ANDERSON, Ind. — Hurt ankles. Busted lips. Bruised ribs.
It’s just part of the game, even on the junior level.
Roller derby has been around for decades, but a recent surge in popularity has helped bring a junior team to Anderson. The league may be for minors, but they play by the same rules as the adults.
“A lot of people when you tell them what roller derby is, the parents are like, ‘You want to teach my daughter how to get beat up on roller skates?’” coach Scott Viera said. “… I have to explain to them that there are certain rules to it.”
Viera started the Hoosier Bruisers, Anderson’s junior team, with only four girls in October 2012. Just a little more than a year later, 33 girls aged 5 to 17 are on the team.
He said that when he recruits new players and the parents are hesitant he invites them to practice to see what the game is all about.
Each game, or bout, consists of two 30-minute periods divided into 2-minute “jams.” Each team assigns a “jammer,” who scores points by lapping the opposing team members as they skate counterclockwise on the track. The rest of the players are part of “the pack,” which consists of blockers who try to prevent the opposing jammer from scoring by using offensive and defensive tactics. Each team can have one blocker who is a “pivot” and can be designated as a jammer during a jam.
It’s a high-contact sport that requires certain safety precautions. Viera said the first lesson each girl learns is how to fall down properly to avoid injuries.
“Every skater, when they’re learning how to skate, that’s the last thing you want to do,” he said. “Once you learn to fall correctly, it doesn’t hurt so much.”
When parents see the safety precautions in place, it usually puts them at ease, he said.
The league is split into three skill divisions. Level one consists of girls who are learning how to skate and block each other. It focuses more on containment than contact.
Girls in the second level learn how to hit, use their bodies more and spread out on the track. The third level is full contact.
The Hoosier Bruisers are in the Great Lakes region for roller derby so they travel to Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky and other parts of Indiana for bouts.
Viera said the team played two bouts last season and one this season, which will end in June. They’re rated 62 out of 300 nationally.
The coach’s goal for this year is to get an invitation to nationals and to grow the league to 60 kids.
“These girls don’t get frustrated with the score and give up,” he said. “They have that kind of teamwork and drive.”
The biggest lesson they’ve learned is cooperation. Working together is vital and they have to be able to trust one another, players Mykala Ashpaugh, 14, and Duvessa Faulkenberg, 13, said.
The coach’s 16-year-old daughter, Jenna Viera, helped him start Hoosier Bruisers and said roller derby takes special skill sets.
“With football you’re meant to fall on the ground, (but) with roller derby you have to get right back up as soon as you hit the ground and hit somebody,” she said. “So I think that’s part of it because football players lay on the ground and tackle somebody but we can’t do that. It takes a lot more out of us.”
Like all sports, there is the risk of injury in roller derby.
Ashpaugh said someone skated over her rib, she got kicked in the face and had her finger run over last year. Faulkenberg also got a skate to the face, resulting in a black eye and busted lip.
But the girls don’t think much of it. They said it motivates them more to get back up and it has never made them question if they wanted to play.
Their coach said players mainly walk away with just bruises.
“The girls call those derby kisses,” he said. “To these girls those bruises are pride. They show them off.”
But more than wounds, the girls walk away with self-confidence, he said.
“The game teaches them self-worth,” he said. “So many of these girls don’t fit in when it comes to other sports.
“Here, everybody gets to play.”
Like Kelly Dickey on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @KellyD_THB, or call 640-4805.