By Stephen Dafoe
Sturgeon County – An alternative to traditional sports is being offered in Sturgeon County this fall. The Sturgeon County Junior Roller Derby Association has recently been formed and was at Bon Accord’s Harvest Days on the weekend, giving parents and youth an opportunity to see what the sport is all about.
The association is open to girls between the ages of 7 and 17, although organizer Terri-Ann Waschlik said younger boys are welcome to join. If there is enough interest among older boys, the association will create a division for referees. “Right now it is more of a girls’ sport because we have to cap the age of boys usually around 13 just because of the size difference,” she explained. “Young boys who are interested are more than welcome to join up. If they continue the interest we are looking to start a junior refereeing league.”
Although Waschlik has never skated in roller derby herself, she has served on the Greater Edmonton Roller Derby board and her husband has long refereed the sport. It is through those associations and their children’s involvement in the sport that the family developed a love of roller derby.
“My family started with the Greater Edmonton Junior Roller Derby in Edmonton for two years, and then we moved out here last year and realized that this is an untapped market and a place that could severely use another sport for children,” Waschlik said, adding they quickly assembled a couple more parents and their children to form the association.
Waschlik is hoping to have at least 14 children register in order to create a full bench of skaters. “The more kids we have the more separate teams we can make because all kids skate at different levels,” she said. “Ideally we would like to work our way towards 30 and 50 kids within the next couple years.”
Like any sport, training and protection are part of the game. Skaters wear helmets and mouth guards as well as knee and shoulder pads, and the focus is on learning how not to get hurt.
“There is an element of risk involved in it because the higher you get up in levels the more contact there is involved,” Waschlik explained. “There have been broken arms and legs, unfortunately. We find with the youngest guys, their major injury is to their bums when they fall on their skates because they are not paying attention.”
But while there is a small risk of injury, as there is in most sports activities, Waschlik said proper training is provided. “The first thing that the kids learn to do is fall,” she said. “If they are not steady on their skates, they learn how to fall. We call it falling small. They learn how to fall in a ball.”
Skaters between the ages of 7 and 9 will see no contact in the sport because there is no contact at the introductory level. “It’s really just a few bumps that they get because they are looking backwards and bump into each other,” she said. “Level 2 is a little bit of contact. Not a lot. It’s a few hip checks. Level 3 is where it’s full contact. Kids go flying. But by that time they have all been trained on how to take that hit, how to be ready for that hit, and how to take that hit so they don’t hurt themselves.”
More than just a sport
In addition to being an alternative to the traditional fall and winter sports offerings, the association sees roller derby as another outlet and activity for youth. “We think it’s really important for youth because there is not a whole lot to do out in this area for a lot of kids,” Waschlik said. “The more youth that we can get involved and busy with this, the less trouble that they get into.”
Waschlik said roller derby is a sport youth often fall into when they feel they are not accepted or fit into other sports or other circles. “We find that kids who feel they are not accepted in school or are getting bullied or the other sports don’t seem to be working of them really excel in roller derby,” she said. “It’s a come-as-you-are [sport]. It doesn’t matter what your skill level is. It doesn’t matter what you look like, what you wear, who your friends are at school. Everybody is accepted. We have a zero bullying policy. We’re roller derby, and we just really try to promote that.”
The association is currently looking for a facility for practices and are hoping to secure some rental accommodations at Alexander First Nation or a venue in the Sturgeon County area prior to the Sept. 17 start date. Roller derby will take place Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. All September sessions will be at no cost. Beginning in October cost will be a $5 drop in fee. Parents interested in a little work out while they wait for their children can participate in the dry land warm up training and take part in skating warm ups for a $5 drop-in fee.