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Skates, tights and bruises: Roller derby is a family affair

Courtny Boe is a sprightly 14-year-old in lacy tights, two blond pigtails tied low on her head and braces highlighting her toothy grin. Three times a week the Largo High ninth-grader straps on elbow and kneepads, wrist and mouth guards, a helmet and speed skates and transforms into Crisis — a member of the Attack Pack junior roller derby team.

Giggling and out of breath from running drills, she explains that what she likes most about the rough-and-tumble sport is "the violence."

The night before a major bout, a teammate knocked Crisis to the ground in a side block, leaving her sore the next morning. Still, she was eager to take on the Florida Junior Roller Girls from Daytona Beach at her home rink, Astro Skate in Pinellas Park. Her team had improved since losing to Daytona in March.

She wore a vibrant uniform in purple and lime green, matching the other 15 or so kids and teens on the team. The girls had on leopard print skin-tight shorts over leggings and fishnets, and they had war paint streaked under their eyes.

At the sound of a whistle, 14 players — seven from each team — started hip bumping and shoving each other to the ground. The referees didn't try to break up the brawl, and parents cheered from the sidelines. That's how the sport is played.

Derby usually conjures up images of tough women with tattoos and punk-rock hair, not kids. But the world of junior derby is growing.

Preteen and teenage girls dominate the Attack Pack, a coed team of kids ages 5 to 17. The girls happily say they're misfits — other sports, dance and cheerleading don't suit them.

They listen to alternative music, and they don't dress like the popular kids, preferring mustache-print tights and screamo band T-shirts to Abercrombie & Fitch.

Through the underground realm of junior derby, the kids who don't fit in at school are able to find solidarity, said 15-year-old Skid Knee, known outside roller derby as Sydney Cristiano, a 10th-grader at Seminole High.

"(My teammates) see me at my grossest," she said. "Helmet hair, sweat, and they're okay with it."

In roller derby, each team has a jammer who pushes through a pack of other skaters to earn points. The pack consists of blockers, who try to keep the other team's jammer from getting through.

The players are swapped out each round, which lasts for two minutes or less. A bout lasts for two 30-minute halves.

Players go by their derby names, and some don't even know their teammates' real names. On the Attack Pack, there's Crisis, Skid Knee, and Triple Check Tiny. Daytona has Animal Crack Her Face, Dyno Mike and Skatey GaGa.

On the bench, Crisis watched her teammates struggle against Daytona, whose players were burly and experienced. She chewed on her mouth guard, a nervous habit.

Before she joined derby a year ago, Crisis was a different person. She had few friends, and she was on antidepressant medication.

But about a year ago, she put on some skates and did a total 180.

"Honestly, I was in a deep depression before I joined," she said. "I had a lot of anger built up inside of me, and (through derby) I can get it out."

Attack Pack coach Bill Thigpen furrowed his brow, crossed his arms, and held his chin with one hand as he watched Skid Knee lose momentum after getting the wind knocked out of her.

"Come on, Skid, run!" Thigpen, 50, yelled. "Go, go, go! You got this!"

The freckly redhead calls her bruises "trophies," but she's still a little scared of people who hit hard.

"I'd like to be one of those people that they're afraid of," Skid said.

At the half, the Attack Pack was down about 50 points. They kneeled in a huddle around Thigpen for a pep talk.

"You're doing fine. Keep fighting through," he said. "There's no blood — you guys can do this."

Thigpen said trailing by only 50 points is an accomplishment for the Attack Pack, which has been steadily improving since it formed in 2011. In the last competition against Daytona, in March, the team lost by about 300 points.

One of the team's most talented jammers, Triple Check Tiny, has been part of the Attack Pack since the onset.

Tiny, a petite 13-year-old from Largo named Hailey Dziubinski, is the only junior derby girl in Florida to have a sponsor.

A representative from Nistevo Sport Manufacturing noticed Tiny at a junior derby convention in Texas, and kept an eye on her after she kept playing even when her toe stops — used for braking — broke off.

"My toe stops are the main thing I use," she said. "But I think that's what made me a better skater, knowing that the plow stop was the only thing I could do."

Some adult derby teams are pushing for the sport to compete in the 2020 Olympics, and Tiny plans to be there.

After the half, the announcer read out some shoutouts from parents. Four came from Crisis' mom and dad, Mary Jane and Brian Boe, who served as scorekeepers.

"Attack Pack — use your strategies. Never give up!"

Almost immediately after Crisis joined derby, it became a family affair, said Brian, 49, also known as Mage Rage. The Boes attend every practice, referee bouts and host team get-togethers at their Clearwater home. And when Crisis' skates are giving her trouble, they double as pit crew.

Mary Jane, 45 — Mole Killer — said that this is how most Attack Pack parents are, so the team members and their families have all grown close.

"It made Courtny happy, so it made us want to be here, too," she said. "Even for the adults, it's like one big family."

In the second half, the Attack Pack members brought their game. The jammers were zooming around the rink with more speed than they had in the first few rounds, and the blockers were holding back Daytona's players, despite their size advantage.

Final score: Florida Junior Roller Girls 308, Attack Pack 252.

Compared to previous bouts, though, this was a victory for the Attack Pack.

"They're a very, very, very good team," Crisis said. "It just makes us get better."

Skates, tights and bruises: Roller derby is a family affair 09/12/13 [Last modified: Friday, September 13, 2013 6:39pm]
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