Choosing a Lacrosse Camp for Your Athlete

It’s May and summer is fast approaching.  Between sports practices, games, homework, and graduations, it’s hard to find time to make plans for the summer.  For those of you living with lacrosse players, you’re in luck.  We spoke with the directors of a few of the country’s top lacrosse programs, and they shared these tips on selecting a summer lacrosse camp or clinic.  Whether your child is looking to learn the basics or to “get a look” from college coaches, this advice will ensure you spend your money wisely and help you find the right match.

Coaching

When it comes to choosing a stellar lacrosse program, the quality of coaching and coaching experience make a big difference.  Both of the program directors we spoke with hire coaches with both professional playing and extensive coaching experience. 

“The fact that our coaches all play for the Minnesota Swarm in the National Lacrosse League is a huge draw for parents.  Parents recognize that we’re able to teach kids the importance of discipline, hard work, and what it takes to be leaders both on and off the field,” shared Aime Caines, director and founder of Play Like a Pro Lacrosse in Woodbury, Minnesota.

In addition to coaching for Play like a Pro, the program’s coaches also work with local youth lacrosse leagues, so they are constantly honing their coaching skills.

Caines, who serves as head coach of his program, also coaches the Minnesota Swarm, the Swarm’s Youth Box League, and a local high school team.  Needless to say, he’s pretty qualified to teach athletes of all ages and levels.

Chris Mattes, director of The Faceoff Academy and middie for the Florida Launch, leads youth clinics and combines across the country.  He agrees that quality coaching is necessary when choosing a lacrosse program.

“Our coaches are all active in the MLL, and are trained to provide guidance to kids of all ages,” Mattes said.  “They are mentors to the players and help high school students network with college coaches and find the right fit for them, whether it’s a divisional or club team.  Even after the clinic is over, our coaches are willing to keep working with players to guide them in the right direction.”

Program Demand & Affiliations

While coaching certainly adds to a program’s credibility, so does demand, according to Caines and Mattes.  Are parents and players recommending it?  How long has it been around?  Has the program expanded or added sessions each summer because of its popularity? 

Play Like a Pro is in its fifth year of coaching youth lacrosse clinics for athletes ages 8-15, and because it has seen such a demand from high school players, it will host a high school clinic for the first time this summer.

“Because I coach high school lacrosse, the older kids have become really interested in a clinic, so we’re delivering that this summer to work on fine tuning position-specific skills,” Caines said.

Though Faceoff Academy is new to the lacrosse clinic scene (this summer will be its second year), Mattes never imagined that it would be such a hit.  He planned to host the program during the summer and the demand was so high that he started running clinics year-round.

Another force multiplier contributing to The Faceoff Academy’s traction is the fact that some of its clinics are co-presented by LB3 Lacrosse, a well-known organization that runs camps and clinics in nontraditional lacrosse hotbeds. 

“LB3 is really highly regarded in the lacrosse community, so the fact that they partner with us is to our benefit because of its great reputation,” Mattes said.

If you’re not sure about a program, Mattes advises to see if it has established partnerships with any well-known associations.  Also, ask people in your local lacrosse community about it and ask the program itself for references.

Quality of Content

Content within programs will vary based on age groups and skill levels, but the quality of what’s covered should be consistent across the board.  Mattes says that the skills being taught should be well suited to a player’s experience level and that parents should ask the right questions to ensure that the program will be challenging enough, but not overwhelming, for their child.

Generally speaking, younger kids (around ages 7-10) who are new to lacrosse should be learning basic field skills and even playing fun games to keep them engaged and having a good time, says Mattes.  Kids this age shouldn’t be pushed too hard.

“Older kids who are more serious about lacrosse, however, should be working on fine tuning position-specific drills, and also strengthening, conditioning, and nutrition,” added Caines.  He hires a professional strength and conditioning coach and a nutritionist to help players learn to take care of themselves off the field.  The program’s aim is to live up to its name and give participants a taste of what it’s like to play lacrosse like a pro.

The Faceoff Academy offers combines for high school and college students that focus on faceoff basics, as well as a host of other skills, such as wing play, shooting on the run, effective transferring through the box, and setting up and mastering the 4 on 3 break.

 “It’s important that programs are very specific about what they cover with players of each skill level, so that parents and players can determine if it’s a good fit,” Mattes says. 

Raising Coin? Check Out These Youth Sports Fundraising Tips

Fundraising used to mean selling Girl Scout cookies, popcorn, or Innisbrook wrapping paper.  These days,  there are countless other ways to raise money for your organization that won’t expand your waistline or clutter your closet.  From car washes to walk-a-thons, it can be daunting trying to choose and plan a fundraiser that will help your athletic team meet its goals.  With the steep price of sports equipment, travel, officiating and coaching, it’s important that your team’s fundraiser packs a punch to help offset your expenses.  Here are a few tips from experienced lacrosse parents on how to run an effective youth sports fundraiser.

