Revelations splinter roller derby league

20 leave group after learning of founders' use of skinhead symbols

Wausau Daily Herald/April 3, 2010

About 20 women have resigned from a fledgling local roller derby league following a Wausau Daily Herald story about the founders' use of white supremacist and Nazi symbols in their online marketing campaign, one of the skaters said.

The exodus from the Wisconsin River Valley Rollergirls left about 15 women scheduled to compete in the group's inaugural bout held Friday at the Smith Center in Merrill, said Wausau's Beth Sherwood, 27, one of the skaters who withdrew.

The team's founders refused to comment.

Sherwood said she and the other skaters left for "multiple" reasons related to the management of the team, but the "last straw" was revelations about the founders' personal political and social views.

She declined to elaborate.

"We don't have any more issues anymore because we are not affiliated with it," Sherwood said.

Merrill Police Lt. Greg Hartwig said no one was protesting or causing a disturbance because of the use of white supremacist and Nazi symbols. Hartwig said he walked through the Smith Center, and he said there was a good turnout for the roller derby.

"There wasn't a single problem," Hartwig said. "Everyone was just enjoying themselves."

Jimi Van Zante and his wife, Hether Blair Van Zante, a 1998 D.C. Everest High School graduate and veteran roller derby skater nicknamed "Hether Skelter," founded Wisconsin River Valley Rollergirls last fall.

Jimi Van Zante, 39, has a large tattoo of a swastika on his arm, and his personal MySpace page name is "TrueGrit Skinhead."

His wife wears an armband bearing the number 88 as part of her roller derby uniform -- a number significant among white supremacists as code for "Heil Hitler," hate group experts say. (The eighth letter of the alphabet is "h.")

The couple denied being in an organized skinhead group -- skinheads started as a subculture in Great Britain in the 1960s and recently have been associated with both punk rock and promoting white power -- and they say their personal lives, which do not include Nazi beliefs, are separate from the roller derby team.

The Daily Herald reported March 28 about the symbols and white-supremacist references on the team's Web site and linked to the couple. The story raised questions about the future of the team as some businesses said they would reconsider their relationship with the group.

Dan Wendorf, director of Merrill's Parks and Recreation Department, said Thursday he consulted with local police before Friday's bout but didn't treat it "any differently than a normal event."

Police Chief Ned Seubert said about 400 tickets had been sold by Friday morning. Capacity is 750 fans.

Wendorf said organizers of the bout rented the Smith Center for $350 and have booked it for eight more bouts in coming weeks.

Roller derby involves two teams of five women skating two-minute jams in an hour-long bout, with 30 seconds between each lineup, Sherwood said.

Efforts to contact other skaters who quit the team or remained were unsuccessful Friday. One, Beth Kratwell of Wausau, declined comment in an e-mail.

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