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Garden City Roller Derby gets its jam on this Saturday night with double header The Niagara Falls Review Apr 03, 2019 by Kate Gallant

Garden City Rollers of Niagara Roller Derby are ready to roll at the Haig Bowl Arena in St. Catharines. From left to right: Dani Nusca (Smurf-a-licious); Tara Dzalto (Hot Laps Houlahan); Lauren Dubenofsky (Rollin’ Dubes); Natasha Turnbull (Nat Outta Hell); Kim Grodesky (Kimikazzi); Kerina Labonte (Knock a Mama); Ashley Johnson (Kingston) and Racheal Outram (Bluntforce […]

Garden City Rollers of Niagara Roller Derby are ready to roll at the Haig Bowl Arena in St. Catharines. From left to right: Dani Nusca (Smurf-a-licious); Tara Dzalto (Hot Laps Houlahan); Lauren Dubenofsky (Rollin’ Dubes); Natasha Turnbull (Nat Outta Hell); Kim Grodesky (Kimikazzi); Kerina Labonte (Knock a Mama); Ashley Johnson (Kingston) and Racheal Outram (Bluntforce Tonya). – Bob Tymczyszyn , The St. Catharines Standard

Make no mistake — roller derby is a powerful, high-intensity sport — but there is more here than meets the eye.

Played on a flat track, present-day derby bears little resemblance to the campy, theatrical version dating a few decades back. According to Wikipedia, the history of roller derby traces the evolution of roller skating races into a unique sport “which underwent several boom-and-bust cycles throughout the 20th century.”

Back then, it was more entertainment than sport, but an early 21st century revival, spearheaded by women of course, has restored an emphasis on athleticism. A description of roller derby being like “speed chess while bricks are being thrown at you” is far more apt these days.

Niagara’s own league was founded in 2012 and embodies the values of friendship, empowerment, dedication, discipline and inclusion.

The Garden City Rollers welcome anyone who has a desire to lace on a pair of quad skates — no previous experience is required to join one of the fastest growing sports in the world.

You don’t even have to know how to skate.

“There is a place for everyone here,” said Aimee Casciato, 42, whose moniker is Viola D Rolla, a member since Day 1.

The reasons women join the team are as diverse as the women themselves, she explained. While it may seem that this non-traditional sport would be best suited to those whose nature is strong-willed and determined, that is only partly true, said Casciato.

“When even the most soft-spoken women step out of their comfort zone, this lights a fire in them — they are doing something they never dreamed they would be doing.”

Racheal Outram, a team member for six months and its media relations officer, agrees. Outram, AKA Bluntforce Tonya, said she has gained both confidence and friendship.

“This is a very welcoming environment,” said Outram, 33, a mother of two girls who operates her own social media marketing company as well as Child of Light Photography. “Come as you are. There is a unique vibe to roller derby — this really is girl power to the max.”

And, she adds, this is about a lot more than the women who skate — there is a supportive community here that gives back and is inclusive of everyone.

“Derby is for all body types and we’ve had members in high school that are 19, up to women that are 55, 60,” said Casciato.

“I have made some great friends I never would have met.”

The team recently made the decision to change its name from Niagara Roller Girls to Niagara Roller Derby to be more inclusive.

While all the adult team members are women, the junior team — The Midway Mayhem — is comprised of children and youth of all genders ages eight to 18 and is low to no contact.

“There is a real range of size and experience. It’s amazing to watch the camaraderie and the leadership, the mentoring that develops,” said Casciato, whose two children are involved in junior derby.

The league follows the rules set out by the World Flat Track Derby Association.

The basics are: Each team fields five members on the track at one time. There are four blockers and one jammer each. The jammer is the player with a star on her helmet.

The track – a rectangle with rounded corners – is delineated in sections. The teams line up with the two opposing jammers behind the pack. The jammers job is to make it to the front with the help of their blockers.

No points are scored during the first lap. The first lap through the pack determines who the lead jammer is. She does this by making her way through to the front of the pack and then the game is on.

But this is easier said than done. As they circle the rink there is more than speed growing; rapid-fire strategy is also being developed — changing moment to moment — to advance the jammer while preventing the opponent’s jammer from gaining ground and points.

The other team’s blockers will do their best to stop her from moving forward. Blockers are simultaneously focused on stopping the opposing team’s jammer from passing them and assisting their own jammer to get past the opposing team.

Skaters can block opponents with hips and shoulders but no elbows or tripping. Illegal moves like that – and back-talking officials – will draw a penalty. This leaves the team playing shorthanded.

Once the lead jammer is established and recognized by officials it’s time to score some points. Each opposing player passed by the jammer is a point. Teams play two 30-minutes periods. Each period consists of multiple jams of two minutes each followed by a 30 second break. Jammers attempt to pass the opponents as many times as possible by sprinting around the track and lapping the pack.

The lead jammer can bring the jam to a halt before the two minutes is up to prevent the other team from getting more points.

And about those monikers: roller derby names are registered so no two skaters have the same name. A check of registries world-wide turns up names such as Stabitha, Princess Leyah Out and Brawlipop.

To refer to the group as the “island of misfit toys,” would not be out of line, said Casciato.

“I take pride in working together as a team with my friends.” she said. “And smashing people is fun.”

While some may join to work out their aggression, players who are smart and strategic, levelheaded, are also needed, said Casciato.

“Everyone has a place here,” she added.

Ashley Johnson, or Kingston, 33, agrees.

“I got two bad knees and all these friends,” she said laughing. Although previously called PhDestroyer, (she is working on her degree in kinesiology) she picked up the moniker Kingston after moving back to Niagara from the city and the name stuck.

Roller Derby is something just outside your regular work day, “something that is so crazy,” said Lauren Dubenofsky, AKA Rollin’ Dubes, 31. She works in IT support.

Kerina LaBonte, 33, is a residential child and youth worker. “I have three young kids,” said Knock A Mama. “This is something I do for myself.”

If you are not interested in skating but still want to participate volunteers are needed to fill non-skating officials positions. Keeping score, timing the penalty box, are some of the roles. You can also try out for the referee program. This position is open to any adult skater, male or female, so guys can come on board too.

The season opener is Saturday, April 6 and is an all-ages, licenced event. There will be pizza available. Cash only, no ATM on site. The team will be celebrating its new name and new team logo. Garden City Rollers merchandise will be available for purchase and there will be half-time entertainment.

Saturday’s bout is a double header. The Garden City Rollers Vs. Hammer City Hassle and the junior teams: Midway Mayhem Vs. Hammer City Jrs.

There are also bouts May 25 and July 27. Follow them on Facebook at Niagara Roller Derby for details and upcoming events.

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