Story by Samuel Temblador
Photos by Jesse Saucedo
On weekend mornings and every Wednesday afternoon, in the Doll Factory roller derby rink in Echo Park, the L.A Derby Dolls hold junior roller derby classes for girls and young women ages 7 to 17 as part of their ongoing effort to elevate women’s athletics.
“My parents put a pair of skates on me when I was 11 months old,” said Shelby Castro, a.k.a Little Regulator on the track, has been in the junior derby program for three years and is currently in the advanced class.. “Plus it’s in my blood. My mom’s done everything on wheels and my dad’s done hockey,” said Little Regulator, who likes derby much more than the several other sports she’s played including soccer, softball, and tennis. “You get to be more aggressive but at the same time, you’re still their friend,” she said of the other skaters.
The classes are divided into beginning (no-contact), intermediate (some contact), and advanced (full contact) levels. Juniors are assessed on a regular basis, and if their skill level is good enough, they become eligible to join the Junior Ri-Ettes, the Derby Dolls’ junior all-star team.
“It was really important for us to have a junior league,” said Rebecca Ninburg; a.k.a Demolicious, manager of the Derby Dolls.
She remembers being impacted as a kid by watching Roller Derby on T.V, which “was the first time I saw women in a sport equal to men and they were tough…it was very empowering and really cool.” Ninburg, whose goal is to “make this a professional sport,” believes it cannot be done without getting “really young kids in to learn.”
“If derby was around when I was a kid, I would’ve been doing it,” said English Ruffin, a member of the Derby Dolls’ Varsity Brawlers team, who’s been a junior derby instructor on and off for year. Describing the classes, Ruffin said “It’s difficult but it’s a really fun process…we break it down to build it all the way up,” skill by skill.
In a very aggressive contact sport, the roller derby instructors put an emphasis on safety. “We have to teach everyone the skill set so they’re safe,” said Ruffin. “If you didn’t know the risks, you’d be doing ballet or playing badminton.”
Nine year old Thea McColly; a.k.a Black and Blue Berry Pie, a beginning junior who’s taken the classes for two years, finds roller derby “a little bit complicated, but then you get used to it and it’s much easier … You’re really getting involved with something. I really enjoy it because I like skating a lot,” said
Thea’s mother, Elizabeth McColly, said roller derby is a good sport for girls. “It’s not one of those goofy, body conscious sports,” she said. “They get a lot of confidence, coordination…and a peer group.”