Juneau roller derby team starts junior league

The Juneau RollerGirls are training a coed junior league this fall. Roller derby is characterized by fast-paced bouts, slick moves and cheeky alter egos. Helmets are essential. But the raucous sport can be adapted for kids.

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Taku RollerSports is loaning the gear for the junior derby league. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)
Taku RollerSports is loaning the gear for the junior derby league. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

At the Zach Gordon Youth Center, Kim Champney is skating backwards. She holds the hands of a young skater to help with the girl’s balance and demonstrates the utility of a wrist guard.

“I can slam my hand down and it doesn’t hurt at all,” she says.

On Juneau’s adult roller derby team, Champney is what you call a jammer.

“My derby name is Kimbustible.”

Taku RollerSports is loaning the gear for the junior derby league. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)
Taku RollerSports is loaning the gear for the junior derby league. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

During bouts, she tries to lap the opposing team’s blockers. A blocker’s job is to stop the jammer from getting through.

“And you can do this by knocking them over, getting in front of them or physically moving people around the track,” Champney said.

The 12 to 17  year-old coed league will start out a little differently. There won’t be any physical contact to begin with. Players will have to work their way up to that. However, Champney admits roller derby may have an image to overcome.

“Back in the 70s, it was like the World Wrestling Federation or whatever. It was very staged and dramatic,” she said. “People were knocking people over. Even the movie Whip It that’s been part of the resurgence — overemphasized the violent part in it.”

Initially, she says kids will learn the basics: how to skate, how to stop and how to go backwards. By the time they’re doing more advanced moves, like blocking, they’ll have a strong foundation.

“I’ve played for five years and I’ve never had a critical injury. My daughter is going to be a part of roller derby, and I feel like there’s been a big safety aspect,” Champney said.

Just a few weeks ago, an international derby association announced it was trying to unite junior leagues. Adult teams have already cropped up in nearly every Southeast community and Champney thinks more kids’ leagues are to follow.

The Juneau roller girls were inspired last spring after watching kids from Seattle play. They were leaps and bounds ahead of the adults, and Champney says she’s lucky she’s playing now.

“Because when there’s established junior programs, we won’t be able to compete.”

Stephanie Kruse rolls around on skates with a toddler on her hip. Her derby name is Titan Young.

“And Luke’s roller derby name is Sling Shot. His mom is Catapult Kim. So he’s Sling Shot,” she said.

Kruse says she’s excited to teach. Derby is the first organized sport she’s played and it’s taught her a lot. One of the takeaways she thinks could be valuable for kids is body confidence.

“It doesn’t matter how tall you are, short you are, big you are. Everyone has a secret roller derby super power and figuring it out and unlocking it,” Kruse said.

As the recruiting begins, Kim Champney says the kids can put their own spin on things–coming up with derby names and a fierce team logo.

“We want to make it kid led. So any youth who’s interested in getting in on the ground floor can really help us shape that,” she said.

Petersburg’s Rok’n Blockers might have some new competition.