Choose a fundraiser that suits your team

There are several factors to consider when choosing a fundraiser.  How old are the players on your team?  Will the players be responsible for running the fundraiser or will the booster organization do all the work?  If your team consists of high school students, they are capable of hosting (and helping plan and promote) a car wash, relay, or other event.  While young kids may not be able to plan an event, they can sell items like raffle tickets or Odor Gladiators to family and friends, but may quickly lose interest or stamina.  Parents we spoke to advised not to expect too much from the kids.  Paul Jones, of Westfield, Massachusetts, said that between school, sports, and other activities, kids are busy and don’t always make a fundraiser a priority. Leslie Voiro, of Marlton, New Jersey agreed and said that she and the parents of her son’s travel team, the Marlton Chiefs, implemented the team’s Odor Gladiator fundraiser.

girls with Odor Gladiators

Because parents often end up doing the bulk of the work, they should choose a fundraiser that they are comfortable with and capable of carrying out themselves if they know the players won’t be involved, Jones said.  However, both Jones and Voiro said that if kids are given enough guidance and understand the importance of the fundraiser, they are more likely to be motivated to work hard to make it a success.

Margins Matter

Brian Rhode, of Noblesville, Indiana, helped organize an Odor Gladiator fundraiser for his son’s lacrosse team, Noblesville Youth Lacrosse.  “I looked at several fundraisers and considered a variety of factors, but the margins for Odor Gladiator are higher than others and that makes a difference,” Rhode said.

Odor Gladiator fundraising graphics

In addition to higher margins, Odor Gladiator also offers custom colors, graphics and point-of-sale displays for fundraisers.

Delegate Tasks

No fundraiser can be successful without delegating tasks amongst the booster organization, parents and team members.  In some cases, boosters decide to involve the kids, as was the case with Jones’ son’s league, Westfield Youth Lacrosse.  Jones brought the idea to the boosters to sell Odor Gladiators, as he nearly passed out every time he smelled his kids’ lacrosse bags and figured other parents must be dealing with the same stench.  The boosters bought $800 worth of Odor Gladiators and sold them for a generous profit, but the parents and booster organization did all the work.  Jones says this can work as long as expectations are clear in advance as to who will be planning and executing the fundraiser.

Think outside of the box

Jones felt that selling something unique that people actually need would help boost fundraising sales and was convinced that every kid with a smelly athletic bag needs an Odor Gladiator.  To present his idea to the booster board, he brought his kids’ sports bags into the meeting, and made everyone put their faces inside the bags to smell them. 

“See—they work!” he said.  The booster was on board and the fundraiser was a hit, as few parents could say that their kids’ bags smelled like roses.

Jones (clearly a fundraising guru) also ran a pub crawl for adults in the community.  The boosters sold tickets for $25, and each ticket came with an event t-shirt.  They called several bars in the area to let them know that they would be bombarding their watering holes for a fundraiser and asked for a donation in exchange for bringing in the extra business.  While this wasn’t the most profitable of the fundraisers they’ve held, it brought awareness to the youth lacrosse league and was a great for promoting partnerships with the community’s businesses.  And it was fun.

Keep it Simple

For those who have limited resources or are just looking to simplify the fundraising process, Jones recommends cash raffle calendars.  These are easy to print from a home computer and if each team member sells around 15 tickets, the team is guaranteed a great cash return.  Jones advised against giving donated items as prizes, as this increased the amount of legwork significantly. 

kids' hands Odor Gladiator

“Keep the prizes to cash and the surplus is money in your league’s pocket,” he said.

Rhode said that Spirit Cups by Brax Fundraising cups are selling really well.  A local football team recently made $30,000 from this fundraiser.

The cups, however, are only available for National Football League teams, National Baseball League teams, and colleges, so this fundraiser may not be the best choice for lacrosse, hockey or other sports teams, Rhode said.

 

Life on the Fast Track

Photo Credit:  April O’Hare Photography

 

Rocky Mountain Rollergirl Assaultin’ Pepa is a real derby leader both on and off the track. As a key player on a championship team, the creative director of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), and founder of fiveonfive magazine, this woman has taken the derby world by storm.

Chief Gladiator: First of all, do you do anything that isn’t derby related?

Assaultin’ Pepa: I currently work as a freelance artist for an ad agency. Thankfully, I found a job that gives me the flexibility to work on fiveonfive magazine and still have time for league work and skating.

My life is very consumed by derby, though, and luckily I have some great friends on the league to hang out with.  My boyfriend is also very supportive of derby which is great. I try to make time for my “non-derby” friends at least once a month, if possible.

CG: With all of these positions you have, it’s apparent that you’re very multi-talented—athletic, artistic and entrepreneurial. What is it about you that allows you to do all of these very different things so well?

AP:  I don’t know about being multi-talented, but I do enjoy a lot of different things. I’ve always been the type of person who keeps busy all the time and tries to get as much done as I can. I have a hard time sitting still for too long.

CG: How long had you been involved in derby when you got the idea to start fiveonfive magazine?

AP: I started derby in 2005 and created the magazine in 2008 because I thought there was a need for easy to find, useful information about derby.  For example, information about how to become a better skater and athlete and how to run and build a league business. Overall, I really want fiveonfive to contribute to the growth of the sport. If we all help each other, roller derby will continue to succeed.

CG: So we know you’re a graphic artist— if you started fiveonfive does this mean you’re a writer and editor too?  You make a lot of us look quite incapable with all these talents (just kidding!)

