Knicker Kickers

Youth In Revolt: The Future of Flat Track (Part 2)

(* 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.)

TJRD's Knicker Kickers faces Hew Hampshire's Mad Missfits in their debut bout in May, 2011. (Photo by Joe Mac)

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.

*Read Part 1 here.

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.

Gores cap off another unbeaten regular season with win over Betties

The Gores were pushed early by the Betties who had their best bout of the season. (Photography by Neil Gunner)

Smoke City Betties 59 vs. Gore-Gore Rollergirls 130

Despite three bouts in the Greater Toronto Area last night, the Hangar was packed, the crowd eager to see the Gore-Gore Rollergirls and Smoke City Betties square off in their final bout of the regular season. The Gores were all but assured of not only a spot in the playoffs, but of a bye directly to Battle for the Boot 5. For the Betties, the end of another losing season was on the horizon, but this seemed to inspire them to pull out a strong performance against the defending champs, and in the end, despite a score line that read a 71 point victory for the Gores (their twelfth in a row), the Betties were able to skate away knowing they’d brought the fight to the champs, managing to put together, arguably, their best bout of the season.

Fast, physical packs defined the bout.

Things started off very well for the Betties, with some strong walls and solid jamming to keep things close early on. Leads were hard to get but even harder to hold as the jammers often exited their initial passes together. The Betties seem to have taken an important step forward: they’ve bought into the systems that are necessary to play to be successful, and they’ve settled nicely into their roles on the track. Particularly in the early going, and then periodically throughout, the Betties seemed to be playing the exact same game—fast, tight packs, a short jammer rotation–but the Gores, with their experience, just managed to keep a step or two ahead. There’d been whispers of a new-look Gores team—some potential surprises—and at one point, with the Gores threatening to pull away (up 40-5 nearing the midway point), it looked like the fans might see something interesting happen, but big pickups from BruiseBerry Pie and Memphis Kitty on consecutive power jams (despite some excellent power kill work by the Gores) narrowed the lead to 40-23, and necessitated some strong play from the Gores to keep the Betties in check.

Hurlin Wall' continued her role as jammer hunter with some hard blocking on Betties' jammer Sail Her Poon.

The story for the Betties early on was the exceptional play of both BruiseBerry Pie and Memphis Kitty, who stepped up in a big way. Memphis Kitty has been having an excellent season for the Betties, shining first against the Death Track Dolls and then in this one; she fought for every inch of track and forced some timely calls by the Gores jammers. She seemed to relish the opportunity to face familiar opponents in Bambi and Dust Bunny. Bruise also had a great night jamming, and is developing into a triple threat for the Betties, excelling tonight especially at pivot (settling into a more organizational role) and with the star (where she was strong both strategically, and physically), and had some hard-fought battles with Hurlin’ Wall in the early going. The Gores finished the half solidly, but the Betties seemed unperturbed and remained well within reach 60-33 at the half.

Brim Stone was back jamming for the Gores.

As the Gores did increase their lead, some of that expected experimentation began. Looking to add depth to their jammer rotation, Bambi and Dust Bunny did pack duty for much of the second half allowing Brim Stone to lead rookie Lulu Cthulu and second year player Pinky Violence in the offence. Also, Aston Martini donned the stripe to lead the pack and rookie Wheely Nasty also gave pivoting a chance, part of another big night for ToRD rookies (in a season that is turning out to be the year of thre rookie). Emma Dilemma was solid in the pack for the Gores, while Misery Mae was a big part of the Betties defence playing a physical game, but reeling it in defensively when needed. The Betties kept hanging around, keeping the Gores in their sights, and were well within reach, down only 67-49 ten minutes into the second half.

Platinum Bomb was just one of the skaters playing multiple roles.

The Betties continue to tinker with things as well; with Bruise taking on more of a role jamming, Tropic Thunder took on a larger role in pack. Similarly, having jammers titmouse and Platinum Bomb at their disposal allowed Memphis Kitty to take up the stripe and lead the packs. While the Betties managed to hang on until late in this one, the experienced Gores were eventually able to pull away. As with the bout against the Dolls (where the Betties also drifted late), the Betties could not sustain the momentum long enough to overtake their opponents. Nonetheless, having their best showing against the Gores in the last three bouts—and maintaining a consistent upward growth throughout the season—should allow the Betties to go confidently into the off season knowing that they have finally turned a crucial corner on the road back to competitiveness. They’ve got the right mix of experience and talent now; it’s just a matter of bringing it all together. For the Gores, the victory secures a trip to the June 25th championship and a chance to defend the Boot.

* The Toronto Junior Roller Derby league held its inaugural bout to kick off the double header, hosting New Hampshire’s Mad Missfits; stay tuned for a full recap later this week.

* Both games were boutcast live by the ToRD TV team via Canuck Derby TV. You can watch the archived boutcasts here. Layer9 captured it all track side in HD.