Tearing Down the Stigma Surrounding Roller Derby, Part One

When I worked for the Edmonton Rush Lacrosse Club it was eye opening the struggle to sell a new’ish sport to someone who has never watched it before. It was double the struggle to get a new fan to come to a second game if they could not immediately sound knowledgeable about the sport. Well this article is about Roller Derby not lacrosse, and it is seemingly triple the struggle to sell Roller Derby.

More than the broad stroke reasons listed above there seems to be a negative stigma surrounding Roller Derby. Several members of Oil City Roller Derby (OCRD) agreed to help me to attempt to tear down the stigma surrounding the sport. There will be three stereotypes investigated and explained in three separate articles – pageantry/gamesmanship, violence, and the nature of the events.

Please explain the pageantry/gamesmanship of the sport? The most obvious aspect of pageantry are the roller derby names. How is the novice fan suppose to take you seriously? 

Diva De Mortis

Diva De Mortis circa 2016. Credit, OCRD website.

This is a question that is asked frequently. We acknowledge that this adds whimsy to the sport, and can detract from the idea that derby is a legitimate sport. It is one of the legacies that has stuck. There are conflicting views on this within the derby community. Some want to keep the “derby name” and some want to dump them. Originally, the derby names were part of that pageantry. Part of the show. Now they are more of a right of passage as a skater achieves passing the fundamentals program and getting a chance to play in a “real” game. Finally their name is announced. A name that they chose. A name that may have more meaning than their birth name. Sometimes the names are just silly, and sometimes they are serious. But regardless, the names have meaning. The person who chooses a silly name may only have derby as an outlet to be silly. The person who chooses a serious name may only have derby as an outlet to express that. I like to think of the names as tattoos. Choosing a tattoo is personal. The meaning is for YOU and you only. But it doesn’t change who you are as a person, but rather provides you with a creative outlet to express yourself.

And in terms of the other pageantry of the sport, this is something that is slowly disappearing as the sport becomes more mainstream. You still get the new skaters that think it is great to skate in fishnets, and the veterans skaters that do the same, but comfort often wins over pageantry (Lol). Also, derby is an inclusive environment, so we do not discriminate if someone wants to be seen in fishnets (or other embellishments) while skating. Typically, as a skater becomes more serious about derby, those embellishments disappear. Other than makeup, you are unlikely to see any fancy costuming in the roller derby world cup for example.

Tex Rexem #357

The names draw people in. It’s fun. You could well ask the same question of the drag community but i’ve not seen anyone do so – they understand or will learn that along with a challenging sport, roller derby still offers an opportunity for self invention. Theatricality and pagaentry are entertaining to watch, satisfying to participate in, and entirely optional. Plenty of players simply have their last name on their jersey.

Ivana Kischmoo – Drag n’ Drop’s Wife

Our names are all different… and ways to identify us when we play. The fan doesn’t HAVE to take it seriously. In fact, I hope they ENJOY the playful names, but if they come watch games and see the sport for what it is, they will QUICKLY see that a name is just a name. Wasn’t there a famous quote by some well known author about a name just being a name?

Some names have deep meaning – or a connection to who we are in real life. Some are silly and fun because in real life we might be silly or fun. Some are messages that you may or may not get. Some are gifts of love and affection from our teammates.

I challenge the fans to get to know us, not just our names but who we are, how hard we play, and how hard we show up in this world.

Vulcan DeathTrip # 8008ies:

Also – who says we want to be taken totally serious?

Maybe some “goofy” names act as a reminder to spectators that we have a sense of humour, especially while they watch us violently smash into each other.

Inspector Gidget Charleau #94:

I didn’t join derby because it’s serious. I joined derby because it’s fun. There’s obviously a ton of hardwork involved, but the spectacle behind the sport is a great way to be able to bring out individual personality.

London Brawling # 1979

 Nicknames are a part of sports, even if they don’t always end up on the back of a jersey (though NFL fans may remember that Chad Johnson went by the name Chad Ochocino for several seasons).

The theatricality that comes with the names, makeup, and crazy boutfits make derby incredibly fun (for skaters and fans) and a little more accessible for people who maybe don’t enjoy traditional sports. Frankly when I was starting out, the idea of nicknames and face paint made the sport a little less intimidating for me to approach, not because I didn’t think it was serious, but because I knew that having fun was a huge part of it.

Drag n’ Drop # 301:

 Having a derby name makes me feel like a superhero. We choose our names and they mean whatever we want them to. They can be deeply personal, totally frivolous, or anything in between. How cool is that?

PSL aka Pumpkin Spice Latte – #28

In every sport, even most jobs, there are ridiculous nicknames. We name ourselves to let out a part of us we maybe can’t let out in our regular day to day. For myself it’s a not so inside joke with my best friend Taco Bruiseday, it’s a nickname going 4 years strong. Just releasing my inner basic queer. So to people who think a name stops you from taking derby seriously think of the nicknames you have picked up though the years and tell me if I should take you serious in your business suite marshmellow. You’ll forget a last name, but you’ll never forget a derby name.

