Charity work remains big part of Derby Girls’ identity

Veteran Fort Wayne Derby Girls skater Traci McBride looks for an opening during a match last year at Memorial Coliseum. (By Blake Sebring of

When they first founded the Derby Girls in 2005, one of the primary goals for Danielle Nicolette and Tonya Vojtkofsky was that the organization would be heavily involved in charity.

The Great Lakes Burn Camp was one of their first charities, and the donation was $2,000 which was a huge amount when the Derby Girls were starting out. Some firefighters showed the players a camp video in a Roller Dome North back room, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the place, Vojtkofsky said.

“That was our mission then,” she said. “From that point on it became our crusade.”

As the team opens its 13th season Saturday against Gem City of Dayton, the Derby Girls are hosting Healthier Mothers and Babies who will receive a $500 check and the team is also holding a diaper drive for the group.

Charitable works aren’t just something the Derby Girls do, but it’s part of who they are and who they have always been.

“It’s about helping people out and making it worth something, all the money and fight we put into it, that it’s helping somebody in the end,” said veteran Tracie McBride.

The Derby Girls also provide these organizations with notoriety, publicity and an introduction to their fans who have been known to support the team’s charities.

“It’s really the staple of what makes grassroots sports important,” said Derby Girls president Kellie Adkins. “We could be spending that on our skaters for jerseys, helmets and gear and skates, and instead we really want to put that back into the community. I think the philanthropy aspect is part of the appeal to being on the team. A lot of people don’t always have time to volunteer so this is an outlet for a lot of women to not only do what they want to do but also contribute to their community.”

But what’s really interesting about the Derby Girls charity work is that they don’t get paid to play, instead they pay to play. They are responsible for buying their own equipment including skates, jerseys and paying for practice time, insurance and travel. They even work volunteer hours at Memorial Coliseum events to help with that bill.

“When I started out, my kids were young, it was hard to give to charities when you are raising a family and doing those things, so this was my way to give back,” said 12-year member Kathy Boles. “I could put in volunteer hours, and I could give in ways that didn’t necessarily have to come out of pocket, but I could help raise the money that goes to charities.”

Being a charitable organization of the Derby Girls also means the team usually ends up working closely with the group. The Derby Girls have been known to show up at the events of organizations they work with, sometimes as skaters and sometimes as volunteers. They do not just offer checks with a grip and a grin for the pictures.

The one thing that is unique about a Derby Girls charity is that they must be focused on helping women and children. Some of the charities the team has worked with in the past include Turnstone, Bring-It-Push-It-Own It, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Cancer Services of Northeastern Indiana, CASA, Charis House, Crossroad Children’s Home, Easter Seals ARC, Erin’s House, Habitat for Humanity-Women Build, SCAN and Make a Wish among others.

“You do what you do so other people can have and get better,” Boles said. “We do see the difference it makes in people’s lives. You can see the impact it makes and it’s all worthwhile.”

Derby Girls Community Outreach Coordinator Jam Jett has been on the job for two years, and part of her job is organizing all the charity work, including the appearances. She said sometimes the group will solicit specific charities and ask them to apply to work with the team.

“For us, it’s not just a check,” she said. “It’s our literal blood, sweat and tears. That’s a big part of why we do what we do. We don’t have a lot of money, so to give someone money is a big thing for our organization and it’s an honor to be able to do that in the way that we can.”