British Columbia is home to 30 roller derby teams
Jim Croce once sang, “You know that I fell in love with a Roller Derby Queen/The meanest hunk o’ woman/That anybody ever seen,” but that was back in the days when roller derby was a sideshow, not a sport.
After declining in the late 1960s, roller derby made a comback in Austin, Texas a decade ago and has been expanding ever since. Now, it’s big news in Canada, where it’s played in hockey rinks in 86 cities across Canada.
This weekend will see a major competition take place at the Nelson and District Community Complex, with the Klash in the Kootenays running from June 15 to 17 in Nelson, BC.
Having grown from zero to 86 officially sanctioned teams in Canada in just four years, roller derby has won the hearts of hundreds of athletes and thousands of fans. Embraced and supported by Internet and television media outlets, professional analysis, play-by-play announcing and commentary, roller derby specialty skate shops in Vancouver and in Toronto, inexpensive ticketing and the ability to accept league donations by BrownPaperTickets.ca, which also provides announcing support for all Canadian tournaments, roller derby has reached a tipping point of public acceptance and success.
“Roller Derby is in Canada to stay,” said Roller Derby Association of Canada President Mandy Osipenko.
Although the sport had major acceptance in Canada, and flat-track roller derby was enjoyed as an intramural sport at the University of British Columbia from 1946 through 1948, interest in roller derby virtually died in the 1970s. Its resurgence in Canada is bigger than any movement in the past in terms of the number of athletes who are actively participating in the sport.
The renaissance of roller derby began in 2001. Canadian teams are now part of over 1,200 roller derby leagues that are skating worldwide. In February, Team Canada was formed by the some of the best roller derby athletes in the nation to compete against teams representing 13 countries.
Team Canada came in second in the world.
“That win really solidified roller derby as one of Canada’s national sports,” said Osipenko. “There’s no going back.”
This spring, the winners of all regional tournaments will compete for the “Stanley Cup” of roller derby – The Canadian National Championship, which will name the first national championship team.
“We have to play around the hockey season, because we are using their rinks,” said Osipenko. “That gives us a short window to compete in – from the day after hockey season ends until September, we will play our league games and hold our regional tournaments, and at least for now, the season will resume with the Canadian National Championship Tournament each spring, when we can get rink time back again. It may not always be this way, but lets face it, hockey is Canada’s national sport – we play around their schedule.”
The Klash in the Kootenays tournament will pit eight roller derby teams from British Columbia and Alberta against each other for the title of Western Canadian Champions. The Vancouver team, the Terminal City Rollergirls, is currently in second place nationally, and first in the western division, but the Kootenay Kannibelles are on their heels at second place in the west, and at eighth place nationally.
The Western Canadian Division is the largest league in Canada, and the West Kootenay Women’s Roller Derby League boasts 7 house teams and one all-star team, even though it is only 18 months old.
“Female empowerment is what draws me to the sport,” said Rossland, BC Gnarlie’s Angels Team Captain Shannon Marion, also known as Injure Spice.
“During the day, we are moms, nurses, daycare providers; we come in all colours and from all different economic backgrounds. By night, we can become the character. We take on the characteristics of the roller derby personality we are portraying, be that tough, athletic, cute or sexy. We do it for fun, to be challenged, physically and mentally. Derby lets you be a kid and a grown-up at the same time.”
Some members of Team Canada are now ambassadors of the sport, and hold boot camps to recruit and train more athletes and teams, as well as to train harder and boost the level of play in the existing leagues. One does not have to skate to be a part of the roller derby scene – there are also referee camps, coaching camps and more.
“It is an incredibly enriching experience for women and redefines what we think of as beautiful and strong,” said Marion. “It elevates our voice and binds us to one another, and in turn we are able to walk in our neighborhoods and among our community, inspiring others.”
Tickets to Klash in the Kootenays are $15 per day, or $45 for a three-day pass, and are available at kootenayrollerderby.com/.