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Roller derby goes to the kids
By Katie Wilson
Roller Derby Girls: You want to talk about them like they’re superheroes — with lots of BIFFS and KAPOWs!
They look a bit like superheroes with bright tights, short shorts, crazy hair and helmets.
Meet the Emerald City Junior Gems, Eugene’s junior answer to adult roller derby. It’s a small league, just the Grease Monkeys and the Shipwrecked Sheilas — small, but mighty.
|photo by Victor Mejia|
“We have girls of all shapes and sizes and abilities,” says Elizabeth Thompson, “Moonshine” from the adult league’s Andromedolls. “It’s great to see the girls … feeling beautiful and confident as they kick ass on wheels!”
They’re ages 10 to 17, and they’ll run you into the ground.
“If someone falls, help them back up. If you fall, you need to sprint to catch back up to the pack,” says Grease Monkeys mentor/coach Amber “Ambruisia” Tlaunty.
Practicing on the track at Springfield’s Regional Sports Center, “Neal Cassady” (Cassady Swan) of the Shipwrecked Sheilas in floral tights and bright blue shorts, makes a sharp, fast turn, her leg stuck out like an oar, steering her.
Behind her, the pack is catching up. Katy “Kali Kaboom” Williams, weaves her way through and races around the track.
“They’re tough,” says roller dad, John Davidson, “I’d fricken be exhausted.” His daughter, Bridget Davidson, is a Grease Monkey.
They take their sport as seriously as any kid in soccer or basketball, but they get to play in skirts and tights. Their helmets shout out: Boys are dumb. I heart roller derby. Shed light not blood. It’s equal parts death and Disney — skulls and crossbones, rainbows and cartoon animals.
Because of the age range, the league is low contact. No hitting allowed, although it is in other junior leagues in Oregon.
They play according to the same rules as the adult leagues. They form a pack and one girl from each team is the lead superhero — the jammer — and scores points.
The league also puts together a travel team that plays full contact roller derby. Sometimes girls returning from the travel team forget the low contact rule.
“Sorry, I think I hit you that one time,” says a Grease Monkey after a scrimmage.
“It’s OK,” Taelyn Loyer says, flipping back a pink stripe of hair. “I hit you a few times too.”
Loyer, 14, used to be shy. “She wouldn’t even order her own food at restaurants,” says her mom, Brandi Loyer.
Now, “Spunkee Bruizer” races around the track yelling to her teammates.
“I was really low in self-confidence,” she says, “Now it makes me feel like I have a power: going fast, spending time with my team.”
She’s going to stick with it. She knows which adult team she wants to be on.
“I want to be an Andromedoll. I will be an Andromedoll,” she announces.
The Shipwreck Sheilas have Andromedolls as coaches: Thompson, and Kylie “Agent Orange” Belachaikovsky. Grease Monkeys coaches are Flat Track Furies Ambruisia and Wendy “Stinging Nettle” McKenzie.
These mentors are incredibly important, say Brandi Loyer and Thompson.
“Good or bad, the girls are always encouraged,” Loyer says.
But there’s no room for slackers.
“Hey! I’m talking to you!” Ambruisia yells to some goofing off Grease Monkeys. Her voice echoes off the walls. Reassured by the smile Ambruisia flashes, they snap to attention and smile back.
It’s a sport that boosts confidence levels.
“We make them advocate for themselves,” Stinging Nettle says. “I mean, they have to yell instructions at each other on the track. Their confidence goes way up. I wish I had had this when I was a kid.”
The girls whiz around the track fearlessly, testing moves and corners. After fumbling and falling, they get right back up. One girl falls, bringing four more down with her. There’s a surprising flash of blue mouth guard, but none of the girls so much as a grunts.
In a society that encourages them to be skinny, vapid and quiet, roller derby is a chance to skate, slam and embrace their inner “Wonder Woman.”
“They have this exercise where they learn blocking. They realize they could hit something and you see something just light up in their eyes,” Davidson says. “The first time [Bridget] got to be a jammer,” he says. “She came around the turn and she did this fist pump. I thought, ‘That’s a different Bridget than a year before.’”
Besides, as Grease Monkey Braelei “Bust-Her-Hyde” Hardt, 15, says, “In what other sport can you dress up like this?”