Women’s derby, men’s derby, co-ed, gender neutral, over 40s, over 50s, children, pets… It seems like there’s only one type of roller derby left to come – and here it is! EMILY FLATULET travels to a secret location in Devon for the UK’s first sighting of Baby Derby…
It has been called “North America’s fastest growing sport” and now it’s finally arrived here in the UK. No, not roller derby in general (which originated in Derby, England anyway) but the recently created ‘baby derby’ variant. Following on from the American tradition of toddler beauty pageants, infant basketball and preschool tobogganing, roller derby is the latest activity that eager parents in the States – and to a less stupid extent, Canada – have been signing their children up for almost as soon as they exit the womb.
For Mildew Robinson, aka Mildewteronimo of Ludlow’s Pant City Rollerbitches, bringing the sport across the Atlantic to the UK was a no brainer. “Like many derby players, one of my first concerns when I succumbed to the ‘nine month injury’ was how soon after I pooped the thing out would I be able to strap on my wheels,” she says, “but as the pregnancy developed, I began to think as much of my unborn child Miranda as of myself. I wasn’t just keen to get back on the derby track as soon as possible after the birth; I was keen to be lining up alongside, or better still against, Miranda on that track. Derby is such an important part of my life that I wanted it to become a part of her life too, any way that I could.”
In the weeks leading up to Miranda’s birth, Mildew began hunting around for a suitable derby league to sign her up with, but was disappointed to learn that almost all of the UK’s junior leagues have a minimum age of eleven. “I couldn’t possibly wait until she’s eleven, that’s ridiculous,” says Mildrew. “She’ll probably have moved out and started a family of her own by then, and I’d have missed out on sharing a whole childhood on track with her. I did find one junior league in Anglesey that accepts skaters aged five upwards, but they have a rule of only taking kids who can swear fluently in Welsh, so that one was out too.”
That’s when Mildrew had a stroke of luck. Exchanging messages on a Facebook group for pregnant derby players, she got talking to KidKnee Stones of Taunton Ya Roller Derby, who was due to give birth the same day as Mildrew and had a similar desire to get her baby on skates as soon as possible. Together the two women investigated the possibility of setting up their own ‘baby derby’ league, one with no minimum age at all. “It wasn’t easy,” says KidKnee. “We approached various venues, but when we explained the sport in detail to them, nowhere was prepared to rent out their halls to us. Often they blamed it on council rules, Health & Safety, all that kind of bullshit… So we wrote to every local council in the UK, explaining what we wanted to do and asking if they could help…”
In the end only Devon council agreed, and then only on the proviso that the new league was named after somewhere in Cornwall. So Bude Baby Derby was born – as, shortly afterwards, were Miranda (aka Mirandom Violence) and KidKnee’s daughter Filthpig, who doesn’t yet have a derby name. That was almost exactly a year ago and today sees the Bude skaters’ first ever open door scrimmage. The league’s founders are sketchy over which sections of the WFTDA Minimum Skills Requirements their skaters needed to pass to be eligible for today’s game, but point out that “they can fall over in all sorts of ways WFTDA haven’t even thought of”.
You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby
That’s not to say that Miranda and Filthpig only have a year of derby experience to their names. In fact, both began their derby educations whilst still in the womb. “I got the ultrasound operator to blast her with bits of commentary from 2013 Champs,” says KidKnee. Mildrew, meanwhile, arranged for the Rollerbitches’ Head Ref Des O’Goner to attend Miranda’s birth. “That was to get her used to penalty calls and hand signals,” Mildrew tells us. “We already knew we were going to give her the derby number 666, so we had the ref repeatedly shouting ‘666, purple, blocking with the head’ into my vagina during the contractions, in the hope Miranda would eventually realise she had to, er, ‘leave the track’ so to speak. In fact we had a whole host of other calls lined up for Des to shout, such as ‘elbows’ once the arms began to emerge, ‘cutting’ for the severing of the umbilical cord, ‘pack is here’ for the placenta’s arrival, and so on. But by that stage he was passed out on the floor anyway. Still, I truly believe it all helped to make Miranda the derby skater she is today.”
NSOs, refs and spectating parents are trying to corral the skaters – aged between six months and two years – onto the jammer line for today’s first whistle. Just two squads of five here, all from Bude Baby Derby itself, so the line-up managers at least have an easy job. Today’s Head Ref is the elder brother of one of the skaters [Mildrew had hopped Des O’Goner would referee this historic match, but it seems he retired from derby the day after Miranda’s birth] and the eight year old zebra is a little concerned that some of the players aren’t wearing helmets. KidKnee reassures him that babies have soft heads which will “bounce off things harmlessly, most likely, I expect”. It seems that sourcing equipment for baby derby is something of an issue. “As the sport takes off more people will start making baby sized gear,” KidKnee hopes, “but at the moment we’re often having to use the smallest adult skates we can find, and sticking a few rolled-up socks down the end. Socks make pretty good elbow and knee pads, too. We don’t take any risks when it comes to wrist guards, though.”
Double checking that the lolly sticks are securely gaffer taped to Filthpig’s hands, KidKnee joins Mildrew on the trackside seating and the game gets underway. Those used to adult roller derby will find a baby derby game both a familiar and an unusual sight. It’s certainly played at a noticeably slower pace than the adult game, with a lot more crying than you’d get in a women’s game (and slightly more than in a men’s game). The referees are far more lenient on direction of play incidents, as well as out of bounds penalties, with the competitors at times running around the hall in wild abandon, before a parent in the crowd interrupts the jollity by screaming at their offspring to “kick someone in the face”. Bodily spillages are another issue, as are constant stoppages to persuade players to put their clothes back on (again, this is somewhat reminiscent of men’s derby).
With the bench coaches allowed to call up to six ‘potty breaks’ each half, in addition to the usual raft of timeouts, official reviews and pauses to repair chewed up (literally) track tape, this game could potentially go on for hours. As it happens, a raft of early expulsions for throwing toys at the Outside Pack Refs sees Team Floral beating Team Romper by default. “There’s still a long way to go,” admits Mildrew, “before Bude Baby Derby is in a position to take on other junior derby teams, particularly given those teams’ skaters are aged 11-17. Our lot are getting better all the time though, and we certainly hope to have some of them scrimming with teenagers a few months down the line. We’ve come to the decision that we won’t put them up against adult teams, though. Not until they’ve got another full year of training under their belts.”
When that time comes, Bude’s first adult opponents will be a mixed team featuring Mildrew and KidKnee themselves. “Filthpig put me through nine months of not skating and umpteen painful hours in the delivery room,” says KidKnee, “so when I get to meet her on track next year, it’s payback time!” Mildrew shouts an “amen” from across the room, before bending down in front of Miranda and laughing maniacally in her face for the best part of an hour.
Are you expecting? Keep an eye on UKDerby.com for news of Bude Baby Derby’s next fresh meat intake.