PUKAAR’S ELLIS DI CATALDO MEETS WITH LEICESTER’S ONE AND ONLY ROLLER DERBY TEAM THE DOLLY ROCKIT ROLLERS, TO DISCUSS THE RAPIDLY GROWING POPULARITY OF THE SPORT AND THEIR RISE WITHIN THE GAME.
There’s a growing sport in the city, one which has been steadily, with determination, making progress to the top of its game. A sport which requires focus, speed and agility, not to mention a heavy dose of fearless pluck. That sport would be Roller Derby and I got to discuss its rising popularity with Head of Advance Coaching, Sarah Brooks and Head of Press and Recruitment Claire Gibbins, both better known by their team names Onya Case and Claire-lee Deranged.
Roller Derby is a contact sport in which two teams of four defensive players and one point scorer, named the Jammer, aim to overtake one another to gain points. The game, or bout, begins with both teams lined up in formation whilst the Blockers behind make up the majority of the pack. The purpose of the Jammer is to break through and pass as many members of the opposition as possible. The more passes, the more points, however the opposing players are trying to stop them from doing this through knocking or blocking opponents. Despite the somewhat violent nature of the game it’s illegal to grab, hold or pull the other team as penalties can be incurred.
Originating from Chicago in the 1930s, Roller Derby was classed as sports entertainment with posed fights and winners decided before matches took place. However having been brought back to life in Texas in the early 2000s, today’s version of Roller Derby is extremely different. Eliminating the manufactured spectacle of the game has revived the sport into the athletic competition you see today. The formation of The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) in 2004 set about confirming the sport as true athleticism so what you see at a match is no longer an amped up show but real games full of real action.
One aspect of the original sport which does remain is the inventive and often cheeky nicknames. “These don’t detract from training or playing they are a nice touch for the fans” Onya tells us. With players such as Iona De Track, Ophelia Fear and Esther La Vista, Baby! These nicknames are not simply a bit of fun, but are often seen as a reward to new members who have put in the effort and dedication to train hard and join the team. “A lot of girls wait until they’re through their skills, then their nickname is a gift to themselves.”
The Dolly Rockits were founded in 2010 by SlamAbama and Nitro Noush, who were looking to create their own Leicester-based team. Three years on and the 70-member- strong league is bigger and brasher than ever. Like all Roller Derby teams, the league is entirely self-sufficient and every member has to be on two teams to help the smooth running. This can be volunteering to help with anything from marketing and bout production to (the sometimes much needed) First Aid. Onya states “The ethos across the whole board of Roller Derby is that it is done by the skaters, for the skaters.”
October 2012 saw the Dollies inducted into the WFTDA Apprentice Programme which means they are one step closer in being able to influence global rule changes, make international ranking and get invited to major tournaments. Onya talks of the passion at being able to “travel and compete throughout Europe and America, seeing how far we can take Leicester’s name” a feat that has already proved wildly exciting when the team hosted their first international tournament against Helsinki last year, and saw them playing their first international away game this year, against Belgium.
As Europe’s fastest growing sport and the England team currently preparing try-outs for the Second World Cup later next year, the demand for games is getting bigger all the time. With one of the members already playing for the Ireland team and another for England, as well as a referee who has just made the top 40 for the Men’s England team, the Dollies are right at the forefront of it all. “Our fan-base consists of a vast array of people.” Claire-lee explains, “People who bring their kids, motor bikers, punk rockers and those who are prim and proper.” The appeal lies in the uniqueness of the sport and also to those seeking strong female role models. Claire-lee continues “It is a very different contact sport, predominantly played by women, played by men too but women’s is more popular which is rare enough in sport. Guys are blown away by it.” However it’s not all bloodshed on the track and Roller Derby remains fantastic family entertainment, as the team proudly plays in front of fans as young as five years old. With such a dedicated and diverse following it’s a wonder how these girls manage to drum up such enthusiasm, train hard several times a week, undertake fundraising for bouts and have time to play the sport. “Members pay monthly to cover skating arena hire and the costs of uniform and we were recently granted legacy funding which will go towards coaching and resources, the money we make on bouts goes straight back into the league.” Claire-lee explains, proving that the spirit of Roller Derby’s can-do attitude is more than alive in the Dollies.
With speed, technique and strength as much needed components in competing in such an aggressive sport, Onya credits the team’s sense of control as a factor to their recent wins. “Frustration can lead to mistakes so we have worked really hard to keep focused. Other contact sports such as Boxing and Wrestling require you to get fired up but we’ve been looking at control instead which is really beneficial.”
Ranging from complete beginners to more advanced skaters, the Dollies open the floors of their rink to anybody over the age of 18. There’s a minimum of 12 weeks of training with on-going assessments of progression, as a skater’s safety is the number one priority. This isn’t a neat ride around your local roller disco; it’s a full contact, often brutal sport. The health and physical benefits are prevalent too, there’s not only the inevitable fitness you gain but players advance upon their athleticism also. “These girls have proper muscles, can sprint, have explosive power and endurance. there’s the confidence as well, seeing the changes in players and achieving things they previously wouldn’t have been able to.” The Dollies have an open recruitment policy and hold an intake every 6 to 8 weeks to find their new stars on skates. Claire-lee explains “We recruit everybody, skaters, referees, non-skating officials and people who just want to help out at bouts.”
With an international bout against Vienna already on the calendar in 2014, the Dollies are looking to add more international bouts and are creating an intra-league championship to their already busy schedule. This is in addition to their first mock-sanctioned bout for WFTDA which is a huge step in them becoming full members. “It’s a team which constantly manages to shock you.” explains Onya, who is clearly proud of this tight-knit and inimitable group. “They’re remarkable girls, who always pull something out of the bag.”
The Dolly Rockit Rollers play their next home game on 2 November 2013; check out www.dollyrockitrollers.co.uk for more information on how to get tickets or take part in a recruitment day.