South Side Derby Delinquents - The Lost Boys: Where To Put Male Skaters After Age 11?

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 from participating.

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 prefer.

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 inclusiveness.

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.

About The Author

DOB: 2/8/2013
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The answer, surely, should be obvious: treat them all equally until such time as they prove themselves unworthy of such treatment.

I take no issue with the attitudes expressed, save that they are based on existing paradigms. Modern roller derby exists, in part, to reshape those paradigms. Excluding an individual based on what they *might* do is no different to excluding an individual for what someone else *did* do: you are tarring everyone with the same brush.

It's oft-stated that people are taught to hate. Decreeing that boys cannot play with girls passed a certain age is akin to doing just that, and once taught it will take a lot of effort to un-teach it. Whilst it is true that there may well be isolated incidents of inappropriateness, the same can be said for any environment containing adolescent members of both sexes - how else do you explain the upswing in teenaged pregnancies in the last 20-30 years?

By all means punish those who push the boundaries of accidental inappropriateness to unacceptable levels - taking advantage rather than merely being overly competitive - but don't punish our sport's future players based solely on pre-conceived ideas of how they will behave with the opposite sex.

Modern roller derby began a decade ago as a women-only reaction to male-dominated sports and cliques. When men asked if they could play, they got a frosty reception which has thawed gradually - the men aren't invaders, and they're quite happy to peacefully co-exist. Recently, one or more parties have stated that if a League doesn't have a Juniors program then they have no future; I'll go one further and say that without the option of co-ed Juniors - and I stress that it should be an option, not mandatory - then our sport as a whole has no future.

Don't weigh tomorrow's players down with the baggage you're carrying today.