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Ready to roll; New junior league in roller derby brings out the competitive spirit of girls ages 8 to 17

Refresh your memory and think about the roller derby. Then tell yourself that what you think you know about the sport may not be accurate.

Women's roller derby has evolved over the past few decades. The women are ready to whip past their opponents and unleash their athleticism on the rink. But can you picture a 10-year-old racing around the track in under 20 seconds? If you answered no, think again.

Debra Hughes and Carolyn Storms founded the Ice Ice Babies junior roller derby last November. The Ice Ice Babies is a league of 32 young athletes that meets every Saturday from 8 to 10 a.m. at the Rainbow Rink in North Tonawanda. Anyone from 8 to 17 years old can become a member but first must meet assessment requirements. The test requires the girls to skate around the track in under 20 seconds. Speed, agility and strategy are the key ingredients to being a successful roller derby participant.

The sport is not only dedicated to competitiveness, it is a creative outlet for the girls to let their hair down, be themselves and become involved with a team.

In the rules of roller derby, each teammate creates a nickname. This nickname allows the girls to protect their identity and create a fun alter ego. Outside of the rink they may be known as regular school girls, but as they speed around the rink with their skates moving at a fast pace, their arms swiftly caressing the air, they become "Dora Destro'Ya," "Little Bit" or "Crush."

Bill Warner, a proud father of a member of the Ice Ice Babies, mentioned that he sees people from ages 4-84 attending the events.

"It is a crazy demographic. People can come for under $20 and have a great time," he said.

He also mentioned the enjoyment the girls get out of the sport.

"During their first bout I saw them laughing and already having fun," Warner said.

Roller derby can be a dangerous sport and in order to prevent injuries to the young girls, the league does not allow any type of hitting on the rink.

Hughes, also known as "Sissy Fit," coaches for Ice Ice Babies. She said, "They must do seven laps in under one minute but also must know how to fall safely, how to position their feet and help their fellow jammers speed around the blockers."

What is a jammer? It can be described as an intense teammate who takes on the role of passing the skaters in order to receive points for her team. There are two jammers, one from each team, that skate as many times around the track as they can within two minutes. Each time they lap the skaters, they receive a point. The referees blow their whistles and point out these speedy girls as they show off their impressive skill and tricks.

Fourteen-year-old "Crush" points out the intricacies of the sport.

"I am practicing a new trick right now and at the same time I learn from my mistakes as well as my teammates," she said.

The Ice Ice Babies performed last Saturday during a home bout in North Tonawanda. It was the Pink Snow Bunnies vs. the Frost Bites. The bright lights, blasting music, neon uniforms and packed crowd were all factors on this big day for the teams.

The coaches talked to the teams before they made their way onto the rink. Each girl smiled as the excitement grew. Once it was time to step onto the rink, they were ready to go.

The Pink Snow Bunnies and the Frost Bites each had jammers who sped past any blockers or obstacles. Little Bit swerved around Veggy Cowgirl, Jiffy Pop regained balance and flew past the others. Crush performed several tricks. Each girl was able to show off her skills and perseverance. In the end, the Pink Snow Bunnies were victorious with a score of 78-57.

Although the points do matter to the girls, they all came together as a team to put their hands in and cheer. The competition is important, however the teamwork and passion is evident.

"Junior derby gives girls a chance to participate in a sport that requires full contact," said Hughes. "I think it is so important for girls to know what their bodies are capable of. They go out there equipped with nothing but their own strength and agility. There are no sticks, racket not even a ball. For young women to have such a safe and fun outlet from their everyday stresses really instills confidence and self-esteem. And that is what roller derby is all about, building strong girls!"

Claudia O'Keefe, a coach for the Ice Ice Babies, is a math teacher at Nichols School. She is known as "Punk N' Pi" in the rink. She was once a member of the adult league until she experienced an injury. O'Keefe did not want to leave the league and jumped at the opportunity to coach the junior derby.

"You do not see 8- to 17-year-old girls coming together like this. It is neat to see the older girls in a leadership role and the younger girls have role models," O'Keefe said.

She added that "the girls are fearless and they have an amazing energy."

As for the girls, they reap the benefits by proving just what they are made of.

"I get to show people that we are not just a group of girls," said 9-year-old Dora Destro'Ya. "I can do a move that I am proud of. It makes me happy."

Spazz, 10, said, "Boys tend to think that girls are weak, but we prove them wrong."

"They are so proud of themselves when they effectively block someone or made four laps as a jammer. That confidence spills over to life off the track," said Hughes. "Junior derby has really given them new friendships and a chance to give back to their community."

The girls compete against teams from Ithaca, Toronto and Ohio. They will face the Toronto junior derby this month.

The Ice Ice Babies are new to the roller derby world but are sure to be part of the future of this promising sport.


Jillian Hammell is a senior at Hamburg High School.