AP: No, my background is in graphic design. We are so thankful to have so many people contact us with story ideas and it’s really those contributors who make the magazine what it is. We are pretty picky about content but almost everything we receive is a perfect fit for the magazine. Since our contributors are part of the derby community, they really know what skaters want to read about. Miss Jane Redrum (retired skater with Fort Wayne Derby Girls) is our editor.  She has a background in magazine editing and is really good at it!

CG: Now, onto your next talent: graphic design!  You not only do this as your day job, but also manage a team of designers as Creative Director of the WFTDA.  Tell us about what it’s like to manage and design simultaneously.

AP: We have a great team of designers who really don’t need much managing.  This means there’s more time just to work and be creative.  I’ve done a few of WFTDA’s logos and ads, which is a lot of fun for me.  I have both visual arts and marketing degrees, and have worked in the field for many years. I just try to make sure that everything is readable and easy on the eyes.

CG: We take it you do design work for fiveonfive too?

AP: Yes, I layout the magazine and do all marketing materials.

CG: Now onto the most important part and the reason that brought us here—derby!  Tell us about your shining derby moments.

AP: Winning both the 2010 West Region Playoffs and the 2010 WFTDA Championships. The 2010 WFTDA Championships were in my home state of Illinois, so my dad was there to watch us win the Hydra. I can’t top that.

CG: As a leader off the track, do you feel the need to lead on the track as well?

AP: I’m pretty vocal on the track and like to take a leadership role when needed, but I’m also able to take direction and do whatever the team needs me to do.

CG: Because you hadn’t skated before trying derby, what would you say to others who are thinking of trying it and have no skating experience?

AP: Definitely try it! You won’t get the chance to find out how much you love it unless you try it. When I first started skating, I had no idea what I was doing and just had to ease into the sport. It was so new back then, so we were all learning together. Today it’s a little different for new skaters and not as easy to just jump in because the sport has evolved so much, but those of us who have been around for so long are able to teach new skaters and provide better training.

CG: Last (but certainly not least), how did you come up with your derby name?

AP: My boyfriend actually came up with it and I thought it was brilliant. My only concern was that my league mates would call me “Ass” for short, but luckily they call me “Pepa” (and just refer to me as “ass” behind my back).

Skating Across the States

Photo credit: Melissa Renaud

From jam skating to jamming, derby girl Tinisha Bonaby has spent most of her life on wheels and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Chief Gladiator:  Where do you live/what team do you play for?

Tinisha Bonaby: I live in Houston Texas and play for Houston Roller Derby. Houston Roller Derby (HRD) consists of four home teams (The Bosses, Sirens, Valkyries, and Brawlers) and 2 Travel teams (Houston All-Stars and Knockouts).  I am on the Brawlers and the All-Star Travel team.

CG: Unlike many other derby players, you’ve been skating your whole life. Did that make things easier for you when you were first getting started?

TB: I have been skating since I was two years old, so it has always been a part of my life. My dad used to take my brothers and I to the skating rink pretty much every weekend.

I would definitely say knowing how to skate made things easier for me coming in. But I still had to practice things like endurance, agility, doing things with both feet, and other little special moves that I do now. To be honest, derby has made me an overall better skater. Some of the things I do today I couldn’t do with ease before starting derby.

CG: How did you go from skating to derby?

TB: I was introduced to roller derby by my dad, who is an avid skater himself.  My dad was at the Montrose Skate Shop to get his skates fixed and brought a flyer home.  It wasn’t until a year later that he reminded me about it and I started playing—I’m now playing in my second season.

CG: So tell us about jam skating.

TB: My dad and I both do jam skating (also commonly known as shuffle skating, disco skating, JB skating and dance skating).  If you watch the trailer of the movie Roll Bounce, you’ll get the idea of what jam skating is. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ig4HBVB0p80

There are national skate jams, which are big skate parties in different states that skaters nationwide are invited to attend.  I have a goal of skating in all 50 states and attending at least two national skate jams a year.

CG: Now tell us about jamming.  Have you always been a jammer since you started playing?

TB: I am what you call a versatile player. I can block and jam.  I go in wherever my team needs me.  My first year on travel team I played mostly as a blocker, but this 2013 season I have definitely been a main jammer for Houston.  And I am pretty happy about it because being a jammer for Houston’s travel team has always been a goal of mine from the very beginning. Blocking is always fun when I get a chance to.

CG: What characteristics in a derby athlete make for a good jammer or blocker?

For starts I think everyone is capable of being a jammer if they really want to. You have to have the strong desire to jam. I don’t really think it’s fair to say someone “looks” like a jammer or “looks” like a blocker and should only play this one position.

I encourage newer players to try both positions, so that they can determine if they prefer one over the other.  But I would still keep in mind as you become comfortable in your dominant role on your team that it still pays off learn how to play positions. Ask to switch it up from time to time—you might be surprised at what you’re capable of.  For me, when I had my very first chance to play jammer, I already knew that was the position I really wanted to get good at. And from that point I started working on my endurance and different toe stop moves to get better.

So I guess if I was to sum all this up as a jammer you want to be confident, hardworking, have a positive mind set, an open mind to trying something new, and the ability to keep going when things get difficult.

