A new generation of girls take roller derby for a spin

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.

Derby Dolls manager Rebecca Ninburg/Jesse Saucedo

“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.”

Photo by Jesse Saucedo

Photo by Jesse Saucedo

Photo by Jesse Saucedo


  1. My daughter did roller derby / Derby Dolls Jr. for about a year (she only stopped due to the high homework demands in middle school). Of all the sports activities she participated in, cheer leading, swimming & soccer, roller derby had the most supportive staff and the other kids were so cool and kind. Per my daughter “cheer-leading look the happiest but the teachers are always mean and roller derby looks mean and violent but the coaches are nice”

  2. Love it!

  3. My daughters have both been doing jr. roller derby for the past year and love it. It has done so much for their self confidence. Super awesome and supportive coaches.

  4. I have been doing jr Derby for almost 2 years now and going to the doll factory is the high light of my week. Im the only athletic girl in my family and I have tried other sports, but this one just really clicked. Getting to knock people over is like an exercise and anger management class all rolled in to one! =D
    PS xoxoxo to DEMO (derby guru)

  5. Are they knocking this thing down or what?

  6. Wait Echo Park has a rollor ring, since when?

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