For the first time ever this Saturday, devotees of the retro sport of roller derby will butt heads – and shoulders, and hips, and arms – in the nation’s capital.
Roller derby has seen a revival across North America over the last six years. Ottawa has had a league since 2007, but has never hosted a bout. On Saturday evening, Jan. 31, the Bytown Blackhearts will play the Montreal Sexpos at the Norm Fenn gymnasium at Carleton University.
“We’re pretty excited about it,” said Leila Younis (or D.D.T., as she’s known on the court), the captain of the Blackhearts. “We’ve always had to travel to play.”
The team has travelled nowhere more than Montreal, where players from that city’s league helped them hone their skills.
“They’ve come a long way,” said Alyssa Kwasny (a.k.a. Georgia W. Tush), the founder of the Montreal league.
Derby is a tough sport. Five players from each team go against each other at a time, skating in tight packs around a circular track. Two of these players, the “jammers,” race to get ahead of the pack and skate laps to score points. Meanwhile, their teammates jostle each other, trying to help their own jammer while blocking the other’s progress. In the body-checking melee, skaters occasionally go flying. And they do it all while decked out in fishnets and personal touches, like the sparkly shorts Younis favours.
Derby is a hands-on affair, with players working to manage the leagues as well.
“It’s a lot different from sports like hockey,” Kwasny said. “You have to build everything from scratch.”
Younis says she hopes this game will bring more attention to derby in Ottawa. But their friendly history aside, Kwasny said the Sexpos won’t be taking it easy on the Blackhearts.
“We’ll take them,” she said. “We play to win.”