Characteristics for a blocker are pretty much the same. As a blocker you should be just as tired as your jammer after each jam. You should work just as hard to stop that opposing jammer and/or play offense when needed. Work on being light on your feet and being able switch directions quickly. Don’t be afraid you push and pull your teammates around too.

CG: How did you come up with your derby name?

TB: Initially, I had a hard time choosing a derby name because I really just wanted to be called by my real name.  It wasn’t until the first time I scrimmaged with the more experienced derby skaters that I was given the name Freight Train. Becky Booty, a skater I accidentally back blocked while I was jamming, gave me the name. The amount of force behind the hit knocked her down hard. Then that’s when I overheard her say “If she doesn’t have a name yet, I am just going to call her Freight Train!” I was like Freight Train sounds pretty cool I think I’ll go with that.

CG: How did RollerCon go?  What exactly goes on there?

TB: RollerCon 2013 was awesome!  This was my first time going after hearing about it for the past three years. Basically RollerCon is a roller derby convention put on by a league every year in Las Vegas, Nevada. It is a week-long event consisting of derby games, classes, drills, and spectating.  There are also themed dance/pool parties that happen nightly.

For me, it was like one big week long derby camp.  I did a little bit of everything, but mostly scrimmaged. The scrimmage games are fun to be a part of and watch. You get to play with all kinds of people on funny named teams.

CG: There are rumors that you might be part of Team USA.  Is this true?

TB: Team USA is a roller derby team consisting of the best of the best players in the US. Anybody from any league, no matter how big are small, is able to try out for the team. This team represents the USA when competing against different countries in the Blood & Thunder Roller Derby World Cup. The first roller derby World Cup was held in Toronto, Canada December 2011. The next one is going to be held in Dallas, Texas December 2014.

For now, being a part of Team USA 2014 is definitely a possibility. Currently there are three tryout locations. I made it through the first cut at the ECDX and was able to scrimmage with the top 32 girls from this specific tryout.  All I can say is I did the best I can do. Hopefully I made a good impression and showed the coaches that I can do it. There is hope in my heart.

You can follow Tinisha’s Facebook fan page at https://www.facebook.com/freight.train22.

Skates for Sale

DC Rollergirls teammates Helena Handbag and Velocityraptor had been talking about starting a roller derby skate shop for years and finally said, “What are we waiting for?” In February of this year, the women opened Department of Skate in DC, happily serving derby dames in the city and its surrounding areas.

Chief Gladiator: Hellie, where in the city is your shop?

Hellie Handbag: It’s in Chinatown, so it’s centrally located and derby players from Virginia and Maryland can easily get here, too.

CG: What made you and Raptor want to open a derby skate shop?

HH: The two of us are total skate nerds and we love derby equipment.  We love all the gear—the plates, the wheels, and putting everything together.  We also love introducing people to derby.  We get people coming in off the street asking, “What’s roller derby?”

CG: Do either of you have retail experience or have either of you started a business before?

HH: No to both!  We just always thought it would be a lot of fun and we knew there was a definite need for a skate shop (the closest full-service derby shop is located in Brooklyn, NY.)  It’s definitely a big time commitment, especially because we both have full-time jobs.  Sometimes we still can’t believe we did it.  Not having experience was actually somewhat advantageous because we were really open-minded and willing to try almost anything without hesitation.

Also, we’ve found that owners of skate shops across the country (technically our competitors) have been unbelievably helpful throughout this process.  Normally, you’d think that your competitors wouldn’t want to help you or reveal any of their secrets, but the friendliness of derby transcends into business.  We can call and ask other derby skate shop owners questions anytime, and they are more than willing to help us.

CG: What is the most challenging aspect of owning and running the business thus far?

HH: I’d say just finding the time to get everything done.  I work full-time and play for the DC Rollergirls, so it’s difficult to squeeze everything in.  Also,  knowing how much merchandise to order is tricky.  When we don’t have what the customer is looking for in stock, I feel like such a failure!  It’s hard to keep everything in stock all the time.  Raptor and I work it out time-wise and we are SO lucky to have Rebel Yael to staff the shop during the day.

CG: On the upside, what has been the most fun part of owning the shop?

HH: One of the most awesome things, which I hadn’t even anticipated, is helping the new derby girls prepare for boot camp.  They come in to get their gear for the first time and helping them choose everything and fit them is SO much fun.  We have a skate maintenance class for beginners, too, which is always a great time.

CG: Have you had to advertise a lot?  How have people learned about the shop?

HH: Luckily, word of mouth in the derby community travels fast.  We do use social media, but for the most part, word of mouth is working really well because derby women talk to each other a lot.  Also, there are no full-service derby shops close by, so we don’t really have competition in the area.  It’s much more of a hassle to order skates online because you can’t try them on, so derby women are fortunately so happy to have us—it’s nice to be appreciated.

CG: Speaking of ordering online, do you plan have an online store?

HH: Our website is still in the works, but we do plan to have an online store and ship nationwide.

CG: What made you fall in love with derby so much that you even got the point of loving the equipment?

HH: The cool thing about derby is whether you’re tall, short, tiny or big, there’s a place for you and there’s something within the sport that you’ll excel at.  It’s like the anti-sport or something because really anyone can practice and be good at it.

CG: Tell our readers exactly where they can find you so that they can pay you a visit if they’re in town.

