With the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association’s (WFTDA)
recent announcement to begin collaboration efforts with the Men’s Roller Derby
Association (MRDA) to establish rules, safety guidelines and organizational
alignments, it seems that certain barriers are being lifted to enable the sport
to grow for both sexes.
But in-between the WFTDA and the MRDA is the Junior Roller
Derby Association (JRDA) who has some leagues in the throes of a debate on
whether or not to allow boys 12 and up to play coed. Although the JRDA has not put forth language
regarding coed play to date, some leagues are opting to exclude boys over 12
WFTDA affiliated-leagues, who by charter, are forbidden to
include coed play, may be translating this rule to apply to their junior
leagues as well. For some leagues, it’s a black and white application of the
rules. For others, it’s a matter of the politics and fallout from intermingling
teen boys and girls in a full-contact sport.
The point in this debate that is seemingly most contentious
is that of boys playing aggressively with girls at a time when their
testosterone is peaking and self-control is often-times lacking. So how can we
expect boys to exert control in a sport that asks them to act on their
aggressive nature and ask girls to be comfortable including boys in a sport
that inherently carries an undercurrent of drama?
Former Rocky Mountain Roller Punks coach and a retired Rocky
Mountain Rollergirl Shannon Burton says that her son, through his experience
skating in the 6-11 age group for the last four-and-a-half years, has learned
how to respect the girls on his team and is certain he will carry that into an
advanced age-group if given the opportunity to play. This opportunity may not
arise unless MRDA creates junior leagues or if coed leagues are formed
independent of WFTDA-affiliated leagues.
An informal discussion on Facebook revealed that 100 percent
of men who responded disagreed that boy’s should be included in the sport past
the age of 12. A common thread in the discussion turned to putting the
responsibility on MRDA leagues to form their own junior leagues and foster the
sport for teenage boys. With WFTDA leagues far outnumbering MRDA leagues across
the country, it could be well into the future before MRDA is in a position to
begin forming junior leagues.
Photo Credit: Brad Carlson
Until that time, is it acceptable for boys who have been
playing as a team with girls in the 6-11 age group to age-up and continue to
play? Crystal Stone, former junior league coach for Denver Roller Dolls Glitterdome
Gladiators and current parent of a South Side Derby Delinquent is facing that
dilemma not only as a former coach, but as a mother of an eleven-year-old boy
who skates on the team and faces aging-out next season. The option the
Delinquents offer is to teach older boys to referee their former teammates, but
that doesn’t seem to be the solution most parents of younger male skaters
An alternate solution Stone would also like to propose is to
allow older boys to continue to skate with girls as jammers and positional
blockers only. An argument can be made, however, that this type of play dilutes
the game for skaters in a full-contact sport. Parents, coaches and leagues
should also consider whether or not boys, during a time when hormone production
is peaking, can control their bodies and their emotions enough to resolve to
not make inappropriate contact on the track.
The July 2005 Harvard
Mental Health Letter states, “In real life, adolescents, compared to
adults, find it more difficult to interrupt an action under way (stop
speeding); to think before acting (learn how deep the water is before you
dive); and even to choose between safer and riskier alternatives.” This then
leads to the question, would we be expecting too much from boys playing coed to
“dial it back” or just play passively?
On the other hand, are we also asking too much of teenage
girls to include boys in a sport where “girl-power” is embedded and encouraged?
“As an older teenage person, I don't know if I'd be
super comfortable skating with boys my age,” proclaims one of the female
Delinquents skaters. “There's a lot of booty in this sport, and certain hits
would be weird. Puberty could make things really awkward really fast.” She goes
on to say that she would welcome a coed scrimmage or training, opening the door
for mutual learning opportunities and growth in a sports that prides itself in
Some facts to consider from a research compilation by the
Women’s Sports Foundation in their document Her
Life Depends on It are that High School boys receive 40% more chances to
play varsity sports than girls (National Federation of State High School
Associations, 2003) leading to the contention that boys have ample opportunity
to play many more sports than girls. The same document also points out that
girls experience a 23 percent decline in sports participation between middle
and high school (US Secretary of Health and Human Services and US Secretary of
Education, 2000), so do we the chance turning girls off of the sport because we
feel the need to be inclusive?
Not long ago, female skaters between the ages of 18 and 20
found themselves in a similar situation where they were being excluded from
play when leagues were not accepting this age-group into their adult ranks.
These skaters were left to wait in the wings until leagues adopted bylaws allowing
younger skaters into the adult league—which, in time, many did.
In an environment where everyone is encouraged to be
accepted, so too should the girls who want their team to remain for girls. There
is room for choice in this sport—for boys to seek out a boys team, for girls
who want to skate with boys to choose
to join a coed team and for girls who aren’t comfortable skating with boys, to
continue to skate on their own terms.
Stone says it best herself, “Roller
derby is a place where everyone should be accepted and come to enjoy being a
part of something special. No one should feel like an outcast.”
It seems the solution to this
debate will lie with what leagues choose to support and what experience skaters
themselves seek out.