(* This article was originally written for print, but unfortunately the magazine folded before it could be published. A significantly edited version of this article appeared on this site in May 2011.)
The fact that junior roller derby will change the competitive level of the sport was never more evident than during TJRD’s historic debut bout in May, 2011. On Saturday, May 14, history was made as the TJRD Knicker Kickers welcomed 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 roller derby bout between Canadian and American clubs. All things considered, the level of play was phenomenal. While things got off to a slow start as each team dealt with the pressures of playing under the big lights of a senior-derby venue in front of an actual crowd against unfamiliar opposition, the girls quickly became comfortable on the track. Solid positional blocking, fast pace lines and even the hints of isolation strategies were all in play. It was a tight bout early on with older 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 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.
Coach Tommy, a derby dad and coach of the visiting Mad Missfits, echoes the importance of these junior leagues to girls and notes that many of the parents of his players also brought their girls to roller derby to avoid the “traditional” sports on offer, and the results have been obvious. “I think we are seeing a huge difference in (the skaters)! We are using derby to instill self-confidence, leadership, and determination in young girls that are being ‘missed’ by traditional sports,” he says. “In this way, I think junior roller derby can find its place in youth sports. It provides a competitive, athletic activity that can reach young girls who, for one reason or another, are uninterested in other sports.”
This outlet for young women is obviously important and the effects of roller derby extend 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. Coach Lucid Lou (who coaches the league with Coach Vader, a retired ToRD skater, and 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.
When The Kickers and The Missfits skated back onto the track for the second half, it was hard to tell who was winning as players on both teams glowed from their opportunity in the spot light. Fully warmed-up and acclimatized to the setting, the competitive level ramped up in the second half. Joan of Argghh was a more than capable pivot for the Kickers, while Biff Break It took on the stripe for the Missfits. Auti-Mobile took over the offense for New Hampshire, showing a great athleticism, leaping lines and juking blockers, helping her team retake the lead 45-43 five minutes into the second. The diminutive Miss Fit responded for Toronto, showing no fear against her much larger teammates. 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 didsn’t seem to affect the play or the confidence of the skaters. The sort of inclusivity at the heart of roller derby was apparent when a handful of Toronto skaters switched sides to play for the short-benched Missfits. 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. The bout remained close right through to the end, with neither team capable of holding a substantial lead. Eventually, the Mad Missfits held on for the 82-74 victory, but both benches seemed awfully pleased with how things went.
It was an extraordinary and historic moment for the sport of roller derby and perhaps even women’s sport in general; this generation of youth skaters is just the peak of a steadily growing wave, a wave that is now even overtaking the education system. The Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders in derby-mad Austin, Texas, was the first school to offer roller derby as an official extracurricular activity. And while they are limited to playing junior leagues right now, another Austin school, LBJ High School, is set to join in on the movement. In New Hampshire, Coach Tommy says the Mad Missfits have been welcomed into local schools around Peterborough to perform demonstrations of the sport in yet another sign of the growing awareness of the legitimacy of the sport.
But their place in history was lost on the junior girls playing in that game in May. They didn’t seem interested in the larger meaning of their accomplishment. Their expressions said it all: they were there for the fun of the game, the camaraderie of the team. They were there for themselves, and nothing more. Watching those expression on the bench was actually almost as exciting as watching the play on the track. Their enthusiasm was so earnest and so complete that it was infectious and extraordinarily heart warming. They may not 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.