HH:  We are at the corner of 6th and H Streets, NW a block from the Chinatown-Gallery Place metro.

 

 

Derby Down Under

                                            Photo Credit: One Rock Studio

Aussie Susy Pow made the transcontinental move from the land down under for a chance to play roller derby in the U.S.  She told us how the sport differs across the world and why she’s convinced she needs to stay in America to reach her derby goals.

Chief Gladiator: Susy, how are you liking it in America?  When did you move here?

Susy Pow: I moved here in December of 2012, so it’s only been about seven months, but so far it’s great.  I miss being close to the beach, but I’m enjoying playing roller derby here so much that it’s not so bad.

CG: What part of Australia are you from and what did you do there for a living?

SP: I grew up in Sydney, but before I moved here I was living in Newcastle, which is a couple hours north of Sydney.  I was in business school when I moved, so I put it on hold for now, but plan to finish.

CG: When and how did you decide to move here?

SP: Last July I went to Las Vegas for a roller derby convention and met a guy who I ended up dating.  We were playing in a co-ed scrimmage and I knocked him over—that’s how we met.  I had been wanting to move to the U.S. and since he and I were still together, I decided to move to Baltimore.

CG: Where does roller derby fit into the picture?  How long had you played in Australia and were you sure you wanted to play here?

SP: I moved to Baltimore, where I play for the Charm City Roller Girls All-Stars. I wouldn’t have even considered moving to a city that doesn’t have roller derby, that’s how intrinsic it is to my life.  I’ve been playing in Australia since September of 2009. I had watched some of Charm City’s bouts online and contacted the interleague liaison about playing for the all-star team.  She was really receptive and excited at the prospect of me moving here to play, which made things really easy.

CG: Did you have to try out when you moved here?

SP: I had to meet a couple testing requirements, but there was never any thought in my mind that I might not pass the tests.  I’ve heard that try-outs and waiting periods can differ between leagues, so I’m glad Charm City was so welcoming.

CG: So how does derby differ here in the states?

SP: We follow the same Women’s Flat Track Derby Association rules in Australia, but only WFTDA members can compete in playoff and championship games and there are only 197 members. The training here is much more intense with higher expected skill, effort and buy-in to the team. Here we train at least three or four times a week and workout outside of derby. Charm City’s coaches are regularly paid to travel and coach other leagues, including those in Australia. The quality of play in the U.S. is much higher— I feel 180,000% more challenged here.

CG: What about the social aspect?  Does that differ at all?

SP: The involvement of the players is much higher here than in Australia.  There, most of the money we raise comes from ticket sales, whereas here we do a lot more community outreach through fundraisers and also a lot more team bonding. Tonight we have a bar crawl and it’s the fourth one we’ve had since I’ve moved here.

CG: Sounds like it’s a great way to make new friends.

SP: Actually, I don’t even really have any friends outside of roller derby!  As soon as I moved here, the team organized a sleepover and a thrift shop outing so that I could get to know everyone.  We were friends instantly and I feel completely comfortable with every team member.

CG: Is derby as popular in Australia as it has become here?

SP: Not quite, but it’s getting there.  It’s just a bigger microcosm here, but that could also be because there are a lot more people here and the game has a longer history in the U.S. than in Australia.

CG: What are your roller derby goals?

SP: One of my biggest goals since I started playing derby has been to continue to improve and play at increasingly competitive levels.  When I started skating in 2009, I had been basically sedentary since the age of 12, so to discover that I’m actually really good at something physical is motivating.  Back then, seeing things that top level skaters did seemed unattainable to me because I had never skated before, but I’ve come a long way in a relatively short period of time.

CG: Do you feel that you will be able to play at competitive enough levels back in Australia?

SP: Not right now, which is why I may end up staying here.  I have to decide at the end of this year what I’m going to do because I put business school on hold, but I really don’t see myself being able to improve with such leaps and bounds back home because I thrive on being able to pull from other people’s skills.

CG: We saved the most important question for last.  Did your derby name make the move with you or did you leave it behind and start fresh with a new one?

SP: Right back in the beginning I had a derby name, but quickly discovered it was already taken by a retired skater from Texas and uniqueness was more important at that time.  So within a few months of joining Newcastle Roller Derby League, I dropped the derby name and went with my real name. Skating under your real name seems to be becoming more prevalent.  There are three skaters on CCRG’s All-Stars who skate under their real names, but I didn’t feel like I was leading any movement when I swapped back in 2010.

Girls Who Skate Together Stick Together

Angel City Derby Girl Melissa Berglund takes us through her roller derby journey and tells us how her teammates have become her family.

For Boston native Melissa Berglund, aka Ghetto Fabu-Lez, moving to Los Angeles was both a dream come true and a challenging change, as she was far from everything familiar.  Fortunately, the athlete discovered her passion for roller derby and with it came new friends who became family.

Chief Gladiator:  We must ask you about your ghetto fab derby name, Ghetto Fabu-Lez.