Low Key #314

Derby names are a leftover from the theatrical stage of Roller Derby. It was (and is) one of methods for skaters to draft different personas, to let go of of their daily life stresses and be someone a bit different for a little bit. Some teams do forgo derby names for legal names to be more professional seeming. Personally, I love the derby name aspect. It seems to reveal something about the individual: their sense of humor, background, religion, sexuality, hobbies, what’s important to stand out to them, something they look up to or want to be more like, etc. Personally, I took mine from a book (shocking, I’m a reader). But what’s funny to me is how it ended reflecting my playing style. I’m told that I’m sneaky on the track, skaters think they’ve lost me, but then I pop out of nowhere like a ninja (“Low Key”).

Roxy Belleboa

Not all derby skaters have “derby Names”. Some skaters skate under their last name or no name at all. Look at wrestlers for instance they all have “gimmick names”. If you were to meet “The Undertaker” for instance in real life, you wouldn’t go up to him and call him Mark Calaway, would you? You would call him the Undertaker, because that is who he is when he is wrestling. The same goes for us.

Some of us do have fun name like Rainbow Juicepig, but then there are others who have more “Punny” names and that is where the fun come in. We have everything from doctors to morticians that play this sport and having a different  “gimmick name” to play under gives them the opportunity to have fun and be someone they don’t get to be Monday to Friday. 

Stay tuned for part two!

EDITOR’S NOTE: All professional head shot photos were taken by Cellar Door Photography.

ECBC Connor Burns Interview

There is still a chance of baseball in Edmonton in 2020. The Edmonton Collegiate Trappers (ECBC) are still awaiting word from Canadian College Baseball Conference (CCBC) in regards to their pending fall schedule. Instead of re-hashing an old interview with ECBC Head Coach Ethan Elias I reached out to a different voice in the clubhouse.

Assistant Coach Connor Burns was kind enough to answer a few questions about baseball just so we can have a few moments to think about baseball.

Q) As an assistant coach of a team during a pandemic, do you keep contact with players in hopes of a fall season?

Without this pandemic happening I try to keep a good relationship with all my players and check on how they’re doing. Ethan and I run our team with an open door policy. Anything our players need or want to chat about we are always there for them.

In regards to the fall season, we give them news when there is news to give, which there hasn’t been for a while.

With our senior players it is very sad to see their careers ending so abruptly. The league is doing a great job with allowing loop holes for these players to play another season. However, it is tough for some of our guys who have graduated, have practicums lined up, etc. It’s a tough situation for a lot of them but we support all of our guys in whatever they decide to do. 

Q) Absolute Human Performance – I have seen that name mingled in with ECBC since I started covering the team – tell us about the relationship.

Ethan and I are both employed by AHP. Ethan is the leading throwing instructor and I am the director of skill development. My brother, Taylor Burns, is the owner and founder of the organization and has been training ECBC in the offseason for the last 2-3 years.

Q) You and Coach Elias are part of a U16-U13 Absolute Human Performance Baseball starting in October…go ahead explain that please.

The youth baseball academy is co-ran by Ethan and myself and overseen by Taylor. It runs from October to the first week of April. It is a three day a week camp with the core values of having fun, working hard, and developing the necessary skills in preparation for the 2021 summer season. More information can be found on our website http://absolutehumanperformance.com/

Q) What is your opinion on the still developing situation at RE/MAX Field with the Edmonton Prospects and Dr. Randy Gregg’s incoming team?

As of right now I do not have a comment. We are very thankful for the relationship we have had with the Edmonton Prospects and Pat Cassidy. However we are excited to see what is in store with Randy Gregg’s group.

Thank you Connor for your time. Here is hoping next time we chat it will be about an actual baseball game.

Edmonton Wildcats Coach Darcy Park Interview

“The Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL)provides the opportunity for young men aged 17 to 22 to participate in highly competitive post-high school football that is unique in Canada. The goal of the league is to foster community involvement and yield a positive environment by teaching discipline, perseverance and cooperation. The benefits of the league are strong camaraderie, national competition and life-long friends.”

The quote is taken directly from the CJFL “our league” page on their website. In speaking with Darcy Park, the Edmonton Wildcats Coach of 23 years, those words resonated throughout our conversation as he spoke about his players and the football life during a pandemic.

In late June, I had chatted with Wildcats General Manager Garnet Brown about the hopes for an upcoming CJFL season. In the back-and-forth emails with Coach Park setting our phone call, a setback was revealed on July 14th…

“Len, You are definitely on my to do list…going through a frustrating run, we were supposed to begin some small group workouts this week, but were shut down until the first week in August.”

When we connected on the phone, my first question for Coach was to comment on whether or not he felt there was going to be a season:

“Two weeks ago I would have strongly suggested a 70% chance. Today, I say about 40%.

