Play like a girl

In December, I wrote about the work to establish the Rideau Heights Roller Derby (RHRD) that would introduce girls in the north end of Kingston to the magic of roller derby. Thanks to the hard work of the three organizers (full disclosure: one of them is my daughter), successful grant writing and the generosity of local businesses as well as individuals, the RHRD got off the ground earlier this spring.

As I watched the 13 girls who signed up for the 12-week roller derby camp at a recent weekly clinic, I couldn’t help but sing Janis Ian’s 2000 song “Play Like a Girl” under my breath:

I remember when boys told me –

You play like a girl

It’s a matter of genetic history

You play like a girl. . .

When I was ten years old, I was told –

You can’t play baseball . . .

Girls don’t know how to have fun

Girls don’t last in the long run

Girls give birth and stuff but

They’re not really tough enough . . .

Now all over this big wide world

I play like a girl

No silence here

The clinics take place in a community elementary school where, for one evening a week, the gym is transformed into a makeshift derby rink, with pylons marking the boundaries of the skating area. Interested parents, some dragging along less interested siblings, sit on the stage to watch as the girls strap on the required safety gear – helmets, mouth guards, knee and elbow pads – followed by their skates and then get serious about learning how to skate, block, jam and shout.

Important as the skating is – and the progress the girls have made in just four weeks is amazing – it is the other learning that impressed me even more.

Too often, girls are told – directly or indirectly – to be quiet.  Not at roller derby. Coaches Skate at Home Mom, LaVallee of the Dolls and Mr. Kristi (all former derby skaters themselves) encourage this new generation of derby girls to shout and yell encouragement, whether to themselves or their mates, while they skate.

Too often, girls are told their bodies are ugly. Not here. All bodies are beautiful and capable of becoming strong.

Too often, girls are told they will never make the mark. Not on the derby rink, where the girls – every single one of them – are praised for their achievements and encouraged to feel good about themselves, especially when they fall and get back up again (which happens a lot).

Sisterhood on skates

The other key message I heard was about community. The coaches talked about the importance of team work, of the girls supporting one another, of having each other’s backs. And the message got through.

I overheard two girls, skating slowly and unsteadily but with determination, comment to one of the coaches that the most important thing was to: “Wait for my partner, encourage her and compliment her.” Another one, when asked what was most important about derby, responded with: “Sticking together.”

Important lessons for girls anywhere, but perhaps especially for girls in a rough part of town who might need to take those lessons off the rink into their daily lives in order to stay safe at school, in the community and even at home.

Keeping it going

More financial support is needed if the derby is to continue into the next school year. These girls want more, and more girls want to join, but that means insurance has to be paid and more equipment purchased, The three coaches are happy to continue to donate their time, but they need financial support for out of pocket costs to keep the program going. I hope you will consider making a donation.

Play like a girl!

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