MB:  The nickname “Ghetto” was given to me by my teammates freshman year at Vermont. I was in the locker room one day and the song “Ghetto Superstar” came over our stereo system. I started getting DOWN in the middle of everyone. I like to dance and am kind of a clown. It stuck like superglue (against my wishes). Since that day all my friends back east have only referred to me as Ghetto. When I moved to LA, I did not anticipate that name following me. Eventually, however, my derby friends found out and it was all over and became my skate name. I decided to doctor it up a little for derby.  My number, 617, is the Boston area code because no matter what, Boston will always be my home.

CG:  We’ve heard you were a star ice hockey player from a young age.  Tell us more.

MB:  I am from Boston and was an ice hockey player for my entire life.  I was only two when I started skating and eventually played at University of Vermont.  After college, though, I stopped playing and skating and became a gym rat for several years.

CG:  So you’d been off of skates for some time when you found derby.  How did you find it and what was it like to get back on skates?

MB:  A friend of mine in Boston had a flyer for the Derby Dames, so she and I went to a game and I fell in love with it.  They only had one tryout a year for the team, so I waited until I moved to LA in 2008 to play.  In LA, I found the Angel City Derby Girls league in its developmental phase and joined immediately.  It felt great to get back on skates, although ice skates and roller skates are really different—roller skates are a lot heavier and less agile.  When I put them on, they felt like boats on my feet in comparison to my hockey skates (which are extremely light).

CG:  In addition to learning to roller skate, you had to learn the rules of roller derby. Was it difficult to learn a new sport when you had been so accustomed to playing hockey?

MB:  It was actually really bizarre to learn a new sport when I was almost 30.  All my life I had been so familiar with ice hockey, as well as with other sports because I had played them or watched them so often.  With roller derby, though, I had to start from scratch and learn a whole new concept, which was challenging and fun.

CG:  Do you think it was easier for you to pick up on the game because you’ve always been an athlete?

MB:  I do think that it may have been a bit easier, but what I love about roller derby is that it really runs the gamut as far as types of women who play and, what their backgrounds are.  Some people have really athletic backgrounds and others don’t.  Some are 19 and some are 45 with kids.  What’s great is that anyone can play, they just have to like the physical contact part of it and not be afraid to get their hands a little dirty.

CG:  What was the league like when you joined?  Has it changed?

MB:  Angel City was in a transitional phase in 2010 when I joined.  They had just lost a lot of skaters, so there was a lot of room for new skaters to advance quickly.  After fresh meat training, I was on the B team and was soon put on the all-star team because they needed more bodies.  It was literally sink or swim, but it gave me the chance to prove myself early on.  I now play for the all-star team, the Hollywood Scarlets.  Since I started, the league has grown and matured immensely in every possible way (number of skaters, level of competition etc).  It has basically reinvented itself.

CG:  You’re the first derby girl we’ve interviewed from LA.  Because you’re not from there originally, was it a shock to move there?  How has roller derby affected your experience?

MB:  I had always wanted to move here to get involved in production, but the social scene here can live up to the stereotype and is not really up my alley.  I like to have fun, but am so glad that I have roller derby because the girls I’ve met are down to earth and share the same values.  We do almost everything together and some of us even live together.  Even though we range greatly in age, we’re all like sisters and share the same interests.  It’s really refreshing to have a tight-knit group like this in a city like LA.

CG:  Wow!  With that being said, do you think you’ll stay in LA long term?

MB:  In November, it will be five years since I’ve moved here.  I told myself that I’d stay for five years, but I’m definitely not ready to leave.  I’m not sure if it’s a direct result of roller derby, but it’s possible that without my teammates, I’d be ready to move back to Boston.  My roller derby experience here has literally changed my life and gave me a built-in family.

Getting up to Speed: Derby Gear

Chief Gladiator:  So you want to play derby and are ready to assemble your first gear kit.  Part of a solid start and strong derby experience comes down to selecting the right equipment.  What do the sport’s experienced athletes recommend?  We asked blocker Lauren “Shadow Cat” Salvador of the Electrocuties and the Denver Roller Dolls all-star travel league, the Mile High Club, to give us a lowdown of what’s in her bag.

Uniform

SC:  Our uniforms are matching tops with our names on them and leggings. The price for jersey top can range from $30-70 depending on the quality of the material.  For travel teams, you need both a home and away jersey, so the price can really add up.  The most recognized brands in the derby world are Derbyskinz and Iron Doll.

Helmet

SC:  Helmets usually run about $30-40.  Most skaters go with a skateboarding type helmet, although some prefer a hockey-style helmet as it offers more protection. You can take the lining out to wash it. Triple 8 is probably the top selling brand.

Mouthguard

SC:  I wear a Protech (now called SISU) mouthguard. It’s super light weight and I can talk and drink water without ever taking it out, which is very important. Most veteran skaters that I know wear them.

Pads

SC:  Of all the pads, knee pads are most important because you fall on your knees most often.  For kneepads I prefer the Killer 187s, but there are a lot of good brands out there. They can feel bulky to new skaters and make your crossing feel kind of weird, but they’ll protect your knees and that’s the most important thing.  I’ve been wearing mine for over a year and haven’t had any problems.  Some people are harder on their gear than others, so it really varies on how long it takes to wear them out, but you can always duct tape them together.  Pads give off an offensive odor, so I add some vinegar to the washing machine when I clean them.  And in between cleanings, I beat back that smell with an Odor Gladiator in my bag.  It costs around $100 for kneepads, elbow pads and wrist guards.

