"Tenacious! Stop rolling!"
"Slam the jammer! Slam the jammer!"
Listening to Killo Kitty, coach of the Junior Derby Dolls, doing her job at a Saturday practice, you can understand why her young charges think this is so much more fun than traditional girls' sports. First, you get to choose your alter ego: Bamber, Rattle Skate, Cleobrattra, Lindsay LoSlam, Hanna Wanna Slam Ya are just a few of the monikers. But 15-year-old Natasha Boyd, aka Jackie the Ripper, summed it all up: "I love that you can be completely yourself and your teammates will always be there for you," she said. "It's so graceful. There is poetry in motion out there."
"Howl" comes to mind.
And while you may not think this is a sport you can explain to your mother, several of the young girls on skates at the Doll Factory on Temple Street have moms who skate in the grown-up league. Others found their way here because it just seemed like fun. "I offered my niece this or Magic Mountain for her 10th birthday," said Edwin Lopez, "and she chose this."
Aside from the rigorous exercise, the girls learn to work as a team. Contrary to popular misconception, there is no hitting or elbowing. A "hit" might be a well-placed shove with your hip or butt. The girls learn to take the roller derby rules seriously, and to pass with grace and power while skating around the banked rink and trying not to take a spill. It's a lot harder than it looks.
At a recent Saturday practice, about thirty girls formed two teams and went at it while their grown-up role models coached, cheered, high-fived and did some explaining on the sidelines. Many of the sedentary parents who waited for practice to end sang the praises of the junior program, open to girls ages 8-17. "It's a hobby she loves," said dad Micah Worley, proud parent of Hannah Wanna Slam Ya. "She's done softball, piano, but she loves roller derby. She's excited to come every day. I never have to make her do it."
Arnold Harrison, grandfather of Allison Harrison, agreed. "It's changed her," he said. "Her grades in school are better. I'm 100% behind it. It's about self-esteem and discipline. They get that here. They talk and interact with each other and Killo Kitty, she's in charge. They look up to her and she's so good with the kids."
For the girls, though, it comes down to a few simple concepts:
"I like to go fast." "We like to hit people." "I like how the people help you out."
Lindsay LoSlam, 13, explained how it works: "You learn new skills and if you're feeling angry, you get to use your anger. And you meet new people."
In addition to keeping the girls in shape, and promoting female empowerment, Derby Dolls as an organization has a strong social conscience. It has sponsored neighborhood cleanups, health and job fairs and is about to do a walk to raise money for Children's Hospital.
Samantha Kinne, aka Jessicka Ravage, skates with the Derby Dolls and coaches the junior league. [Name fixed.] This is how she sees it: "Society tells women how to behave to be accepted. But here's a bunch of tomboys and they think they're great. I work at Disney and there it's all about princesses. I was never a princess. This teaches them to find their inner strength, and about being okay with who you are. I wish I had that when I was twelve."
* Fixed: An earlier version of this post misattributed Samantha Kinne's quote.
League play for the Derby Dolls resumes with two bouts this weekend. The Junior Derby Dolls skate on Sunday.
All photos by Iris Schneider