butte during practices to help the fledgling team learn the ropes.

As Butte’s first batch of Copper City Queens started to get their feet wet, they discovered the game was a lot more complex than they initially thought — a reality that set in during their very first game.

The team’s first bout was with Helena’s Hel’z Belles — and according to the three players, the Helena league wiped the floor with the fledgling Butte team.

“It was like a 300-point spread,” said Petritz, aka “Tricky Treatz.” “I don’t know if I retained anything. It was more like survival.”

Despite their shaky start, the team signed up for a regional tournament in Billings, where they had their very first win against Cody, Wyo.

But beating the team moved the Copper City Queens up in the tournament, which meant they would have to play at least two other teams.

Some of the players didn’t want to go back out and a few of them cried, Daugherty said.

Kueffler, the team’s “Jen-A-Fire,” said the team could have forfeited the games but the Queens didn’t want to look like quitters, so they pushed on and lost both games.

When all was said and done, the team walked away with bumps and bruises and a few broken bones, but Kueffler said pushing on was worth it — if anything, it showed that the Copper City Queens were Butte tough.

When asked why it’s worth participating in a sport that takes up so much of their time, the women said roller derby is a way to bring a sense of physical and mental toughness into their lives.

Miller says she likes the challenge of the sport, the strategy and the game’s fast pace.

But most of all, she said, she likes to work in a team.

“You’re only as strong as the people you’re working with,” she said.

But perhaps team member DeeDee Thurmond, aka “Tenacious Dee,” put it best after last week’s game.

“It’s like a second family. I love these girls,” she said.

Subscribe to Daily Headlines

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Business Reporter

Business Reporter for The Montana Standard.

Load comments