Competing for the title of Queen of the Rink she tore up the track during this season’s Minnesota Roller Girls (MNRG) tryouts. Trailblazing her way into the sport of roller derby, on August 19th, Amy Kochendorfer “Smokta Hontis” was drafted to the Atomic Bombshells, one of five teams in the MN Roller Girls league based in the Twin Cities.
She is the first Native American woman to make the cut for the MNRG. Raised in Minneapolis, Smokta Hontis is an Anishinaabe/Dakota who is ready to represent in the rink. Her dad is White Earth Ojibwe and her mom is Leech Lake Ojibwe and Sisseton Dakota.
Nationwide an athletic resurgence has been underway in women’s roller derby. Starting in 2001, roller derby began making a dramatic comeback. Gone are the days of skating females staging fights with their choreographed moves on a sloped track.
The following is an interview with Amy Kochendorfer, aka Smokta Hontis, who can be seen in her first home bout: Atomic Bombshells vs. The Rockits, which will be followed by another bout with the Garda Belts vs. Dagger Dolls on October 16 at 7:30 at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St.Paul.
MNRG bouts have pre-game and half time entertainment and are open to all ages. The home bouts are scheduled monthly October through December, with championships taking place in January. Atomic Bombshells had their first away game in September in Sioux Falls, S.D. where they experienced their first lost.
Of that game, Smokta Hontis said, “it was our first time out as a team and we made them work for the win, but we should have enough practice between that first bout and our home bout to really click as a team and go for a win.
For more information on ticket prices, schedules, roller derby history and more, go to: mnrollergirls.com
Sherwood: What attracted you to the sport of derby?
Smokta Hontis: The first thing that got my attention was an article in the LA Weekly about a derby player called Sugar and Spikes and I liked how you could come up with your own name.
Sherwood: When did you start playing roller derby?
Smokta Hontis: In 2008 while I was living in LA I decided to play derby as a way to try and put my roots down. I thought having a team sport would help me get grounded. I played for Angel City Derby Girls.
Sherwood: How much training did you go through?
Smokta Hontis: A lot of training – I think the two compliment each other (derby and distance running). I was already running and then it was 6 hours of derby practice. Starting out at derby I was already active on my skates but it was the full contact part of my skating that I had to learn. Just the concept of using your body to knock somebody down and not grab them was definitely challenging. You engage your core a lot and work on balance – like you buddy up with someone and practice leaning on their body while also doing hip whips.
Sherwood: What position do you play?
Smokta Hontis: I want to be able to play all the positions, and with Atomic Bombshells I have been able to, there are always three Blockers out there and then there is a Jammer and Pivot. The only positions that are distinguishable are the pivot and the jammer.
Jammer wears a helmet with two stars and the pivot has the stripe down the middle. Jammers always try to get through the blockers. Jammers have to be good at getting through the pack and it’s important to have your own style, whatever works for you. Sometimes you have to skate through a wall of skaters. Pivot controls the speed of the pack and also whips the jammer. It is just great, and besides being the jammer all the positions are somewhat interchangeable. It is important to know that you can play offense and defense interchangeably. I really like blocking, pivoting and jamming.
Sherwood: Do you have special skates?
Smokta Hontis: My skates are all painted up and have handprints on them from kids in the community and I love that I think it gives “my ponies” special powers.
Sherwood: What does it mean to you to be the first Native American woman to play with the MN Roller Girls?
Smokta Hontis: It’s kind of weird, like I think, ‘Am I really the first Native woman derby player here or really just the first one owning up to being Native playing on MNRG?’ I think it’s awesome but I don’t feel different somehow.
Sherwood: Why did you want to play derby when you returned home to Minnesota?
Smokta Hontis: A lot of it that keeps me focused and going to practice is to draw the Native community to my first home game and that is a big deal to me, to have the community come out and show support.
Sherwood: What motivates you to play?
Smokta Hontis: I think it’s cool to have the support of the Native community. People come up and tell me they have watched derby in the past but never come out to support on a local level and go to a MNRG bout but they are going to now because there is a Native woman on the team. To have their support for me is really important. I want to show people that derby is hard and it takes a lot of work and that there is a serious sport out there that is geared toward women being competitive and expressing themselves.
Sherwood: Derby frequently refers to itself as feminist sport with a ‘do it yourself ethic’ – do you agree with that? What would be examples of this spirit?
Smokta Hontis: The whole thing behind derby from what I have seen is it’s skater owned and run by skaters. MNRG has awesome dedication from everyone, the players, the sponsors, volunteers, and referees; there is even a large fan base here. It’s a sport that supports women. It carries on the tradition of women being empowered. It is an important building block to share bonds with other women whether they are Native or not, you form this relationship with other women. Running is more individual; in derby everything is dependent on your teammates. I do what my teammates say, if they say, “Skate faster” I do it, I trust them – like you always grab a buddy, its not an individual effort all the time.
Sherwood: What would you want to share with Native American youth about derby?
Smokta Hontis: I think that it’s important for Native youth to know what is out there in terms of options. If they have cousins or relatives who drink a lot and you join derby it gives you something else to do, and I just want them to see that there is this option out there.
Sherwood: What do you find is the biggest misconception about derby?
Smokta Hontis: Not everyone wears fishnets and plaid skirts, some girls do but you can wear what you want.
Sherwood: What advice would you give to people to learn more about roller derby?
Smokta Hontis: I tell everyone to watch a 6-minute video called Roller Derby Revival. It was made in 2008 for ESPN and it features women from MN Roller Girls Atomic Bombshells. You can watch it online on YouTube videos.