- Photo by Jon Waits
- The Savannah Jr. Derbytaunts
IT'S TUESDAY NIGHT at Star Castle roller rink, but none of the usual Top 40 tunage can be heard blaring from the sound system.
Instead, there’s a cacophony of squeals and gleeful shrieks as a group of skaters in lime green rotates around the painted oval in the middle of the floor. An occasional whistle punctuates the rhythm of the grinding wheels.
“Pack it up! C’mon, get closer!” hollers a coach in referee stripes.
Suddenly, two skaters collide and one falls to the floor, skidding to a stop with chilling scrape, followed by a loud laugh. “I’m good! Skate on!”
There’s more squeaking and clanging as she’s helped to her feet.
It’s a noisy situation, for sure. But the one thing you don’t hear much of at a Savannah Jr. Derbytaunts practice is crying.
The city’s only junior flat track roller derby league, the Derbytaunts are the raucous little sisters of the Savannah Derby Devils, who have been jamming and slamming as a club since 2006.
The Derbytaunts rolled onto the scene in 2012 as a way for girls ages 8 to 17 to get in the game, testing their mettle against other fun-sized crews from Charleston and Orange Park, FL. The team is part of the national Junior Roller Derby Association and abides by the rules of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, and there’s not a lot of time or patience for whining.
“As small as these girls are, they play as hard as the women,” shrugs head coach Jayme Connor, a former Devil and sexy grandma who goes by the derby nickname Demented Mistress.
“Derby’s tough, and it makes you tougher.”
Though a few bruises come with the territory, Coach DM is quick to assure that derby isn’t nearly as dangerous as it looks or sounds. Helmets, wrist guards and mouth protectors are required, and the main point of the Derbytaunts’ twice-a-week practices is to develop strong skating skills—and falling finesse.
“We start with drills on how to start and stop, then move on to how to fall safely without taking everyone else out with you,” she explains.
“And we don’t get as rowdy as the big leagues. We do more positional blocking instead of a hip check that sends someone flying.”
Players also learn how to tell the difference between being hurt—which, let’s face it, is going to happen, probably a lot—and being injured, which is taken very seriously. That ought to help assuage the fears of parents of prospective players, otherwise known as “fresh meat.”
For those young women who hear the call of the jam, this is your time: The Derbytaunts are holding an open enrollment every Saturday morning in April at Star Castle on Mall Blvd. Prior skating experience is helpful but not necessary—there are no tryouts, and anyone who can make it around the track once without falling can join. (However, a copy of your medical insurance coverage is required.)
The team keeps a roster of about 20, from the tiniest fourth-grader to high school seniors looking to transition to the big girl league. Like their older derby counterparts, they take up adorably clever sobriquets that express their intimidating fortitude: Sassacrash, Hot Grunge Sundae, The Blockness Monster.
The team name itself is a snarky play on “debutantes,” reflecting the countercultural, feminist nature of roller derby that flies in the face of prim female stereotypes.
“Contact sports for girls are few and far between,” says Coach DM. “They deserve a chance to give and take a hit if they want.”
The body positive atmosphere also provides an opportunity to show strength in a safe space.
“I feel like it helps build confidence,” says Danielle Rose, whose 12 year-old daughter, Veda, has been skating with the team for four years. “I mean, who’s going to mess with a derby girl?”
“It’s really empowering,” agrees Veda, who goes by Space-N-Veda while in uniform.
As far as offering up their sweet little girls to the big, bad sport of roller derby, most Derbytaunt parents take the approach that every sport carries a risk.
“A kid can get injured doing anything,” says Rose.
“I have a friend whose daughter was in a cast for three months from Irish dance!”
While the time commitment for junior roller derby isn’t nearly as daunting as some kids’ sports (looking at you, travel soccer), players are expected to show up to practice twice a week and at four to six bouts a season, half of which may be out of town.
Back at Star Castle, the din reaches a full-blown roar as the Derbytaunts practice the defensive strategies of holding each other’s wrists and grabbing the tails of the shirt in front of them. They pack together as they shuttle around the track, one mass of impenetrable Girl, until the whistle blows and the referee yells “Sprint!” Then the girls stomp out one last jangling racket before giving up the floor to the Derby Devils, who they will join for a triple header bout at the Civic Center on April 30.
Sage Batchelor, 10, has been a Derbytaunt for almost a year. She watches reverently as the Derby Devils, clad in all black, snap on their helmets and take up the smooth rhythm of their turn around the track.
“I used to be afraid of the bigger girls, but now that I’m more experienced, I know they won’t hurt me,” says Sage with a nod.
“I mean, I might get knocked down, but I can totally take it.”