Calling all fresh blood! If you’re ready to let the good times roll, with some rainbow hair, fishnets, and a full-contact competitive sport-on-wheels, then here is the thing for you! Grey Bruce Roller Derby is recruiting, and the whole family is welcome!
When Rrampt told me I was headed out to the first ever Hoedown Throwdown Roller Derby in Kincardine, I thought I better pack my elbow pads just in case! I figured I’d probably see some wildly aggressive moves, leading to bruises and full-on bloodbaths. Don’t get me wrong, there were lots of hip-checks and wipe-outs to go around, but I was quite taken aback when the players stopped and picked their opponent up off the ground. Unlike what you’d imagine for a Roller Derby, this tournament embodies true sportsmanship and respect for players so that everyone can fully enjoy the sport.
The tournament was put on by the Kincardine Agricultural Society, who contacted the Grey Bruce Roller Derby, Hogtown Roller Derby (Toronto) and Tri City Derby (Kitchener) to help host the event. They wanted to attract something new to the community that could include the whole family. With some fundraising efforts and help from volunteers, the tournament rolled out quite smoothly and included over 30 officials, entertaining announcers, food trucks, and the industry room’s bar. Along with the hosts, teams from Peterborough, Alliston, North Bay, South Simcoe and Guelph were also invited to compete. The tournament put on 20-minute rounds, guaranteeing each team 3 playtimes.
I had a chance to hang out with the Grey Bruce Roller Derby crew for the day, and I cannot explain the devotion, sacrifice, and sheer passion each and every player brings to the table.
The team was formed in September 2011, and has been rolling together ever since. The most relatable depiction of what this derby means to its players, is that it creates a community where there is truly a place for everyone. There is diversity in age, sex, race, body type – no stereotypes here.
GB Roller Derby member, Maggie Crain aka PyroMAGniac, says “Having wheels on your feet is such an equalizer that all body types have a place. If you’re small and agile, or big and solid, there’s a place for you.”
Many people told me they became hooked on the sport after their first visit to a derby. While it is a full-contact competitive sport, it is one of the most welcoming and inclusive environments you will encounter. They team is very attentive to one another’s needs personally, and competitively, looking out for each other in many ways.
By now, you may be looking for a little explanation of how the game works, maybe a little history. Well, Roller Derby was invented in the Great Depression by a fella named Leo Seltzer, who started the game out as a gag contest for prizes. It evolved after a sportswriter suggested that the game should be more violent, and people loved it. Roller Derby has always been an inclusive sport, and initially one of the only sports allowing women to play full contact. Despite the entertainment of a classic school yard fight, the sport dwindled out in the early 70’s when the derby league was disbanded and nearly disappeared. Since then, roller skating has been resurrected, slowly building since its rise in Texas in the early 2000’s. What was once a game of men and women beating up on another has evolved to one that resembles rugby-on-wheels. There’s no punching or kicking, no throwing elbows, no contact with another player’s helmet or below the knee, but you can get a mighty punch out of your hips, ribs, shoulders, and thighs!
An average derby game has two 30-minute halves, and when the game starts, the playtime is split into Jams, which are each two minutes long unless they end earlier. On the track, you have five players from each team, four blockers (aka the pack) and one jammer. The jammer is effectively the ‘ball’ in roller derby – they wear a star on their helmet and their role is to pass the opposing team’s blockers. To score points, the jammer must past the entire pack before the opposing jammer. The blockers can help their blocker through while blocking the other jammer – playing offence and defence simultaneously. The lead remains the same until the jam finishes, but they may cut the play short by placing their hands on their hips. Each blocker is one point, as the jammer passes them throughout the play, they gain a point per pass.
As the game changes, so does its circumstances. Without not-for-profit organizations like the Kincardine Agricultural Society, and the volunteers behind events like the Hoedown Throwdown Roller Derby, the sport would have died off. From holding practices to funding tournaments, the derby has survived on a lifeline of community support and pure dedication.
The team practices year-round at the Derby Community Centre in Kilsyth, but the team’s practice space has recently come into question, with possible changes that are beyond the team’s control such as astroturf potentially being installed at the arena.
“Unfortunately the Derby sport is very vulnerable to loss of space as there are some specific needs – i.e. surface, space and track definition (lines painted), that make alternative spaces unfeasible,” explains Derby member, Denice McCarl aka Van Whalin’ . The goal is to have continued community support to avoid ever losing their practice space.
The Grey Bruce Roller Derby team hopes to see the future of roller derby soar to new heights, extending beyond just women, to include a diverse range of participants. I have to say, I think my favourite part of the whole derby was the nicknames everyone has. I met some amazing folks including ‘Blast’, ‘Trouble’ and ‘The Destroyer.’
They all agree that the derby is their therapy, their peace, their community, and they will roll until their joints seize! The team may have even won me over, and I already know what my nickname would be. I’ll unveil it at my first jam. And I’ll be sure to abide by the GB Roller Derby motto: ‘Make new Friends – Knock them down.’
The next Derby is May 1 – July 3 and you can contact them at email@example.com and find them on FB and Insta at greybrucerollerderby
Roller Derby 101 is a place to learn how to skate even if you don’t want to play roller derby. They accept all folx and men are welcome too. They are also looking for people interested in becoming refs for their league.
Words and photos by Ashley Winters