Share This Post

Activities / Children / Events / Health

Roller derby junior league brings new blood to a sport that builds confidence and conditioning

A year ago, Denver School of Arts junior Sage Reidhead didn’t work out and had no interest in traditional sports.

But after attending a Denver roller derby game on a Friday night, Reidhead and a friend found themselves that Sunday at their first practice for a new local junior derby. It didn’t matter that it had been years since the teen donned a pair of skates and ambled around the rink at Skate City.

“(Roller derby) wasn’t like any other sport to me because it showed how all those bad-assed women could be strong,” said Reidhead, now 17. “They were athletes, and what they were doing was hard.”

It’s that kind of tenacity and spirit that current adult roller derby members hope will keep this contact sport alive, said P.J. Shields, head coach of the Rollerpunks, the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls’ junior league.

“Because modern derby is only about 10 years old, we don’t have 6-year-olds playing like they do in T-ball or little league football,” said Shields, who has been the Rollergirls’ “Dangerous Leigh A’zon” since 2007. “These juniors who are playing the sport and learn it well enough will grow into the adult-generation leagues of the future.”

Children ages 6 to 17 have been flocking to the program since it launched in April 2010, propelled by the Rollergirls’ popularity and their world championship title. Registration more than doubled, from 30 last year to 65 in April. The full-contact sport, with its colorful uniforms and punk-inspired aesthetic, tends to attract youths who may not have seen themselves as traditional athletes but find their strength and confidence on the flat track.

A roller derby game, called a “bout,” is played in two 30-minute periods split into “jams” that last up to two minutes. Five players from each team take position on the track, including three blockers who defend, a pivot who calls the plays and a jammer who scores.

A game for mind and body

Jammers, identified by a star on their helmets, race each other and muscle their way through the pack to score points for their team by legally lapping opposing team members. Meanwhile, blockers from the opposing team try to stop them by hitting them.

“It’s a brainy sport that requires a lot of strategy like a chess board with pieces that are always moving,” said Sky Portenier, 15, a.k.a. “Happy Killmore.” An in-line hockey background helped her quickly transition from roller blades to quad skates and become a jammer.

“Not only are you trying to skate as fast as you can, but you are getting knocked over and are trying to knock other people over,” Portenier said.

Junior league coaches don’t water down the training for the teens, who spend most of practice getting derby-fit. That includes continuous laps around the track to build leg strength and aerobic endurance, weight training and core workouts. Skills range from going from a dead stop to full- on sprints in quad skates, performing stops and learning how to fall correctly in a small area so other players are not endangered.

“You need that core strength so if someone hits you, you don’t fall and you have enough strength in your abs to stay up,” said Zoe “Rocky Horror” Pierce, a 16-year-old who played on a Washington team before moving to Boulder and joining the Rollerpunks in March.

Shields, known for her militant, tough-love training approach (with lots of yelling for encouragement), laid down the law the first day of practice: “You are done with soda” and, “Don’t come to practice without having eaten a balanced meal.”

“The hardest part is eating well because if you don’t eat enough or eat the wrong thing, it can jack you up in practice,” said Reidhead, who has excelled, becoming a jammer worthy of her fierce derby name, “Satan’s Barbie.”

She remembers when she foolishly didn’t fill a nervous belly before a bout and ended up throwing up for most of the night. Now her training includes Saturday team bootcamp, general daily workouts, spinning class and derby practice Sundays and every other Friday.

The commitment is physical and financial. Monthly dues are $15, while outfitting a player can run $250 or more for a helmet, mouth and wrist guards, elbow and knee pads, and a pair of skates.

Parents aren’t just present on the sidelines during the bouts, but they attend all practices, as well, to form a network of support.

The Rollerpunks faced their biggest challenge earlier this month when they played against their first out-of-state powerhouse junior league, Portland’s Rosebuds of the Rose City Rollers.

The atmosphere was frenetic as cheers and thumping skates clattering on the track started off the game. Derby parent Rochelle Allen’s piercing whistle cut through the din and got a knowing smile from her daughter, Lili, a.k.a. “A Cute MI,” a 12-year- old who is one of the smallest girls on the team.

“That’s what I love about derby: They accept girls of all sizes because everybody is needed,” said Allen.

The Rollerpunks’ red and black uniforms blurred with the oranges and purples of the Rosebuds in plays that were just too fast for the eyes. Groans and murmurs in the audience accompanied every slip. But as Rollerpunk penalties mounted along with their frustration, the Rosebuds’ experience proved to be the Rollerpunks’ undoing. Though energetic and talented, the ‘Punks have been skating for only one year, while the Portland team has five years under its team helmets.

Consequently, the RollerPunks lost to the Rosebuds with a final score of 296-43.

The hurt of defeat

“I’m going to have a couple of sad kids when I get home,” said Amy “Derby Breeder” Reidhead, mother of Sage and Megan, who hid her head in her mother’s lap. “My daughters are tough, and I knew this powerful sport that’s dangerous and just a little sexy was right up their alley.”

For now, there are no college scholarships or full-rides offered to derby players. That’s how you know their love for the game is real.

“We have a passion for it, and we will take everything we learned from this game and apply it,” said Megan Reidhead, 15-year-old “Megzilla,” who is a pivot on the team.

Derby players guard against drama in this women-dominated sport where one might think aggressive plays, hard collisions and falls would stir up anger. But the hugs shared by opposing team members after the bout seemed genuine and heartfelt.

“Can they come practice with us tomorrow morning?” begged one Rollerpunk, still trying to catch her breath from her exertions on the track.

Sheba R. Wheeler

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

Share This Post


  1. As a member of the Boulder County Bombers roller derby league, I would certainly enroll my daughter in roller derby (if I had one!). There is nothing like the sense of empowerment, sisterly bonding and, of course, the amazing workouts!

  2. I have a secret dream of doing roller derby. Of course, I’d probably get my butt kicked. They should have roller derby classes for beginners. 🙂 I think my daughter would love it, too!

Leave a Reply