Your Guide to the Kingston Derby Girls

By Alaina Leslie

Though some think of roller skates as a thing of the past, Roller Derby has experienced a renaissance across North America – including Kingston. The Kingston Derby Girl (KDG) league teams compete both against each other and teams from across Ontario throughout the summer. Much like a competitive hockey league, the women train multiple nights a week both on skills training and fitness. Kingston also has a recreational team the Kingston Wrecking Belles for women looking for a safer alternative to full-contact Derby.
 

The Kingston Derby Girls practice for their season opener bout on Saturday May 10th at the Memorial Centre
The Kingston Derby Girls practice for their season opener bout.

 
“Newey And Improved” does push-ups amoungst the other players in practice.
“Newey And Improved” does push-ups amoungst the other players in practice.

 
I was lucky enough to scope out the KDG’s practice on Tuesday in preparation for their season opening bout.
 
These women do not mess around – before lacing up their skates, they all strapped on helmets and pads. They kicked off the practice by welcoming the “freshies” – the women who had made it through the try-outs (called “fresh meat”) to make one of the three competitive teams. They moved on to skills and fitness training – just like any other sport, players were sent to perform push-ups as punishment. The last half of practice served as a warm-up for Saturday’s game (called a “bout”). The three teams within the league were given a chance to compete against each other in a scrimmage. The women were throwing hip-checks and taking falls left and right – I can see why they strapped on the helmets! They were also taking the opportunity to cheer on and encourage their new recruits.
 
“Manic Breeze” sprints ahead of the pack during a scrimmage.
“Manic Breeze” sprints ahead of the pack during a scrimmage.

 
“Manic Breeze” chases “Nikki Heat” to win points in a Roller Derby practice.
“Manic Breeze” chases “Nikki Heat” to win points in a Roller Derby practice.

 
My first time at a roller derby bout I was a little confused. Try to watch the hand signals of the multiple referees – they will help to explain what’s happening in each round (called a “jam”). Each team plays defence and offence simultaneously – the player with the star on their helmet (called a “panty”) is the offensive player (called the “jammer”). The jammers can score points by passing the other team’s defensive players (called the “blockers”). The blockers are – you guessed it – attempting to block the opposing jammer from passing. For each blocker on the other team that the jammer passes she scores a point. The lead jammer can end the jam (called “calling off the jam”) at any time (hopefully after she’s scored more points than the opposing jammer) by tapping her hips. The ref then also taps his or her own hips for emphasis and blows a whistle – just in case you missed it! There’s a lot to watch in a derby bout so there are multiple refs. Check the program for an explanation of the hand signals and rules.
 
The Skateful Dead Coach “Colin-the-Shots” looks on while the Kingston Derby Girls scrimmage during practice.
The Skateful Dead Coach “Colin-the-Shots” looks on while the Kingston Derby Girls scrimmage during practice.

 
Unlike the over-the-top scripted Roller Derby of the 1960s, modern derby players maintain a high level of athleticism and competitiveness.
 
Derby is full-contact; the hip-checks are as real as any hockey game. The Derby bouts in Kingston are played on a flat track (not a banked-track like in the movie Whip It) – making hockey arenas a convenient venue. The KDG bouts are family-friendly (kids under 10 are free) and are a community-run event. The Derby Girls run their own promo, sell tickets and book rink time – all while also training for their bouts. The KDG organize five bouts at the Memorial Centre throughout the summer featuring local teams plus an away team. Much like a hockey game, there is a track-side bar and this year Mission Street North will be at the bouts serving gourmet tacos. Some games even have a live band – just in case you thought you weren’t getting enough bang for your buck!