Skates

SC:  Skates vary widely in price depending on customization and quality of materials.  Here’s what makes up a roller derby skate:

Boots

SC:  Boots have become very high-tech.  You can get boots that, when heated, mold perfectly to your feet.  These are more expensive, but you have fewer problems with chafing and blisters because they fit so well.  Generally, when you’ve been playing for a long time, you want to invest in nice skates.  Bont and Riedell are really well known for their skates and often sponsor players.  There are even Bont and Riedell all-star teams.  A pair of high quality boots like these can last for years and are between $200-400.

Plates

SC:  While skaters prefer lightweight plates, nylon and plastic plates often don’t hold up very well, especially with bigger skaters.  Personally, I wear the Sure Grip Avenger Magnesium plates because they are both lightweight and durable.  They cost between $160-180.

Wheels

SC:  The wheels you put on your skates will depend on the surface you’re skating on, the position you play and what type of performance you’re looking for.  If you’re skating on a sticky surface like a skate court, you’ll want harder wheels to increase speed.  And if you’re competing on a harder surface like concrete, softer wheels with grip are usually better.  “Grippier” wheels are best for beginners, as their muscles may not be conditioned to keep them planted firmly on the ground as they skate.  I wear Atom Omega 2.0s and absolutely love them, but I skate on skate court most of the time.  For a wood or concrete surface, I would probably go with something slower like a Poison wheel.  There is a store called Derbyville near where I live in Denver that has a wheel library.  Derbyville allows you to rent wheels for $10 until you find ones that work best for you.

Bearings

SC:  Your local skate shop can help you pick out a bearing.  Just make sure to clean them every once in a while, or if you’re lazy like me, give your friend $5 and have her do it for you!

Gaskets

SC:  These go on under your knee pads and help hold them in place, because nothing is worse than your kneepads slipping down when you fall. They’re about $20 but a worthwhile investment.  I’ve also seen some girls wear volleyball kneepads under their derby knee pads for extra protection.

Foot booties

SC:  I also wear eZeefit booties (as do many of my teammates) to reduce rubbing and blisters.

Insoles

SC:  Finally, adding insoles to your skates can keep your feet more comfortable and keep you going longer.

Chief Gladiator:  Well there you have it!  Thanks for sharing this great info, Shadow Cat!  We suspect wearing quality and well-maintained gear helped contribute to your 2012 accolades as Most Feared Skater and Bruising Altitude MVP!  Good luck this season!

Photo Credit:  Pixel This Photography

High Impact: How athletes are taking roller derby to the next level

Roller derby has come a long way since its days of theatrical personas, hits and blows, and has evolved into a legitimate competitive sport.  Ten years into its revival, athletes continue to take the game to the next level through intense physical training that makes it even more fast-paced and competitive.  Emily Lucks of Denver’s Rocky Mountain Rollergirls tells us what these women are doing to change the game and keep each other on their toes.

Chief Gladiator: Emily, tell us how you got started playing roller derby and what the scene was like then.

Emily Lucks: This will be my sixth season—I started playing in 2008 for a team called the Chicago Outfit.  The day I started was actually the team’s first day of practice, so I was able to grow with the team and help develop it.  Back then, there were a lot fewer teams and less expectation as far as athleticism and competition.  It’s definitely been interesting to see the changes in the sport throughout the past several years and how expectations have changed.

CG: What are these new expectations?

EL: Well, if you’re playing at a higher level of roller derby (not a recreational team), it’s really about becoming super athletic and upping your game both physically and mentally.  Like any sport, you have to diversify, so that’s what we are doing outside of practice.  Rather than just skating, we do off-skates training to keep ourselves in shape and mentally sharp.  We also have skills-focused practices to ensure that we all stay on top of our game.  Most every team has started to increase their level of training, so the game is shaping up to be very legit.

CG: How have these changes in training changed the way the game is played?

EL: Players are definitely stronger and much more agile, making the game more competitive and faster.  I’m still amazed when I see it, but it’s pretty commonplace to see some people do some pretty athletic tricks. Also, the rules have evolved, not necessarily as a result of the way we train, but it certainly changes the way we play.  There are no longer minor penalties, there are only major penalties, so players have to be much more responsive.

CG: What does an average weekly practice schedule look like?

EL: We have a lot of practices, but players aren’t required to attend all of them.  We just offer a lot, so hopefully people have an easier time fitting them into their schedules.  In addition to this, several of us have also started to train in CrossFit about five times per week.  I usually attend 3 practices per week and do CrossFit five times a week.  Here’s what our roller derby schedule looks like:

Monday: league practice/travel team practice

Tuesday: skills-focused practice/new players practice

Wednesday: travel team practice/league practice

Thursday: skills practice

Friday: speed skating practice/off-skates training

Saturday/Sunday: scrimmages/games

CG: What does off-skates training look like ?

EL: It’s pretty fun, actually.  We each take turns leading a workout (we work out in a warehouse) and use whatever equipment we can find.  Sometimes we do Tabata training, which is like interval training.  This works on strength, speed and stamina.

CG: Does the intense practice schedule increase team camaraderie?

