Roller derby is a fast-paced contact sport, mostly for women, where players are known by cheeky monikers such as “Ruff Tuff Creampuff,” and “Fonda Spanks.” Fishnet stockings are welcome, punk-y fashions are appreciated, and mouth guards are required.
Featured in movies such as Drew Barrymore’s Whip It (2009), roller derby requires a high level of athleticism while staying focused on fun and community-building for women of all ages and skill sets. According to the website Roller Derby Worldwide, there are currently 1,500 amateur roller derby leagues across the globe with 126 leagues in Canada. Whitehorse’s Yukon Roller Girls (YRG) are revving up for their fourth season this autumn, building on momentum from winning the championship at the first annual United We Roll Roller Derby Tournament in Alaska in May.
YRG President Lindsay Agar, a.k.a. Bonanza Babe, is excited about this fall’s Fresh Meat intake, where new skaters come out to see what role will best suit them in the roller derby league: Non-Skating Official, referee, volunteer, or skater in the junior league, which is ages 12 to 18, or adult league.
“If you have ever had an inkling of interest in the sport, come out and give it a try,” Agar says. “There is always a spot for someone in roller derby, both on and off skates.”
Agar describes YRG as a recreational team with a competitive edge.
“I enjoy the community of women involved in the league,” she says. “I get to hang out with great people twice a week, who support one another on and off the track with a true sense of camaraderie.”
It was friendship that first brought Agar to roller derby. She joined the league to spend time with her best friend one summer. She has loved the sport ever since, and her friend is currently involved with YRG as a referee.
League members are a mixed bunch, coming from all vocations and ages. Agar, for example, is an event coordinator with the City of Whitehorse.
“Had I not become involved with YRG, I would not have met this eclectic and diverse group of women,” she says.
New YRG participants who sign up for the Fresh Meat program must pay their monthly dues of $20, purchase a full set of gear including skates, wrist guards, helmet, kneepads, elbow pads, and mouth guard ($350), or buy the equipment used from a former roller girl. Insurance is also mandatory.
All body types and levels of experience are welcome, as the Roller Girls teach skating and derby skills starting with the basics. New skaters must pass the Minimum Skills benchmark before they can compete with the team in derbies. Minimum Skills are outlined by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), and include: crossovers, stops, four point falls, baseball slides, hip checks, focus, pushes, and how to take a hit.
A key step in the process is for the newcomers to pick a derby name. Choose wisely, because the derby name, like a stage name, is more likely to be used than one’s real name.
The Fighting Mongoose, for example, might have made a different choice if calculated, methodical thought went into the choice of derby name.
“I picked my name at random from a Futurama episode because I’m a Matt Groening fan,” says The Fighting Mongoose, a.k.a. Amil Dupuis-Rossi, Roller Girl coach. “But if I could go back in time, I might pick another name. Most people know me as ‘Goose.'”
Goose, I mean, Dupuis-Rossi says they are gearing up to launch the season with a focus on increased teamwork.
“We’re working hard at not relying on any individual player, but instead playing as a team by performing the same strategies, tasks, and setting everyone up for success,” Dupuis-Rossi says.
She’s got that kind of thinking in her blood; she is a social worker at Family and Children Services in Whitehorse.
She also wants to make sure the guys around town know they are welcome to get involved.
“While all the players are women, men are welcome to play supportive roles as coaches and referees,” Dupuis-Rossi says. “Refereeing is a real skill that requires patience and attention to detail.”
Dupuis-Rossi, who caught the roller derby bug in May 2010, is a Jammer, a position requiring speed and agility. Jammers are the players who score the points, so in a bout they are hot targets for checking. Even as a moving target, Dupuis-Rossi says she does not sustain many injuries because she cross-trains by running and biking.
“If you are generally sturdy, you are less likely to get hurt,” she says. “Falls are controlled. Falling and learning how to take a hit are basic skills that we teach all the skaters. People may have the impression that they will need to dedicate their life for roller derby, but it is not all consuming. There is a balance.”
The Fresh Meat intake will begin after the Yukon Roller Girls’ first home bout of the season: “Northern Exposure: Naughty or Nice?” This derby on Sept. 14 pits the Roller Girls against North Pole Babes in Toyland, from North Pole, Alaska, at Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the whistle blows at 7 p.m.
You can also skate with Roller Girls on Thursday night Roller Jams at the Canada Games Centre Flexihall every week from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.