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Priya Mirmira
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action and teamwork at every turn
September 27, 2010

Most parents give their children a first name, a surname and maybe a middle name. But you won’t find “Blonde Bomber” or “Wam Bam” on any birth certificate.

For 30 Indianapolis girls, creating an alias is all part of the rough-and-tumble world of roller derby. While the sport gives them a chance to work out and let off steam, it also provides a supportive environment filled with teamwork and camaraderie.

“It’s a fun sport, even if you get hurt,” said Samantha Collier (aka Wam Bam), 18, who gave up show choir for roller derby.

Last November, two members of the adult Naptown Roller Girls -- Melissa Brooks (aka Mizz Understood) and Sandy Nelson (aka Psychedelic Sandy) -- formed the Indianapolis Junior Roller Derby for girls ages 8 to 17.

“We got together and started this league because our daughters were very good skaters,” said Brooks, who retired after three years with the Roller Girls. “We would take them skating all the time, and we thought it was a good time to create a space for the younger skaters to skate.”

Response was immediate. It was clear the IJRD was filling a need.

“Junior roller derby is a place for girls who haven’t fared well in your mainstream sports,” explained Brooks. “It is an alternative sport for little girls to come and play that actually encourages physical contact, which really doesn’t exist in the junior sports arena right now.”

Junior Roller Derby has two teams, the Rainbow Ragdollz and the Midwest Mafia. The teams practice twice a week and have about two bouts per month.

During a bout, each team sends out five players, putting a total of 10 players on the rink. Each team has one jammer, three blockers, and one pivot (back-up jammer). The blockers and pivots skate in a “pack.” The jammer must skate through the pack and score by passing members of the opposing team’s pack, who are trying to block her.

While the word “block” may sound passive, it is in fact quite the opposite. Blockers may hit jammers in certain areas of the body so the jammer can’t pass.

“The contact zones for roller derby are pretty much the collarbone down to about your mid-thigh and down to the elbows. That’s the parts you can hit with and those are the parts that it’s legal to hit on. You cannot hit the back,” explained Kaijah Monson (aka Rabbid White), 16, a blocker.

These young skaters clearly love the action and excitement of the game, and they’re happy to take a few knocks and jabs in the process.

“It’s very empowering and it gives you a lot of self-confidence,” said Danielle Dodrill, 17 (aka Dani Payne). “No one wants to mess with you at school.”

“Roller derby has changed my life by making me come out of my shell more and getting to meet new people who are from like all over, not just necessarily Indianapolis,” said Alyssa Taylor, 16, (aka Blonde Bomber).

It’s also been rewarding to Brooks. “The best experience I’ve had in Junior Roller Derby is taking girls, teaching them how to play roller derby, and then getting to see them play their first game,” she said. “It’s seeing a girl come in who doesn’t believe in herself, and then six months later she turns out to be a really awesome skater.”

The skating may be “awesome” but it isn’t easy, the girls say.

“I think the most difficult part is getting your endurance up so you can have enough energy and still keep your breath long enough because it’s hard to keep it,” said Samantha.

“I think the most important thing about derby is that you have to be a team player. You have to know your people,” added Kaijah.

Even when the girls do get hurt, they don’t mind.

“When we get bruises on our legs and arms and stuff, we wear them as badges of honor. It’s like ‘Yeah, I got this one from such and such.’ I love getting new bruises,” Danielle said.

But some injuries are serious. Alyssa broke her ankle in February and is still out of action.

“I had to get surgery on it because it like dislocated completely from my leg and then pieces of the bone chipped and went up and broke my femur and I have to have screws, and I was in a wheelchair,” she said.

But injuries don’t discourage anyone. Roller derby is for girls looking for something different, something physical. It gives them confidence, helps them discover untapped talents and introduces them to 29 new best friends.

So what do you think? Are you in?

Reporters Allison Albrecht, 11, Riley Childers, 12, and Jade Poynter, 12, contributed to this story.

Copyright 2010 Y-Press

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