Return of roller derby gives skaters chance to show competitiveness, flair
By Ryan Arena
Roller derby is something most often associated with the years far gone by, with its first mainstream incarnation seeing it morph from a competition to a professional wrestling-like entertainment spectacle before largely fading away.
But the sport is making a comeback – emphasis on sport, as in the competitive side – and a pair of St. Charles Parish sisters have found themselves right at home on the rink.
A shared love of skating brought Mia and Kayla Rocco of Luling, ages 15 and 10 respectively, are teammates on the Crescent City Crushers roller derby squad, having just completed their first season with the team and now preparing to get started again in August.
It’s a contact sport played by two teams of five members skating counter-clockwise around a track. Each side designates a “jammer” who is designated to score points for their team by lapping members of the opposing team. The remaining players try to assist the jammer – while hindering the other.
“They just like skating, and it’s not something people do much anymore,” said their mother, Denise. “We kept our eyes and ears open on Facebook, looking for junior teams. There’s just not a lot of Roller Derby teams out there, and less so for juniors.”
Eventually, they found their team.
While the competition has been re-legitimized – “it had kind of gotten to WWE-type status at one point in its history,” Denise said—there’s still plenty of room for creativity and showmanship. Each skater develops their own character name and persona, and sets themselves apart by painting their face and decorating their helmets.
Mia, for example, is Brawllipop. Kayla, likewise, is Chupacabra, named after the creature from folklore.
“I used to mess around and growl at people when I was younger,” Kayla said with a laugh. “They gave me a nickname of Chupacabra, so I got it from that.”
Kayla said she was surprised at what she found when she was getting into it at first – as did Mom.
“We definitely were learning as we went,” Denise said. “I had no idea what it is.”
She had to get used to the idea of the physicality of the sport, for example.
“It’s like, ‘Eh, do we need this?’” Denise said. “But ultimately, just like a guy playing football, you have safety equipment, you take the precautions. You’re skating fast and falls will happen. Nobody’s quit the team, though.
“For girls, it’s a game that really toughens you up, and makes them feel strong … they get it in a way you don’t see with other sports.”
Kayla said working together with her teammates was a favorite aspect.
“You have to talk and find ways to stop the other team from scoring,” Kayla said. “It’s fun figuring out ways to win.”
Mia said she and her sister have been skating for years.
“We’d always go to the roller rink, and even if not there, we’d skate around the neighborhood,” Mia said. “I don’t know why I started doing it, but it’s just always been a thing.”
She enjoys how unique roller derby is.
“This is really awesome and I’ve met some awesome people. Without this, we wouldn’t have met them at all,” Mia said.
Mia also achieved a bit of fame through the Crushers.
A video of Mia and her teammate — the Crushers’ jammer — finding a creative way to score on the opposition has made the rounds on Facebook. With no clear lane for the jammer to break through the defense, Kayla took a wide stance with her legs, and her shorter teammate was able to skate underneath her to break through to the other side. The video’s been viewed over 20,000 times.
“I didn’t think it would work!” Mia said. “The other team’s blockers were like, ‘where did she go?’ and by that time, she was gone. It was so cool.”
The sisters and their mother alike all say they hope to see the sport continue to grow, and perhaps a few more of their St. Charles Parish neighbors to join in.
“A lot of people have been interested, but say they barely skate … it’ll take some convincing. But hopefully we get there,” Mia said.