It has been described as pro-wrestling on wheels and those involved in the early days never denied the entertainment factor in roller derby, but as an old advertisement use to proclaim – you’ve come a long way baby.
The next generation of the sport has reached a point where brains are more valuable than brawn in most cases.
“There used to be a lot of contact in the old days but now it’s very much a cat and mouse strategy session with the higher levels making very little contact with opponents,”
said player/referee Dave ‘Paparazzo’ Chapman. “The name roller derby is about the only thing which remains from the past.”
Chapman said there has been growth in the sport as well with five leagues in play when he started derbying a few years ago, tallying at least 20 in Alberta alone these days.
He got involved by offering to do any job from announcing to taking pictures and wound up wearing the stripes of a referee. He admits that first experience was comparable to Bambi on ice but he eventually got the hang of it and stuck with it.
This past weekend the Red Deer Roller Derby Association held one of it’s ‘Fresh Meat’ clinics where people new to the sport get instruction from the ground up.
“So there are people who come into the sport having never strapped on a pair of skates, ice skates, roller skates, anything,” Chapman explained. “They have no idea so first
up – how to stand on your skates, how to balance, how to stop, how to fall properly and safely.”
The rookies need to be able to master a list of about 20 different skills before they are deemed to be skilled enough to get on the track and take part in an actual derby. While the rookies take some baby steps to get their legs under them it quickly turns into a workout with strength and endurance being two major skill sets a player needs to have, said Chapman.
“One of the things you have to do is be able to do 25 laps in five minutes. For someone new and who is not really an athlete that can be a little bit of a challenge.”
One of the ‘Fresh Meat’ recruits was Brenda ‘Mamma Taz’ Hanson who has a daughter involved in derby and says she got hooked just watching her perform out there.
“I liked the contact, the energy in the sport, I liked the exercise, I loved the challenge,” proclaimed the former hockey player who gave her age as “north of 50.”
Hanson says she’s done some rollerblading in the past and feels that has helped her adjust to the four wheels under each foot. But her main concern was falling and breaking a
leg or a hip even though the RDRDA does have insurance should something bad happen.
“I just hope I don’t have to use it,” she chuckled.
Chapman said the sport is gaining in legitimacy as well, pointing to a recent World Cup event featuring 13 countries.
Red Deer is home to the Belladonnas ladies’ team which is ranked third in western Canada, the Nightshades, a B level traveling team and the men’s team the Dreadnaughts.
There are plans to form a junior team, said Chapman, but for now the association will continue to strengthen the current team by adding more players through the Fresh Meat training sessions.
As for that term describing the rookies, Hanson said it doesn’t bother her one bit.
“When it comes to derby, it’s good to be referred to as fresh meat. Any other place, probably not.”