By Cheryl Toomey, University Relations Graduate Assistant
Rabbit Zielke, feature news producer with WUTC, spends many of her weekends with ladies like Bipolar Bear, Shank Williams Jr., and Jenny Hate.
These skaters are with the Chattanooga Roller Girls, and Zeilke is their announcer, as well as the announcer for four other local leagues. This year alone, Zeilke has called the action on forty-one roller derby games, known as bouts.
Roller derby is a league sport played on quad roller skates, predominantly by women. Two teams skate around an oval track while one player – the jammer – tries to score points by lapping the opposing team. Blockers attempt to hinder the opposing team’s jammer, meaning that each team is simultaneously engaging in offensive and defensive strategies. The game as it is played today had its origins in the 1930s, though by the 70s it had become a popular televised entertainment sport. It faded out after that, but reemerged in the 1990s/2000s with a grass roots revival. Leagues are now typically skater-owned and operated, functioning as non-profit organizations relying on volunteers and fans of the sport.
“I was a big fan in the 70s. Then, a few years ago, Chattanooga had their first demo. Afterwards, I went up to the girls that I knew and said I wanted to be their announcer. And they said, ‘No thanks, we have announcers.’ So my first year, I volunteered to operate the score board. I listened to the announcers, I practiced, and I went to work shops by other announcers. So the next year I said I wanted to be the announcer again. And this time they gave me a chance,” said Zeilke
Zeilke has been announcing for CRG for four years, but this year marked a new opportunity for her. She was invited to announce at the National Championships by the WFTDA (Women’s Flat Track Derby Association) division two playoffs in Des Moines, Iowa, in August and she will also be announcing at the division one playoffs in Asheville, North Carolina, later this month.
“I was the first announcer that got to open the show. It was very exciting for me to be the very first voice heard welcoming everyone to the inaugural division two playoffs. I announced nine different bouts during that tournament,” says Zeilke, “I’m really excited to be announcing with the best roller derby girls in the world. It’s an honor to be chosen for this position.”
Zeilke is a member of the AFTDA (Association of Flat Track Derby Announcers), which provides a code of conduct to make sure announcers uphold certain standards of sportsmanship.
“We have our home leagues and our girls who we know the best, but once we get on the mic we have to be impartial. You can’t say anything that’s going to influence the play. So you’re talking about what already happened while you’re watching what’s happening while deciding what to say next,” says Zeilke.
“And a lot of the leagues I call for are fairly young, so my job involves teaching. How did they get that score? Why did that girl go to the penalty box? If you don’t know the sport, you’re not going to enjoy it. So if I teach it while it’s going on, if I explain what’s happening, then the audience becomes more engaged. Of all the crowds I’ve worked with, Chattanooga is the smartest. They’re really involved in our team. And I’m very proud of that, because I think I had a lot to do with them knowing the sport well enough to become so engaged. Chattanooga has the best fans.”
Zeilke has been on the air at WUTC since 1993. Originally a music host on the weekends and the producer/host of “Celtic Harvest.” She began producing news segments for “Around and About Chattanooga” in 2006. She is an alumna of The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga obtaining a BS in Exceptional Education and MPA with a concentration in Nonprofit Management.