Tori Sutton, Stratford Gazette
The first lesson is how to stand. The second is how to fall.
A group of local youth are finding their derby legs with the launch of the Festival City Rollergirls’ latest junior team. Over a dozen children and teens have signed up for the inaugural 12-week session, which got underway on Oct. 21.
Though roller derby is a female-dominated sport – in fact, it is the fastest-growing women’s sport around the world – boys are welcome to join as well, learning to skate and training to become referees.
“Roller derby is a little bit off the beaten path,” said junior team founder and coach Jennifer ‘J-Whoa’ Zammit. “It does attract those girls who feel they may not fit into a stereotypical sport.”
While the new team does have two practices under its belt, new participants are still welcome to join. No experience is necessary and equipment – including roller skates, pads and helmets – are available to borrow. Players must bring their own mouth guard. Anyone with their own equipment, such as a bike helmet that covers the back of their head, is encouraged to bring it along.
Those interested in picking up their own gear can also purchase it locally at Totally Spoke’d on Ontario Street.
Instruction includes skating skills, learning to fall safely and an education in the rules of roller derby.
If the momentum behind the juniors continues – Zammit noted an impressive number have signed up for the session considering the size of the city – it is hoped they can play with other junior teams in cities like London and Toronto.
“The sport is a lot of fun but when you’re scrimmaging just among your own team it gets a little dry,” she said. “The more you play, the more you learn. The more you learn, the more you play and the more fun it is, the more confident you become as an athlete.”
Roller derby has some real health benefits. Zammit, who is a fitness professional, noted derby is great for getting kids active while building core strength and stability. Along with building self confidence and projecting a strong message of body acceptance, derby also fosters friendship between players.
“You develop these bonds with people you might not have crossed paths with,” Zammit said, noting the relationships she’s developed over two years in derby is something she cherishes. “I think it’s really important for these girls to move outside the typical circles they may run in, and to see you can have the back of a complete stranger.”
The junior team will be low-contact, with a focus on positional blocking. There is a emphasis on safety and ensuring all players know how to skate and fall, all while wearing the appropriate safety gear.
“It is a ‘when-you-fall-sport’ not an ‘if-you-fall-sport’ kind of like ice skating is, really,” she said. “When they fall, they’ll be ready and they’ll have a good fall.”
Zammit noted the Festival City Rollergirls continue to grow. Along with the low-contact and junior teams, a full-contact adult team was recently established. About 40 skaters participate regularly, though many more have come out to try the sport.
Anything the group has done, it has done on its own without help from anyone else, she said.
The group has met with the city and continues to lobby for a facility it can use year-round, since the YMCA’s gymnasium – where regular Sunday practices are held throughout the winter – is too hot in the warmer months. The junior derby team welcomes players ages nine to 17, with practices on Sunday from 10-11 a.m.
Anyone interested in joining any of the derby teams can contact the Festival City Rollergirls through its website, www.stratfordrollergirls.com.