This winter, some Halifax kids are lacing up their skates, but they aren’t headed to the ice rink.
Anchor City Rollers are developing a junior roller derby program, which launched on Jan. 12. Its second practice was held at the Spryfield Lions Rink last Friday from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Among its members is nine-year-old Paige Manthorne, who is excited to be on the team.
“There’s a lot of really great people. It’s like a memory; when you fall, you laugh so much if you fall,” she says. “It’s really fun.”
Roller derby in Canada uses a round, flat track. The game, or bout, consists of two teams of five players. Four of the players or blockers make up a pack, while each team’s jammer races between blockers for the most points.
Before this new group can compete, they have to pass three skill-level tests. These ‘freshmeat’ or learn-to-skate levels are to ensure players are comfortable and safe on their skates. Youth, like adults, are also expected to master backwards skating, weaving, side stepping, sticky skating and then work towards jumping.
Katie Amber, member of the Anchor City Rollers, is taking time before the adult practice to teach the junior team. Roller derby is about safety and inclusion, she says.
“We really focus on making sure they’re safe and comfortable on their wheels before we do any sort of contact,” says Amber, adding that it prepares them for “hits” or hip and shoulder checks.
Amber says the girls already have their own roller derby insurance, as do adults, provided by Canadian Roller Derby Information Services.
No matter what age or size, the girls are beginning at the same level.
“Somebody who’s really tiny, whether they are an adult or kid, if they have the right skills they can compete successfully against someone who is much taller, older, or bigger than them,” says Amber.
Abigail Warren, 14, brought all of her own gear to practices. With her mouth guard still in she says, “I think people should join this because it’s a very diverse society. Everybody is different.”
This difference extends to the sport itself as well.
“(Other sports) are always ragging on you right at the beginning to be good,” says Warren. “You don’t really have the chance to start when you’re at my age; everyone has already started.”
Amber says coaches are looking for stability on wheels and the player’s ability to control themselves, their body and their speed. They “want to make sure they are safe and safe with others,” she says.
Bruce Warren, Abigail’s father, says no one in his family had played roller derby until his wife and daughter showed interest. He says this is the first year for both of them.
Warren chuckles, saying he is not worried about his daughter, but is “more worried about the other girls.”
While Anchor City Rollers have primarily female players, it is open to everyone — a policy that extends to the junior group.
“The big thing about roller derby is that we are a very inclusive environment,” Amber says. “Everybody is welcome here, no matter who they are, and how they identify. And for a sport that involves hitting people, we are very warm and loving.”
“I have been waiting a long time for this,” says Astrid Sturk, 10, who became interested in roller derby after watching her mom play.
“It’s like the only sport I really like. I like to be able to do sticky skating and cool tricks with my skates,” she says. “It’s just really fun to meet all the people who like it too.”
There is at least one adult roller derby league in each of the Maritime provinces, but Fredericton is the only city registered under the Junior Roller Derby Association. Having just started up the junior team, Anchor City Rollers plan to register them under the association soon.
Currently, the junior group is in the process of choosing a team name. Kim Manthorne, who has been with Anchor City for two years, is also the mother of one of the new skaters. She was on the committee that started the junior team.
“I am very excited to have it on the go and I think it will take right off,” she says.
About the author
Karli Zschogner is part Nova Scotian and recently moved to Halifax for Journalism at the University of King's College. After her Bachelors in...