TJRD Goes Public with a Historic Bout at the Hangar

Toronto Junior Roller Derby skaters practice at the Hangar in Downsview Park. (photo by Nancy Jo Cullen)

Knicker Kickers (TJRD) 74 vs. Mad Missfits (New Hampshire) 82

If you stopped by ToRD’s Hangar on any Sunday afternoon this winter, you would have seen a pretty normal scene: A bunch of rollergirls running drills, scrimmaging, a few refs working on calls, refining their knowledge of the rules. It would look like any other scene that has been playing out in derby spaces all across North America (and increasingly, the world). But if you were to get a little closer to the track, you’d see that what you were looking at wasn’t just a normal roller derby practice, and these were not regular skaters. You’d quickly realize that this was a Toronto Junior Roller Derby practice, and what you were looking at was the future of the sport.

Toronto Junior Roller Derby (TJRD) was founded in May 2010, an initiative of long-time rollerderby super fan B.D.I. with a lot of help from her derby-playing mom Lucid Lou (of ToRD’s Death Track Dolls). TJRD is one of only three junior roller derby leagues in Canada (both of the other leagues are in Edmonton), but just the tip of a growing North American trend that is also beginning to see leagues popping up in high schools. The popularity of the league is undeniable as almost 50 skaters are now involved.

The TJRD Knicker Kickers get introduced at their debut bout on May 14, 2011. (Photo by Joe Mac)

Junior roller derby plays a “loco” (low contact) form of the sport based on the WFTDA rule set. The twenty first century brand of roller derby differs most from its earlier counterparts in its accessibility and reputation, two things that have been essential in its perpetuation.  The importance of these junior leagues to the continued success of the sport cannot be downplayed. ToRD’s creation of a farm team, the D-VAS, has already had a profound effect on the level of play in the league  as skaters now are drafted onto teams with ample experience, including with bouting. Once the junior leagues start to graduate skaters into the senior ranks on a regular basis, the entry-level skills and confidence of the players will change in an even bigger way. To put it simply: Competitive derby is about to get a whole lot more competitive.

New Hampshire's Mad Missfits were TJRD's opponents in their debut bout. (photo by Joe Mac)

And this was never more evident than during TJRD’s historic bout this past weekend. On Saturday, May 14, the TJRD Knicker Kickers made their bouting debut against the Mad Missfits from New Hampshire. Not only was it the first junior roller derby bout to be played in eastern Canada, but the first ever cross border junior roller derby bout between Canadian and American clubs. All things considered, the level of play was phenomenal. Solid positional blocking, fast pace lines and even the hints of isolation strategies were in all in play. It was a tight bout early on with senior skaters like Feral Carole (TJRD) and Pearl Slam (Mad Missfits) leading the packs as pivots, while Awesome Sauce and Kamikaze Kupcake jammed for Toronto, with Li’l Trouble and Auti-Mobile leading the offense for the Missfits. Leads were traded back and forth before TJRD’s Seemore Bruises broke the game wide open with a big pick up on a power jam to give her team a 31-24 lead; they would hold on to lead 34-27 at the half.

Differences in age and size didn't seem to make much difference on the track. (photo by Joe Mac)

The importance of roller derby extends far beyond the borders of the track and into the lives of young women. “Roller derby saved some of their lives,” B.D.I. boldly tells me of her teammates, pointing out that it is important for girls to be playing a sport made by girls for girls. Coach Lucid Lou (who coaches the league with Coach Vader, a former ToRD skater, current skater Mouth of the South and referees R’Effin Adora Bell and T-Ref), confirms this, and says that success for these young women has followed them from derby into their social lives and schooling. Lou has been a key part of ToRD’s fresh meat training program over the years, and has seen similar things from the senior skaters as well. “I see the growth in adults too. I’ve seen women come in (to fresh meat) in their 30s, and the transition that happens with them,” she says, “and it’s even more incredible to see that happening in a younger generation, where these girls are having a chance to self-evaluate and grow at a younger age.” The inherent inclusivity of the roller derby community means that junior roller derby provides a safe and celebratory space for all kinds of kids and a space where being oneself is not only allowed, but encouraged (it should be mentioned that boys are involved as well, as referees and anouncers).

TJRD skater Madzilla didn't have any problems playing with or cheering for the Mad Missfits. (photo by Joe Mac)

The pace and athleticism of the skaters improved as the bout went on and everyone got used to skating with each other. Auti-Mobile took over the offense for the Missfits in the second half, showing a great athleticism, leaping lines and juking blockers, helping New Hampshire retake the lead 42-45 five minutes in. The diminutive Miss Fit responded for Toronto, showing no fear against her much larger opponents. The various ages that play together now (out of necessity until the sport grows to the point where ages can be separated), makes for a wide disparity in sizes, but it doesn’t seem to affect the play or the confidence of the skaters. Joan of Argghh was a more than capable pivot for the Kickers, while Biff Break-It took on the stripe for the Missfits. The communal inclusivity at the heart of roller derby was apparent when a handful of Toronto skaters actually played for the short-benched Missfits (including Biff). Two of those skaters, L’il Trouble and Monster Mayhem, said that they didn’t mind. “As long as we get to play!” they both exclaimed on the bench before the game, and they both played hard during it. The bout remained close right through to the end, with neither team capable of maintaining a lead. Eventually, the Mad Missfits held on for the 82-74 victory, but both benches seemed awfully pleased with how things went.

Watching the excitement of the girls on the bench was actually almost as exciting as watching the play on the track. Excuse the cliché, but their enthusiasm was so earnest and so complete that it was infectious and extraordinarily heart warming. They may not all have grasped the larger implications of what they were doing—the reverberations that this would one day have in the larger roller derby community—but they certainly understood one thing clearly, perhaps even more clearly than their big sister skaters in the senior leagues: flat track roller derby is one fun sport.

*TJRD will be heading to Cleveland for a junior tournament at the end of June. For more information about this or about the league, please visit the TJRD website.

* ToRD.TV was on hand to capture the event and you can watch the archive here. TJRD’s Miss Fit (watch here) and Biff Break It (watch here) have served as guest reporters on ToRD.TV. You can also watch ToRD TV’s interview with skater Seemore Bruises (formerly known as Claire De Looney) and derby mom Nancy Jo Cullen.

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