At Riverworks in Buffalo, more than 100 women and girls ages 10 and up are part of a resurgence of the sport of roller derby. Last year, the Queen City Roller Girls junior team qualified for the national championships in Colorado.
As the sounds of the season play in the background, the Queen City Roller Girls junior team are getting ready for their new season to open on Jan. 10.
“It’s not your mother or grandma’s sport,” League Director Michelle Kowalski said, laughing.
Kowalski said the grainy television screen bouts that we picture in our heads from 50 years ago are not what you will see today.
“We’re on a flat track. It tends to be more intense, but we do have rules,” said Kowalski.
Parents of the junior skaters are fully on board, although they may have needed a little convincing at first.
April Fideli of Youngstown is the mother of 17-year-old Savannah “Panic at the Derby” Fideli. Her daughter, a senior at Lewiston-Porter High School, played on the championship team.
And what did she say when her daughter told her, “Mom, I want to be in the Roller Derby.”
"(I said) do you understand what they do? She’s not an aggressive person at all, but if you want to, try out,” said Fideli.
She and other parents say safety is a #1 priority.
“They are so good at teaching them how to be safe here and how to fall correctly. Of course, some are going to fall and get hurt, but they really try to teach them how to be safe," she said.
14-year-old Abbie Nocera, a West Seneca middle schooler, agreed.
“They prioritize safety over everything,” said Nocera.
Her dad, Tom Nocera, said he has been a dance parent, but he prefers roller derby and its culture of acceptance.
“Dance is all about the parents getting their child into the spotlight. Here everybody helps everybody,” said the elder Nocera.
Coaches Kara Brinkworth and Crista Murphy compete on the Queen City Roller Girls’ adult travel team: the Lake Effect Furies. The WFTA-sanctioned team is ranked 23rd in the world.
“It’s just a great sport. It is the world’s most inclusive sport," said Brinkworth. "They accept all transgendered people, your regular cis female, non-binary people. They accept all and that’s what I think really draws people. And it’s a great community. It’s like, your part of an exclusive club and you are all friends almost instantly.”
Murphy echoed her teammate.
“Roller derby is cool,” said Murphy. “It doesn’t matter your body type or your sports background. If you have a little competitive fire in you, roller derby will meet you where you are at.”
Murphy said they hammer in the basics at both the junior and adult levels.
“If you can’t nail these fundamental skills, you are not going to be able to land a big hit or stay on your feet when someone comes at you. We don’t move on until we’ve got that,” said Murphy. “It’s a high-contact sport, so you have to find a way to play in the safest way you possibly can.”
Diminutive Junior Team Captain Mia Cacciatore is known on the track as the Cacciatore Crush. The 17-year-old Maryvale High School senior is a legacy—her mom also played roller derby.
“There’s nothing I’d rather do than play roller derby,” said Cacciatore.
Kowalski encourages others to join the Queen City Roller Girls, as players or spectators. The home opener is on Jan. 10 at 7 p.m. at Riverworks.