by LaKrisha Mauldin
August 27, 2020
We walked into United Skates of America in Raleigh one Sunday morning, not knowing exactly what to expect. When my son came out as transgender, there did not seem to be a place for him in sports. Since his gender identity did not match the gender marker on his birth certificate, simply registering for a youth sport became impossible. But, roller derby was supposed to be different, more inclusive.
History of Roller Derby
Roller derby began as a thrilling depression era escape. Since its inception, roller derby has been a more inclusive sport than most.
Initially, both women and men would compete in alternating periods, combining their scores to determine the winner. The leagues were always co-ed and welcomed openly gay players and all ethnicities. While women and men did not compete against each other, they did play by the same rules. By contrast, most women’s sports today have modified rules from their male counterparts.
Roller derby enjoyed a heyday during the 1970’s when women’s bank track bouts were televised coast to coast. These bouts became more entertainment, focusing on showmanship and drama. After this zenith, roller derby practically stopped for a number of years. In the early 2000’s, women in Austin, Texas revived the sport focusing on athleticism while not forgetting the “Fishnets and Glitter” roller derby flare. Players pick derby names, usually a pun, to compete under, such as ‘Kill-Her-Bee.’ Roller derby was seen as a women’s empowerment movement. Many of the early founders of roller derby identified as members of the LGBT community. You could say roller derby was founded by and for queer women, but they would not have the sport to themselves for long. While roller derby resurfaced as a women’s empowerment movement, a men’s roller derby association quickly followed the all-women’s league. Not long after came a co-ed youth association. Since that time, roller derby has grown to be an international grassroots phenomenon.
Local Roller Derby
“Would roller derby be different than other sports for my child?” I asked myself as we made our way into our first practice. I tried to look calm, but I was worried. My son put on a brave face as the coaches introduced him to the team. Everyone said hello and went about putting on their gear. Then, one of the senior skaters walked up and said “Hi there. What are your pronouns?” I breathed a sigh of relief from the sidelines; I knew we were in the right place. My son found a safe space that day. That was three years ago now and roller derby has since become an important part of our lives.
Raleigh Junior Rollers is the league where my son found a home. RJR holds ‘inclusiveness’ as an important and key part of roller derby culture, and one of the team’s core values. I have seen my son thrive in this community. It is one of the few public safe spaces for my son and many youth like him. This league provides a home for a large range of queer kids, from trans and gender non-conforming to bisexual and lesbian. Even the RJR coaches identify as members of the LGBT community.
Coach Assassin8Her has played roller derby since she was 13 years old. At the time, she had just moved to NC from out of state, was being homeschooled and needed a way to make friends. Her parents looked for a community that would love and nurture young closeted Assassin, and they soon found roller derby. After a memory-packed five years with Raleigh Junior Rollers, Assasin8Her took on her next challenge: coaching young RJR skaters.
She would have to coach skaters ages 8-18, some not much younger than herself. Assassin was up to the challenge though, showing maturity beyond her years. The skaters have looked up to Assassin since she was their team captain, now they look up to her as head coach.
Not long after Assassin8Her began as the head coach, Coach Kitty Crowbar joined the coaching team for RJR. For Kitty, roller derby was initially a way to get into shape after pregnancy. As it turns out, being in an inclusive space is important for adults as well as children. While playing for Carolina Roller Derby, Kitty came to terms with her own sexuality as a queer woman. Knowing personally how important a safe space can be, Kitty became dedicated to providing that space for younger skaters through RJR. Both Assassin8Her and Kitty Crowbar can be seen playing roller derby locally for Carolina Roller Derby and coaching with Raleigh Junior Rollers.
Grass Roots Phenomenon
Both of these RJR coaches are themselves roller derby players. When I said roller derby is a community grassroots movement, that is exactly what I meant. Just putting on a bout takes over 25 volunteers like referees, NSOs (non-skating official), medics, and many more. All these volunteers make roller derby possible.
Through the years, roller derby has held inclusiveness as a key element to the sport. Every practice, every game, every tournament, my son was included. He had a place. In a world that often rejects or ridicules him, my son found a group of kids and adults who accept him. Not only did his team accept him, there is an entire grassroots sport where he is openly welcomed. Regardless of your gender identity or sexuality, roller derby has a place for you. Regardless of your body type, roller derby has a place for you. If you can’t roller skate, roller derby still has a place for you. Roller derby truly is a sport for everyone.