When Kylie Glass grows up, she wants to be a veterinarian and a roller derby jammer.
The 11-year-old from Edgerton, Kan., fell in love with roller derby two years ago, when her parents took her to a Kansas City Roller Warriors bout. The aggressive sport, where skaters with menacing nicknames race and often collide around an elliptical track, instantly entranced Glass. She didn’t go home until she had autographs from every skater.
When Kylie turned 10, her mom, Jackie Glass, let her join Junior Warriors, a co-ed roller derby team of about 40 players ranging in age from 10 to 17. The mostly female team is now in its sixth season. It’s coached by members of the Roller Warriors, Kansas City’s all-female flat-track derby league.
Until this fall, the Junior Warriors practiced only during the regular season, which starts in May and ends in August. In October, they started practicing year-round so they could better prepare for summertime bouts against other teams.
Roller derby has become increasingly popular in recent years thanks to movies like 2009’s “Whip It” and a growing number of skater-run leagues. The Roller Warriors, founded 10 years ago, is one of 1,500 roller derby leagues in 40 countries, according to derbyroster.com. Crashes and collisions are part of the sport’s appeal, which is why Junior Warriors are required to have health insurance and provide their own protective gear: Helmets, elbow pads, wrist guards, knee pads and mouth guards.
Kylie’s mom says she was “a little worried” to let her fifth-grader play roller derby with teenagers. But she figured the sport wasn’t any more dangerous than gymnastics, cheerleading or football.
Kylie quickly learned to block, fall without hurting herself and skate fast. She toughened up, started calling herself Lucille Brawl, and held her own against players who were a foot taller.
“I’m shy,” Kylie says. But on the track, as Lucille Brawl, she’s more confident: “I’m a different person.”
Junior Warriors coach Tessa Brant, who goes by Anya Neezenbeg on the track, says that through roller derby, kids and adults find community, embrace individuality and bloom with confidence.
The sport is not for everyone, Brant says, but “for the people who grasp onto it, it becomes their life.”
Junior Warriors come from all over the Kansas City metro to attend Wednesday evening practices at Winnwood Skate Center. One player drives 45 minutes from Greenwood, Mo. And it takes about an hour for the Glass family to get from Edgerton to the Northland rink.
Practice begins with a warm-up. The skaters coast counter-clockwise around the rink on quad skates. Under their protective gear, they wear bright shorts, tights or leggings and shirts emblazoned with nicknames such as Marilyn Mon Roll, Bash Ketchum, Princess Pain in the Butt and Demon Seed.
During a recent practice, the concession stand was dim but the rink smelled like buttered popcorn. The disco balls weren’t twirling, but skating rink standards such as “Pump Up the Jam” and “Good Vibrations” (by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, not the Beach Boys) echoed across the wooden floor along with the click-clack of skates.
After plenty of squats and stretches, the Junior Warriors divided into two groups. The beginners group practiced basic skating skills while the intermediate and advanced group paired up and practiced leaning into one another as they slowly rolled around a makeshift track outlined by blue strips of fabric.
“Keep it low, keep it controlled,” yelled coach Laurel Hautala, also known as Madam McBomb. “It’s not about bashing each other — yet.”
“But I wanna bash!” a skater shouted out from the pack.
The first bash of the evening happened soon afterward — but it was an accident. Grace Reading, a 16-year-old Junior Warrior from Kansas City who goes by Barbie Brutality, tripped over her partner’s skate and went sprawling face-first across the wooden floor. Reading came up smiling, with a plastic mouthguard concealing her front teeth.
“If you fall and cry, why are you in roller derby?” Reading said after practice.
Like any contact sport, roller derby requires durability, strength and stamina. Coach Brant is working on her durability: Thanks to a bad back, she couldn’t compete with the Kansas City Roller Warriors last season. She volunteered as a referee instead.
Brant’s back injury wasn’t caused by roller derby, but roller derby doesn’t exactly help. Still, she says she won’t quit the sport she loves.
“I’m in physical therapy four times a week so I can do derby,” Brant says. She plans to join next season’s draft.
Roller derby players can’t be afraid to fall or get hurt. That’s tough for both players and their parents.
Nicole Craft is married to a roller derby player — her husband, Scott Craft, skates as Double Tap for the Kansas City Cowtown Butchers. Still, it was hard for her to allow 10-year-old daughter Cadence to join the Junior Warriors.
“I almost threw up the first time she had a bout,” Nicole Craft says.
Nicole says that Cadence, who skates as Tiny Dancer, has muscular dystrophy, and that being active helps: “The more she uses her muscles, the more she keeps it at bay.”
Despite being one of the youngest Junior Warriors, Cadence practices with the intermediate and advanced players and can block with the best of them. Nicole isn’t scared to watch her daughter compete anymore.
“We celebrate falls,” Nicole says, “because that means you pushed yourself as hard as you could push yourself.”
Learning to be aggressive didn’t come easy for Sam Allen, a 16-year-old Junior Warrior from Greenwood, Mo., who goes by Sam Scissorhands.
“Hitting was new to me,” Allen says, “and I was horrible at skating.”
Now she can weave through other players backward, and she’s not afraid to bash.
“This does get out your aggression, but it’s not hostile,” Allen says.
Roller Derby might seem like an anything-goes sport, but there are lots and lots of rules. In a typical bout, two teams of five skaters compete in contests called jams that last as long as two minutes each. Each team has one scoring position called a jammer who starts behind the other players, called blockers.
The jammer’s objective is to pass through the pack of blockers. On the second pass, the jammer scores one point for each player from the opposing team passed, and the team with the most points at the end of the bout wins.
Skaters can’t use their hands, elbows or heads to block, and pushing another player from behind is prohibited. Rule breakers serve time in the penalty box.
The first time Lucille Brawl was sent to the penalty box, “I was Facebooking it,” says Jackie Glass with pride. “You gotta learn the rules and the consequences of breaking those rules.”
During Junior Warriors practices, coaches often stop the skaters during scrimmages to break down the rules. They call this “Zack Morris-ing it out” after the star of “Saved by the Bell,” who would take timeouts during the show to explain what was happening.
The Junior Warriors learn lessons on and off their skates. Brant says a big part of the team’s mission is giving back to the community. The Junior Warriors recently participated in an event that raised money for skin cancer research, and in December they’ll wrap presents for kids at Della Lamb Community Services.
“The overall goal,” Brant says, “is to teach them to work hard, play hard and be themselves.”
The players take their team and their sport seriously. Haven Price, a 16-year-old Junior Warrior from Shawnee known as Miss-B-Haven, says she’s looking forward to the day that roller derby is included in the Summer Olympics.
“I’m going,” Price says.
And Kylie Glass is determined to keep playing jammer. Over the summer, she played the scoring position and was voted MVP.
“I like jamming because I’m the one being counted on,” Glass says. “It makes me work harder.”
Join Junior Warriors
The Junior Warriors’ fall 2014 session focuses on roller derby fundamentals and is open to girls and boys ages 10-17. The session ends Dec. 10; the next session will begin in early 2015.
Practices cost $10 each or $40 per month and are coached by members of the Kansas City Roller Warriors. Junior Warriors must have health insurance, quad skates and protective gear such as knee pads, helmets and wrist guards. Practices are 6-8 p.m. Wednesdays at Winnwood Skate Center, 4426 N.E. Winn Road.