Rotten to the (Apple’s) core

Teenage girls get a taste for roller derby as Eves of Destruction develop junior league

Members of the junior roller derby team

 

Wearing a black halter dress and purple-striped tights, Ann.R.Kee loops the track on roller skates, announcing the score on a whiteboard held overhead.

It’s the roller derby season finale, and Victoria’s own Eves of Destruction play Vancouver’s Terminal City Roller Girls at the Archie Browning Sports Centre, in Esquimalt.

It’s also the public debut for the Rotten Apples — Victoria’s new junior derby league launched in May.

“This is the future of derby!” booms the announcer, after the Apples lead a demonstration bout, wearing shoes instead of skates.

It’s a future for which many of the teens can’t wait.

For many, derby isn’t just a sport. It’s a passion, complete with sexy-campy personas and a supportive group of girls that have your back both on and off the track.

The Apples, aged 13 to 18, are helping out with the tournament. The rest watch as their elder Eves jostle for position in the moving pack, hip checking and taking spills along the way.

During a recent practice, 14-year-old Eli Portillo (derby name Ann.R.Kee) takes a break from drills and removes her helmet to reveal a pink mohawk haircut.

“My entire life, I’ve taken pride in getting scars,” she says. “I’m not afraid to get out there and get dirty.”

It’s a common theme among the girls, known as the Apples for short.

Shelby signed up because she likes rough sports.

The 15-year-old Victoria High school student, with short purple hair, has chosen Twitchie as her derby name.

“It’s a nickname,” she explains as she fiddles with the Velcro on her elbow pads.

She tried rugby, but says, “it sucks.”

Roller derby is different.

The people are more open-minded, she says. “No one’s weird or catty.”

So what do you need to be a roller girl?

“Balls,” she says. Plain and simple.

The girls are months away from any rough play, however.

The teens have been training, learning the rules and getting comfortable on their skates.

At this practice, Apples co-coach Trisha Maxwell is teaching them to get comfortable being physical with each other. Skating single file, they practise a move called “the barn door,” pulling a teammate forward by linking arms.

The idea for a junior league came from some of the Eves’ teenage daughters eager to get involved.

It’s the latest step in a rapidly growing league.

Back in 2006, roller derby in Victoria consisted of eight women, a parking lot and an online rule book.

Today, the Eves of Destruction has 70 members, corporate sponsors and three house teams. The elite team tours in Canada and the United States, and in June the Eves placed second in the Western Canadian playoffs.

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Roller derby is a full-contact sport.

Although there are few serious injuries, the possibility made the Eves initially guarded about launching a junior league.

“But Edmonton started a junior league last year, and we just took our cues from them,” says Maxwell.

The sport’s roughness, however, has left some parents wary.

Rotten Apple Sarah Shumanski tried to recruit her friends, but their parents said no.

Her own mom is supportive, but she does have a concern.

“She doesn’t want me turning into one of the scarier people,” says Shumanski, a Reynolds secondary school student with long blond hair.

“She doesn’t want me to change.”

Roller derby can be racy.

It offers an outlet from the real world, says Maxwell, derby name Nadia Comin’ Atcha. “I get to be this crazy person that jumps in front of 1,200 people in fishnets and a pair of panties.”

At first, she explains, “we definitely fed off the campiness of it.”

So did the fans. Many just came to watch girls hit each other, she says. As the Eves improved, however, they toned down their early tournaments’ raunchy appeal and ramped up the competition. Now, the crowd knows the players and the strategy.

While the Eves keep it playful (they dub new recruits “fresh meat”), they make sure the show never crosses the “parental guidance” rating line.

“A lot of us are moms,” says Maxwell.

Dressing up is fun, but the appeal of the sport runs much deeper for the Apples.

Being on the team takes practice and confidence, says 13-year-old Maia Ramos, skate name Celine Demon.

“It helps with teamwork because usually I’m just this shy little one,” she says.

“I like how it’s all girls,” adds Ali Greene, in Grade 11 at Stelly’s secondary school. “It’s really empowering.”

Portillo makes a point of encouraging everyone who comes out. “It seems rough but everyone want to play the game and be friends.”

The next challenge is getting the numbers they need to start playing games, potentially by next summer.

“We want this to become big enough to have two teams, so they can play each other,” Maxwell says. All skill levels are welcome.

Wearing frilly pink panties overtop her leggings, Roi Batke skates to the track’s sidelines, and confidently drops on one knee, coming to an immediate stop.

She says she’s never been into sports before.

Roller derby, however, “allows for a lot of different kinds of people to join.”

Her mom comes to every game.

“She’s really happy I’m in this.”

rholmen@vicnews.com

 

 

 

 

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