Sixteen-year-old Luna Krell skates up to the pleather booth at Champs RollerDrome. She takes a minute to remove her helmet and pop out a hot pink mouthguard, then proceeds to break down the basics of roller derby.
“You have five people on the rink for each team, four blockers and one jammer,” she said. “And the blockers’ job is to stop the other team’s jammer from lapping them. And the jammer scores points by passing each player.”
Luna, whose roller derby name is “Katastrophe,” has been involved with the River City Junior Roller Derby team for nearly three seasons.
“It’s definitely been life changing for me,” she said. “I was kind of really self-conscious and was going through a lot of issues before I joined and when I did, it was kind of like I’d found my place.”
And with that, she finds her spot back out on the rink, as the skaters practice for their first bout against the Cincinnati Junior Rollergirls later this month.
River City Junior Roller Derby — which goes by RCJD for short — has been around for seven years. It’s for kids of all genders between the ages of 8 and 17, but most of the skaters are young girls. And the level of camaraderie is incredibly high.
Deidre Fuelling, the president of the RCJD, said the coaches really put an emphasis on their students’ emotional well-being, while also teaching them skating skills.
“Unfortunately with our league, we are only able to practice one hour and 45 minutes a week, that is probably the smallest amount of practice any roller derby league has,” Fuelling said.
She said most other youth roller derby leagues in the region host practices three or four nights a week.
“So what are we going to do,” she said. “We are going to boost the confidence of our players so that they’re having fun whether we win or lose.”
And that attitude from the coaches has rubbed off on the skaters, like 11-year-old River Hoke (aka “Triforce”).
“I love these people,” River said. “They are just so competitive and strong-willed and determined. It’s just very welcoming and nice.”
And, like Luna Krell, a bunch of the girls say that being part of this high-energy, contact sport has helped with their self-esteem — both on and off skates. It’s something that skaters’ parents have noticed, too.
Daniel Statham is the father of Maggie — known on the rink as “Red Scorpion.” Statham said Maggie began roller derby right around the time she was starting a new high school where she only knew one other girl.
“She has lots of friends now in high school that I think if she didn’t do this she might not have the confidence to go up to girls she’s never known,” Statham said. “This has really helped her come out of her shell.”
“I was kind of really self-conscious and was going through a lot of issues before I joined and when I did, it was kind of like I’d found my place.” Luna Krell, age 16
And some parents, like Anessa Cranston, actually sought out roller derby as a way to instill communication skills and confidence in their daughters.
Cranston’s daughter, Alena — or “Meany-Lini” in the derby world — struggled with bullying at school. After talking with some of her friends who do adult roller derby, Cranston thought getting 13-year-old Alena involved in River City Junior Derby might help with her sense of self.
“I feel like she needed to be a part of a group of empowering women to kind of help her come out of her shell, especially as a young teenager,” Cranston said. “To like, be around other women and girls as this crazy transition is happening.”
And even the youngest skaters can tell there is something special about this group. Rosie Miller is 10 years old and has been skating since she was seven; she said she gets to brag to her friends at school about her team.
“They think I’m like really tough and stuff, and I don’t know if they admire me or if they are just amazed,” Rosie said.
And, when asked if she thinks of herself as tough, Rosie pauses for a few seconds, then responds: “Probably, yeah.”