Sharp whistle blasts and music echo off gymnasium walls as skaters call back and forth, and skate wheels clack, whir, and grind over the track surface, punctuated occasionally by the slap of thick protective knee pads hitting the floor. These are the sounds of Peterborough Area Roller Derby (PARDy) as weekly practice begins.
Under the direction of “Coach Dawesome” and training committee members “Hell Bunny”, “Pip Tatters”, and “Saria Stark”, veteran skaters work along with ‘Fresh Meat’, as skaters new to derby are called, as well as skaters who’ve recently graduated from Fresh Meat by passing minimum skills testing, becoming eligible for rostering in bouts (as derby matches are called) for the upcoming season.
Exercises in conditioning and skills development flow into game play drills that work on team cohesion and strategy, with the occasional game of dodgeball and European hand towel on skates thrown in to relax and finish off a practice.
Roller Derby is the fastest growing sport in North America, and there are many leagues and teams competing in Ontario at various levels. The sport is primarily played on a flat oval track, with skaters wearing quad skates (4 wheels on each skate, set in pairs) and protective gear. Teams generally have 13-15 players, with most players leaning towards proficiency as a jammer, or point scorer, or a blocker, those who try to keep the other team’s jammer from scoring points.
In simple terms, the jammers are the balls in play, and it is the blockers’ job to keep the opposing ball from scoring points by blocking it from getting past, or by knocking it out-of-bounds, while protecting their own ball and helping it move forward.
Gone is the 1970s scripted spectacle of Skinny Minny Miller and bloody noses, and the fairy tale anarchy of 2009’s Whip It. The derby athletes of this millennium are working hard to craft a professional sport based on skill, safety, inclusion, and empowerment.
Skaters come in all shapes and sizes – they just need to bring dedication and a positive attitude along with them. What a film such as Whip It does portray convincingly perhaps is the possibility of comradery that derby provides, and the success that can be found through hard work, team-bonding, and following through on your passions.
Veteran skater and elected skater rep, Erin “Shots O’Plenty”, came to derby “because I was in the right place at the right time. I kept going back because no matter what kind of day I was having, if I dragged myself to practice, I always feel happy and accomplished at the end.” She continued, “Derby is a place I can be myself and the only expectation is that I try my best and play nice with my teammates.”
Recently graduated fresh meat Jeff, or “Elmer Thudd”, found similar satisfaction when looking for a new challenge and social experience: “It’s exciting and great exercise, all while surrounding yourself with a great group of supportive and positive people. The teachers are fantastic.” Jeff was also drawn to the history of the sport – which stretches back to the 1940s and ‘50s, taking women out of the house and making them rock stars.
PARDy was officially launched in 2015, with the merging of two local leagues – Peterborough Roller Derby and Area 705 Roller Derby – both of whom have been skating in Peterborough for a number of years. Home games for PARDy are played from May to August in the Douro Arena, just outside of Peterborough, though the league travel team goes across Ontario for games throughout the season, and was very successful in 2015, moving quickly up the provincial standings.
Several skaters from PARDy have been also drafted to play with the Atom Smashers, Durham Region Roller Derby’s top team (ranked 17th in Canada of 58 teams), while PARDy’s Pip Tatters has also been chosen as an alternate for Team Ontario.
Throughout the winter months, PARDy meets weekly on Tuesdays to train at the Village on Argyle in Peterborough for open practice, and also runs a Fresh Meat intake program offered Wednesdays at St. James Church in Peterborough. The next Fresh Meat session begins on January 20, and requires a commitment for the entire 12-week course. The course teaches the basis of roller skating, and the skills required for derby play – culminating in a minimum skills testing.
The cost is $150 plus insurance and gear, and is open to anyone, regardless of gender identification. New in 2016, skaters between 16 and 18 years of age are also invited to participate, with permission of a guardian. Skaters interested in referring are also encouraged to join up. Once minimum skills testing has been passed, rookies will be eligible to compete in the “Fresh & Furious” tournament in Toronto in July, which hosts teams from across Eastern Canada.
PARDy encourages those curious about the sport or wanting to volunteer to get in touch. Volunteers are always needed for home games, and it is a great way to get introduced to the sport, or to gain high school volunteer hours.
Possible duties include working the door, helping with venue set-up and tear-down, or being right in the thick of the action, working as a non-skating official or NSO – one of the team of officials needed to run about: score keepers, penalty box officials, time keepers. Sponsors are also welcome, and sponsor benefits can include promotion on our Cogeco broadcast games depending on the sponsorship level chosen.
You can find out more by visiting our website: http://www.pard-rollerderby.com, or by liking us on Facebook at “PARD Peterborough Area Roller Derby” where contests for free tickets also run!
Roller Derby is still a game of punny names and crazy make-up, but these ‘sparkles’ are now more an expression of individuality than a tired travelling roadshow of fake wrestling smack-ups and drama queen meltdowns.
Derby gains more mileage each year, and it’s only getting better. Take a chance and try it out for yourself – it’s not too late to be your own best rock star.