Roller derby is a game associated these days with violence and irony and beer in cans, whisked beneath the rug of mediocrity because of the half-interested press coverage it receives and the goofy names the players possess.
But if the parents of the young combatants skating in a dimly lit suburban skate barn over the weekend are to believed, this is a great sport for everyone, children included. Children especially.
"Roller derby is the ultimate sport of acceptance," said Katrina Page, mother of 12-year-old "Toxic Socks." "They embrace everyone that comes in, even if they are a little bit different or have different ideas about the world."
She's right about that. The girls at the practice we visited this weekend had no tangible type that they fell into. They wore primarily black clothes and long striped stockings. Some were daintily built, others more imposing. A few had dyed hair and piercings, others all natural. Diversity was the string keeping these players tied together. They ranged in age from 10 to 15, and were beyond tight-knit, a byproduct of the game.
"They have this really cool bond. It's amazing," Page said. They skate together, fall together, and pick each other up constantly. Their coach, "Bloody Gaga," an adult league veteran, expressed the lessons these girls can learn from the game.
"The main thing that roller derby teaches kids is that you are going to fall, everybody is going to fall," she said. "But you have to get up, and move out. Just like life. Roller derby teaches perseverance and camaraderie."
The girls collect together outside of the rink for birthday parties, parental dinners and other events. When their first group disbanded, the core team players begged their parents to form a league of their own so that they could continue to skate with each other. They like each other too much to settle for a weekly meeting at Skateland in Mesquite.
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Some people fear that the sport is too violent. That the lacquered floor may get the better of their child and leave them in a bloody heap. Coach Gaga said that isn't the case.
"I think roller derby has the same amount of risk as football, lacrosse or any team sport," she said. "You can sprain an ankle anywhere pretty much. ... We are fully geared. We have knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, helmets and mouth guards."
The practices are run like any other sport: warm-up laps are first, then more organized team drills take place, sprint laps follow, and then practice is over, and the girls walk away sweaty and smiling.
For more information about how your child can skate with the Jr. Derby kids, check out their Facebook page.