by Polly Cline (AKA Sic O. Spellcheck)
Ask anyone who’s lived in Gainesville for ten or fifteen years — a lot has changed.
One element of Gainesville that’s remained constant since 2007: the Gainesville Roller Rebels (GRR), Gainesville’s local, not-for-profit, skater- and volunteer-run roller derby league.
Since roller derby’s mid-aughts revival, GRR has brought athleticism, empowerment, and inclusion to the Gainesville community. After our 2023 season, we’re stronger than ever with 27 new league members, sponsorships from a number of local businesses, and standing room only games.
Despite all of this success, one struggle has remained constant for GRR — the difficulties of finding skating spaces in Gainesville to practice and host games. Prior to 2020, GRR practiced at the Fairgrounds, but lost access when the Army Reserve took over the property. GRR also practiced at Broward Recreation on the University of Florida campus until it was replaced with student housing.
Though GRR is able to host games at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multipurpose Center, a 19,000 square foot, air-conditioned facility, the city requires us to lay Masonite flooring before every game, a labor-intensive process that makes it impractical for regular practice sessions. Other leagues across the country practice directly on gym floors, as roller skates cause no more damage to wood floors than basketball shoes.
After two years of searching, we at last found what we thought was a permanent home at the Gainesville Bridge, a community center run by the Vineyard Church. For the first time in a long time, we were not just tolerated, but welcomed.
After years of asking and attending community meetings and being told by the city and county that we couldn’t be accommodated, or provided options that ended up being dead ends, we at last had a place that would not only rent to us but would let us lay a semi-permanent track and even surprise us with beautiful shelving to keep our gear organized.
In 2023, GRR grew, and it’s in no small part due to having a consistent and welcoming home and community to call our own.
Now, that home is once again under threat. Last year, the Bridge lost the overarching support of the Vineyard Church due to the Bridge’s inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community. Without additional income sources, they can only stay in business until the end of January 2024.
The Bridge is more than just GRR’s practice space. As a multipurpose community center, they run weekly food banks, host summer camps and after-school events for kids, and rent space to local businesses.
Located at 1100 SE 17 Dr, the Bridge has a large gymnasium, a large grass field, and indoor rooms available for short- or long-term rentals. It would be an excellent fit for fitness professionals, sports teams, artists, and small businesses such as massage therapy, acupuncture, etc. If your business is looking for space, the Bridge could be your new home. Please contact Mike Raburn at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in renting space at the Bridge.
GRR will do everything we can to help the Bridge, but the continued existence of our league should not hinge on the lack of available skating spaces in Gainesville. We’re nothing if not scrappy, but we need your help. We need options to ensure the security of our league.
We practice 2-3x per week from January to October. For a roller derby practice, we need at least 98 x 65 feet of covered, open space (roughly the size of two basketball courts) on a hard surface suitable for skating. Do you own a business or know of an additional space where GRR could host practices? Contact email@example.com if you can help.