Members of the Richland County Regulators Derby Team come together for a team huddle at the end of a practice. (Photos by Sydney Dunlap/Carolina News and Reporter)

The Richland County Regulators’ practice space sits right off August Road in West Columbia in a small warehouse. 

It looks unassuming at first, with a parking lot that barely exists and front windows boarded up with wood. 

But the derby team fills the inside with life on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Skates glide and slam against the concrete floor as players practice their footwork on a derby rink measured out in tape. The room echoes with a mix of teammates’ voices and background music. 

For Alicia Hickey, a team captain and one of the most-experienced members, the space means the team is one step closer to rebuilding after COVID-19. 

“We’re finally starting to feel a little relief and a little less stress to finally be able to actually focus on our skaters and progressing in skill,” Hickey said. 

Hickey five years ago joined the Regulators, one of a handful of local teams. She saw the group’s numbers dwindle throughout the pandemic. The team slowly grew after restrictions were lifted, but the Regulators lost the large warehouse where they practiced in August 2022. It was a big hit. 

The team began practicing in parking garages, parking lots and abandoned spaces. Hickey said the group considered any area it wouldn’t get kicked out of – or sometimes spaces it knew it would be. 

The new space meant that practice didn’t have to be up in the air. And players could spend more time running drills.

Players don’t need any experience to join the team, and many members can barely stand on skates when they attend their first practice, head coach and the creator of the Regulators Shawn “Dell” Corley said. 

The team offers equipment for people to borrow during practice. And coaches take time to individually train new members, also known as “fresh meat,” on how to safely skate, fall and eventually come in contact with other players on the rink. 

Roller derby is a full-contact sport where two teams of five try to push their team’s “jammer” past the other team’s four “blockers” to earn a point, according to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. Skaters cannot use their heads, elbows, forearms, hands, knees or feet to make contact with opponents. Shoulders and hips are fair game.

Blockers play both offense and defense and often hit or knock over the opponent’s jammer throughout the timed rounds. 

Corley leads a variety of drills and exercises at practice. They’re all meant to help players improve their skills as a skater and grow closer to each other, no matter their size, experience or skill level Corley said.  

“‘I don’t know how to skate.’ I don’t care about that, like, just have some heart,” Corley said. “Go to practice. You’ll be fine. I have never said like, ‘Hey, I think this is not for you.’ I’ve never done that ever. Like, you come to practice you’re going to be in this.”

The Richland County Regulators is open to any female or non-binary person interested in joining and is a safe space for people who might not be accepted in other places, Hickey said. 

“Look around,” Hickey said. “I feel like we’re, like, not your average — you know, we’re the alternative crew. And so I feel like this is a sport that is literally designed for misfits, if you will, and it’s just nice to have found that community and that space.”

Marceline Proctor, who uses they/them pronouns, said they joined the Regulators after being invited by a friend. They quickly fell in love with the sport. 

“Everyone is so friendly and so sweet, and it’s just a good time,” Proctor said. “I always have a good time when I show up to practice. And there’s always people to talk to and people to hit. And so, like, I enjoyed skating, but it’s definitely the people on the team that really made me want to stay.” 

Sophia Owens joined the team in June after learning about the Regulators on Facebook. She said she learned everything from the team’s coaches and teammates because they welcomed beginners. 

“It’s always a little bit scary to come into a community and they all know what they’re doing,” Owens said. 

The team has been a cornerstone for Owens and other young people who feel adrift or disconnected in their early 20s and 30s, Owens said. And it has created an environment she enjoys coming back to each week. 

“You literally will come to practice and everyday will walk away being a better skater and knowing more about derby,” Owens said. “It’s just a great sense of accomplishment when you leave.”

Hickey hopes the team can continue recruiting new members and players can improve as athletes and grow closer within the community. 

“I guess you could say that’s my main hope, even, is that everyone keeps having fun and keeps learning and keeps testing boundaries with their bodies, pushing themselves forward,” Hickey said. 

The Regulators will compete next at Friarsgate Park in Irmo on Dec. 3 against the Yellow Jacket Roller Derby. 

Sophia Owens, also known as Peachy Mean, attempts to push past her teammates during a training exercise.

Sophia Owens, Zoey Betty and McKayla Cosimato smile and laugh at each other after a fall during a practice drill.

Richland County Regulators head coach Shawn “Dell” Corley give instructions during a practice.

Two teammates lean against each other as they try to push each other out of a taped box.