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The Suburbanite
  • Junior roller derby teams taking off locally, globally

  • Have you ever heard of a jammer? A t-stop? A helmet panty? How about WFTDA or JRDA? Or maybe you’ve heard of passing the star, falling small or a hip whip?

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  • Have you ever heard of a jammer? A t-stop? A helmet panty? How about WFTDA or JRDA? Or maybe you’ve heard of passing the star, falling small or a hip whip?
    Sounds like a different language, doesn’t it? But, as my daughter Maggie and I discovered, it’s just the lingo of one of the fastest rising women’s and girls’ sports currently in the world: roller derby.
    In October, I noticed a post on Facebook from what I thought was the first Akron-Canton area women’s roller derby league: NEO Roller Derby. A closer look revealed it was a new team, a “little sister” team to NEO. Two of NEO’s skaters, Mayhem N’Legs and Olive Pain founded a junior team in August 2011 with other members of a then-defunct Cleveland junior derby team, The Firestarters. Both Mayhem N’Legs and Olive Pain had daughters skating with The Firestarters. When that team disbanded, they started a new junior league in Akron -- NEO jr.  Incorporating former Firestarter players and, as they call it in the derby world, “fresh meat,” recruited from Northeast Ohio, the team was quickly coming together when we discovered them.
    The Facebook post invited girls ages 7-17 to a new recruit information meeting and tryout on a Saturday night. I was intrigued by the “girl power” aspect of their photo and invitation. Not to mention, it was a sport we knew nothing about. Why not give it a try?
    Maggie and I hesitantly stopped in to the event, not sure what to expect. The practice space is in an old area factory, with a flat-banked track centered in the middle of the floor. Girls of all ages wearing wrist, knee, elbow pads, mouth guards and helmets whizzed around the track, sometimes sliding on their knees when they fell. I was starting to regret suggesting we investigate the sport. It looked more dangerous than the usual young person’s sport team. I kept visualizing emergency room visits and broken bones as we watched.
    At the information meeting, Olive Pain (one of the head coaches) explained the different levels of play as the girls progressed in their skills, culminating in a “full contact” sport. She also described roller derby as an “extreme sport.” Huh. I was planning a quick exit from the meeting until I noticed Maggie holding a skate in her hand. She was spinning the wheels with her fingers, engrossed by the girls skating in a snaking pattern across the track.
    Even though Maggie is usually quite hesitant about anything even remotely daring, I could see she already had the derby bug. It was too late for us to make a run for it. She was hooked.
    She signed up for the team, we purchased gear at Sun Valley Sports in Montrose and the practicing began. Maggie was “fresh meat” and barely knew how to skate. The first weeks she could barely stay upright, let alone actually make it around the rink. The other, more experienced girls were skating circles around her.
    Page 2 of 2 - Maggie was struggling and I was sure she would quit. More and more recently, she lacks confidence in herself, and derby is challenging for a newbie. I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had abandoned it all together.
    But, one of the best parts of the NEO jr team are the girls, coaches, referees (who are boys and men, by the way, in case anyone male is interested in the sport), support staff and parents who make up the group. All of us act as an unconditionally loving family, a “derby” family, but a family nonetheless. The players refer to each other as derby sisters who belong to a special sisterhood.
    NEO jr’s Facebook page offers their mission statement, and it perfectly sums up Maggie’s experiences:
    “NEO jr Roller Derby exists to make a positive impact on the lives of youth within our community. We will provide an opportunity to assist girls in becoming strong and independent women. We are a non-profit Flat Track Junior Roller Derby League! We always encourage our youth athletes to engage in positive attitudes, teamwork, leadership, charitable works and social interaction!”
    Everyone has gone out of their way to help Maggie become better with each passing week. Some sport’s teams might have pulled me aside and said Maggie wasn’t quite cut out for their team. This wasn’t the case with NEO jr. Volunteer skaters from NEO specifically came in to coach her, and Maggie began to improve. Slowly but surely, she went from barely skating to doing crossovers, whips and joining in practice bouts.
    It was a momentous day when we found NEO jr, but we didn’t know it at the time. And, another momentous day is almost here for Maggie and team-their first official bout in Cincinnati on March 24. It’s also a big day for me-my 40th birthday- which I will be spending cheering on Maggie’s derby sisterhood. Sounds like the perfect birthday to me.