Crash course in girls’ self-confidence

Christina Kelso      July 30, 2013      The Florida Times-Union
Original Publication Link: Crash course in girls’ self-confidence

ORANGE PARK | All of a sudden, little Kaelyn Knorr, 10, was bitten by the derby bug. The once shy, soft-spoken girl took off. Like wind on wheels, “Kitty” sailed over the skating rink and slammed powerfully into Madison “Wednesday at Emz” Wolfe, 15, knocking the elder, more experienced girl to the ground.

“I stopped practice, picked her up and hugged her,” said Laura “Scarlett Dragon” Powell, head coach of the Cherry Bomb Charmers junior roller derby team. “It all clicked.”

Photo by Christina Kelso For the Times-Union Blockers (from left) Dahlia "Cookie" Cook, 13, Madison "Wednesday At Emz'" Wolfe, 15, and Braice "Scrat" Bays, 12 try to prevent the opposing team's jammer from breaking through their pack.
Blockers (from left) Dahlia “Cookie” Cook, 13, Madison “Wednesday At Emz'” Wolfe, 15, and Braice “Scrat” Bays, 12 try to prevent the opposing team’s jammer from breaking through their pack. (Christina Kelso/ Florida Times-Union)

Kaelyn is one of 14 girls, ages 10-17, who have found confidence in a pair of quad-skates on the Cherry Bomb Charmers, Clay County’s first junior roller derby team.

“That’s the moment I love so much,” Powell said. “I’ve seen these girls just blossom and really come out of their shells.”

Since beginning recruitment in February, the Charmers have been in practice, preparing for their first competitive season. Their first home bout is set for 6 p.m. Saturday at Skate Station in Orange Park against the Sk8 City Sirens, a junior roller derby team from Pooler, Ga. Tickets are $9; children under 10 and active-duty military get in free.

“It has made me feel stronger, physically and mentally,” said Madison “Mad Dog” Quinones, 12.

A full-contact sport, roller derby helps to build the girls’ self-confidence, Powell said. Unleashed onto the track, girls of all shapes and sizes are encouraged to find their power as they push through their opponents.

“Most girls don’t really fit in or don’t connect with mainstream sports but with roller derby it’s different,” said Dana Wolfe, president and general manager of the Cherry Bomb Charmers. “It doesn’t matter how tall you are, how small you are, how big you are, you can embrace your individualism and be an athlete at the same time.“

The girls work closely with the adult team New South Roller Derby, whose players serve as positive role models to the girls. They are strong, confident women who have not only made a niche for themselves out in the world but also on the track, Powell said.

“Everyone is really supportive and teaches you to go your own way,” said Hayley “Gizmo” Spurling, 12.

When Powell is not strapping on her skates to coach the Charmers or play on their adult sister team New South, she is an ophthalmic technician and pre-med student at FSCJ.

“It’s like an alter-ego,” Powell. “I can be a completely different person. I can be Laura, focused, detail-oriented, always in the medical mind. I can be Scarlett, who dances when we’re lining up and knocks the crap out of other girls.”

Originating in 1930s, early roller derby games were often theatrical and largely faded away when the sport’s popularity dwindled in the 1970s, according to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.

But unlike many of the ghosts of roller derby past, modern roller derby is not scripted.

“This is all live action,” Powell said. “If a girl is taking a hit, she’s really taking a hit.”

In the early 2000s the sport underwent a revival. The theatrics were thrown out and official rules, guidelines and gear requirements were implemented to ensure athletes remain safe as they take to the rink, hip-checking and shoulder-checking their team mates.

7/21/13 — Cherry Bomb Charmers Josephine “Rockin’ Jazz” Bauer, 9, Ally “Scrappy Ally Cat” Lenhard, 11, and Briannah “B. Victorious” Page, 10, line up before beginning a practice scrimmage. (Christina Kelso/The Florida Times-Union)

Modern roller derby is a sport that is growing rapidly in popularity, boasting over 1,000 leagues worldwide. In 2014, Dallas will host the second ever Roller Derby World Cup.

“It’s really great because the Charmers really feel like they are pioneering the advancement of one of the hottest trends in sports right now,” Wolfe said.

The team is in its open recruitment season and will accept new girls until November.

Whether they have a little experience or have never put on skates in their lives, girls of all skill levels are encouraged to come give the game a try.

“Just come by with a great attitude, the willingness to learn and the courage to come out and try it,” Powell said.

Any girls interested in getting involved are welcome to stop by and watch or participate in practices, which are held from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sundays and 5-6 p.m. Tuesdays at Skate Station Funworks in Orange Park.

“It’s really awesome,” said Josephine “Rockin’ Jazz” Bauer, 9.

“You get to hit people,” said Braice “Scrat” Bays, 12.