As seen in the summer issue of Red Deer Living magazine…
The speakers were blaring Zed99 throughout the arena and nearly every girl skating had on a mouth guard, spandex or fish net tights. The excitement was contagious and every person, be they a referee, a husband or a jammer was happy it was Wednesday night in Sylvan Lake.
The Belladonnas took to the track for their second practise of the week. With a “bout” maybe once a month, the practise is what really bonds them as a team.
Roller derby is not just a boom and bust sport from the 70’s. It is not just a game where tough girls push each other over. And it certainly is not a sport where you have to have previous experience to join in. And the Red Deer Roller Derby Association, A.K.A “Belladonnas”, is no exception.
Derby is quickly making a comeback and those involved have found it becomes like family, a good break for busy moms and a way to meet your future soul mate.
“For the record I do believe we are the first international derby wedding,” says Jeff Whyte who just married Allison from the UK on May 8.
Jeff’s love for derby began when he used to watch the old TV show RollerGames. With approximately 600 women’s leagues across North America, Australia and Europe, and around 20 men’s leagues – it has been harder for Jeff to find enough guys to even have a bout let alone form a league. But in August of 2009 he decided he was going to do two things: give his all to the Red Deer Roller Derby and forget about dating.
Out of pure passion and support for the team he began a Facebook group called “I Love Derby Girls” and Allison, residing in England, joined. After Jeff sent out a passionate message to get more people involved in the sport, Allison saw something that intrigued her, and they began talking. That was last September, and they are now husband and wife.
“If you give yourself over to derby it can change your life. I have met so many fantastic people, including my wife,” said Jeff.
So what is it about this sport that has drawn over 30 members to the Red Deer Roller Derby Association since it began in November 2008?
Well take Sam Fisher for instance. She’s a 25 year old auto-parts counter clerk by day, but a derby girl skating under the alias of “Sid Fish-ous” by night. Sam moved from Ontario a year ago, and the Belladonnas have become her home away from home.
“I didn’t know anybody when I moved here and the first practise I saw I was like `That is where I belong! I am so doing this!’ I had skated all my life, but half the girls on the team have never even been on skates. It’s amazing to see the things that these girls can do now.”
For most, derby isn’t just about getting out on the flat track and enjoying a sport that is good for you, but it’s also about the camaraderie.
“The team is really a team. I’m the type of person that doesn’t always get along with girls and always had guy friends. But here everyone gets along. There’s no negativity. No grudges. I could totally take a girl out on the track and then she’s coming to me at the after party with a hug!”
You may have seen the 2009 Directorial debut of Drew Berrymore, Whip It, and for the most part, it only partially represents the sport, according to Belladonnas’ President, April Reynolds, also known as “Cuff Me Kate”.
These girls play on a flat track and not a sloped bank track like the one in the movie.
April shares that it is ideal to have approximately 14 people on a team, so that you can have a couple lines of players, just like in hockey. Five are on at a time, four are blockers and one girl is a jammer. The jammer’s goal is to spring to the front and pass as many blockers of the opposing team as possible. Weaving through the blockers who are playing both offence and defence, the two minute “jam” is a battle for the jammer to pass as many people as possible using moves like “whip it” or bootie block or grabbing hips to get some leverage. Whatever works to get the jammer past the oppositions’ blockers. Each opposing team member you pass, you score a point. Legally you can only block with shoulders, the back side, or hip checks, and there is no hitting from behind or with the elbows.
Now in the 21st century, roller derby is making a strong comeback and even vying for a place in the Olympics. It is bringing together people of all ages, sizes and backgrounds in a common goal – to learn something new and have a good time.
Allison Whyte comments to her new husband who is as passionate about derby as any man could be, “Now you’re stuck with me.” She smiles.
And to that Jeff quickly retorts, “I’m not stuck. I’m right where I want to be.”