The plan would be two divisions, Alberta and Saskatchewan/Manitoba. Divisional teams would play each other twice. It sounds nice but unlike the bigger leagues that are currently returning to play with the bankroll to support daily COVID-19 testing, we as a league simply cannot. While our athletes who are students have their “social distancing” rules in place, what about our athletes who work jobs that sometimes makes “social distancing” tough to accomplish. We must keep our players and their participation in the community as safe as possible. In doing so, the Club would have to add a third bus when travelling to a road game to keep the players and staff appropriately spaced. That’s an added cost to an already tight budget.

From that point on Coach and I did our best to have a “normal off-season” chat about his football team. Typically a conversation with a coach starts with the team’s recent history. The CJFL website only shows standings as far back as 2014. That was the last time the team reached the 3-win plateau (8-game regular season) having recorded only 2-wins in each of the past two seasons. 

“At this level of sport, things go in cycles. In 2009, we were the PFC and Intergold Champions. In 2013 we went 5-3 but lost 24 players to Chris Morris’ University of Alberta Golden Bears. It hurt our program but we are here to help players get to the next level. As a coach, being a part of someone’s journey is an honour.

We fielded teams where we asked too many 18-year-old players transitioning from the speed of high school football to the pace of the CJFL game to play against 21 and 22-year-old players.

The Saskatoon Hilltops finished last season undefeated. In our league the road roster for a Club is 45. I might be underestimating but they had 18 22-year-olds. We had 4. When we played the Hilltops in the playoffs, we went into the half down only one score.”

Let’s quickly breakdown the offence with one very important footnote. Any players not mentioned are at the fault of the writer and the sake of brevity. Coach Parks would have gladly given me a line or two on all of his 90ish players in camp.

Quarterbacks:

  • Devin Desormeau, 4th year, started our playoff game going 21-30. Devin’s strength is his reading ability and finding his receivers in the windows.
  • Dante Tabacu appeared in 7 games last season for us as a rookie. Dante’s greatest attribute is his confidence in himself to make plays whether it be with his legs or his really strong but young arm.
  • Derek Kucharski missed time last season after planting to throw the ball and believing he broke his foot. It took two consultations with doctors to realize he had a piece of grown over metal in his foot. Derek is your prototypical pocket passer who relies on his ability to read the defences. His trust in his arm sometimes makes him hold the ball too long instead of just putting the ball out there for his receiver to go and get it.
  • On CJFL Signing Day (June 1st) we announced the signing of Mitchell Simmons. I look forward to seeing his strong arm in play when we are allowed to see what he can do.

Running Backs:

  • Dustin Pawliuk is  a scat back meaning he has really quick feet and tries to make tacklers miss. Good catching the ball out of the backfield.
  • Ramone English is a national level sprinter, who typically misses the beginning of the season due to track commitments. As you would expect, he hits a seam, he is gone.
  • Nathan Zacharias and Nash Etson are two young kids. Nathan got banged up with his transition from high school to football. Nash blew out his knee early.
  • 2019 Haliburton Award winner Declan Mullin joins to the team to compete for running back snaps and kick returning opportunities.

Receivers:

  • Lucas Howe and Jacob Mihailides are both entering their 5th years. We will need to do a better job getting the ball to both of them.
  • Galal Elbarkouky joins the Club with the tools to be a top end talent. As with every other talent on the team, it will be our job to teach the youngsters how to use the tools.
  • Garrett Kryzanowski comes in from Lloydminster for his 5th season of Junior Football.
  • Tanner Holt and Layton Barisenkoff are both 3rd year players. Like other receivers not mentioned, the potential is still being untapped.

Offensive line

Last year the group took a big step up and started winning the battle of the trenches on a more consistent basis.

  • Center Mike Rea and tackle Anthony Rahe are seniors. 4th year Richard McQuire is our other tackle.
  • 3rd year guard Kyle Theiss is super intelligent and technically sound. You need Kyle’s on your team.
  • Sophomore Colin Wagner was selected as a top 100 under-19 player. Was tabbed to tryout for Team Canada for the Under-20 Junior World Football Championship.
  • Tayler Lanigan is 6’7 monster that can play tackle or guard.

In the spirit of healthy competition, Tayler stands to push hard to earn a starting job. We always want to build up confidence with our players. Getting them to understand that their role may change week-to-week but hard work is key.

New Offensive Coordinator

With a new OC in Kavis Reed, his attention to detail is something all us coaches could aspire to. Despite his CFL resume he has been content being “just the OC”.

Through “Zoom meetings” with his players, the explanation of the how and the why of football is first and foremost. He explains to the receivers why they are running the routes they are running. The theory of the game is explained by him. The playbook will be added to but for now focus is on the details.

The irony of this pandemic is that the time we normally do not have to talk about the why’s and what’s of what is happening in a football game, we now have and have tried to make the most of it. Lots of meeting time, full offensive meetings, breaking into specific groups, zoom meetings for evaluations. Moving forward, Google meetings and Zoom meetings are now an adopted tool. Players will come to practices with a much more precise idea and concept of what will be taught and practiced.

Thank you Coach Park!!