EL: Yes, noticeably so.  The team dynamic and the way we are able to strategize is much stronger when we work hard and stay focused both on and off the track.  Teams that really work together and that have been together for a long time are stronger.

CG: Before I let you go, I have to ask you, since the sport is becoming so serious, are you going to start using your real name in place of your roller derby name, Sweets?

EL: I know a lot of other people are starting to do that, but I love my derby name.  It’s so easy to take things seriously and forget that the sport is still fun and playful.  Roller derby names are what makes the sport so unique and they also keep it light.  Life is serious enough!

So You Wanna Play Roller Derby?

Have you ever wondered how women get started playing roller derby and what it takes to make the team, or better yet, make it to the top?  We got the 411 from one of Seattle’s all-star jammers, Angee Foster (aka Jalapeño Business), on everything from buying your first pair of skates to how to reach the point where you can truly rock the rink.

Chief Gladiator: We’ll start with the basics. What team do you play for?

Angee Foster: I play for the Rat City All-Stars in Seattle. The Rat City league has four home teams and an all-star program with an A and B team.

CG: What is your derby name and how did you come up with it?

AF: Jalapeño Business—I was at a practice once and someone said  “all up in your business” but I thought she said “jalapeño business.” I felt so stupid.

CG: Makes for a great derby name though! So how did you get started playing derby?

AF: When I lived in Tacoma, Washington, my sister and I went to a rink for an open skate night.  I had just graduated from college and didn’t have a good exercise routine, so I was happy to try something new.  I had never skated much, so I wasn’t very good, but I enjoyed it.

There was a sign for a speed skating class, so I went to it the next day.  It was me and a bunch of 13-year-old boys.  The coach there was the coach of the roller derby team.  He asked how old I was (you had to be 21 to play and I looked really young), but I was 23 and he told me to come watch the Dockyard Derby Dames practice. They had had try-outs the week before, but I worked hard and was playing within six months.

CG: What was your first bout like?

AF: My first bout was exhilarating.  I loved it!  I played blocker most of the time, but I had my sights set on jammer and I had been practicing jamming, so I got to be jammer for two jams.  My first bout was at a small rink and I had tons of friends and family in attendance. When I jammed, I was not very successful and I took lots of hits and fell a lot and I could hear the crowd “Ooohing” and “Ahhhhing” as if they were watching a boxing match. However, I still enjoyed it and relished the challenge and popped back up after each hit.  I think that being a jammer has special mental challenges along with physical challenges, but determination adds a lot to a jammer’s overall success.  You have to be able to brush off a bad jam and maintain a positive, can-do attitude. You can never let the opposing blockers feel that they have your number or that you will give up.  I learned that early on.

CG: What key factors have led to your roller derby success?

AF: Although it’s not necessary, I do have an athletic background. I played soccer during my youth and I draw parallels between derby and other sports all the time. Other keys to my success are determination, hard work, and fundamental skills. I have been lucky to have great coaching that focused on developing my basic skating skills. Just like in other sports, mastery of foundational skills is often what separates the best players from the average.

CG: How do you suggest someone get involved in roller derby?

AF: First, you have to get all the gear. Roller derby players need a helmet, elbow pads, wrist guards, knee pads, a mouthguard, and skates. I work at Fast Girl Skates and we gear up skaters from all over the country. Here in Washington, derby is becoming so popular that there are a lot of avenues you can take to get into it.  In Seattle there are practice only squads and recreational teams that you can try if you just want to play for exercise or learn the sport. There are leagues in many small towns across Washington and across the country. There may not be as many options to play in other cities, especially recreational options, but there is usually some way to learn the sport, as roller derby women are committed to sharing their passion for it with others.

CG: What should somebody joining a team expect as far as time commitments?  Also, is it expensive to play?

AF: As far as time commitments, every team varies.  Some teams travel, others don’t, and every team has a different practice and training schedule.  Because I play for the all-star team, the time I dedicate to playing is pretty significant.  We are required to practice three times a week, we have a scrimmage once a week, fundraisers, meetings and our games are every two to three weeks and they often involve travel.  We also are expected to miss work for games sometimes, which could prohibit people from being able to play at all.

Every month we have to pay dues, which vary by league, and of course we have to have equipment.  If you were to get the cheapest possible gear and skates, you’d pay around $300, and anything better is obviously a lot more expensive, so it does get pricey.  The hidden cost of it, though, is missing work.  If you miss work, you don’t get paid and that is costly.

CG: Who do you get in touch with if you want to play

AF: If you want to play derby, you’ll have to do some research to see what is available in your area. I would venture to say that all big cities in the US have roller derby leagues. More and more small towns also have derby.  Search the internet, contact everyone who offers derby in your community. You can start by visiting the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association’s website (www.wftda.com) and search for leagues and teams in your area.  Be persistent because derby leagues are run by the skaters themselves, so sometimes they don’t reply right away. Checking their derby email isn’t their day job.

If you are considering derby, but you’re hesitant to invest in all the gear, see if the roller rink in your community offers group skating lessons.  If you go and skate regularly and you enjoy skating and working on skating skills, that is a positive sign that you might enjoy derby.  You can participate in group lessons without any equipment.  You can even rent skates!

CG: Thanks for the great scoop, Jalapeño Business!  And good luck jamming this season!