Roller derby will bounce back, skates are already hitting the track: Niagara edition

As pandemic-related restrictions loosen, many people across Southern Ontario and beyond are hoping they can lace up their roller skates and hit the roller derby track again. This series of articles will check in with teams as they prepare for some action in 2022. First, to share the progress of their league, Niagara Roller Derby is Aimee Casciato, who some people in the derby community might know as Viola D Rolla.

If your roller derby league is on its way back to the track, please get in touch for an interview.

NIAGARA – Niagara Roller Derby is fortunate to have a permanent year-round venue, the Haig Bowl Arena in St. Catherines.

“Lots of roller derby leagues are often just using hockey arenas in the summer when they take the ice out,” said Rolla. “We lease the space from”

They have been attempting to practice as often as possible during the pandemic while adhering to provincial guidelines.

“As soon as gyms were allowed to be active and running, we were running our practices maintaining physical distancing and masking as required,” she said. “The challenging part of playing a full-contact sport during a pandemic is we haven’t been doing any contact, which is a big part of roller derby.”

This has left them working on strength and mobility skills separately while trying to keep safe within pandemic parameters.

“We’ve been lucky,” said Rolla. “We’ve gained a few high-level skaters since the border has closed.”

Niagara Roller Derby has had a close relationship with Queen City Roller Derby in Buffalo, New York.

“They have been a mentor league for us since day one,” she said.

The junior derby program has different levels of contact to keep the kids safe.

“We stay at a level two, but we’ve had several skaters over the years cross the border to Buffalo to skate higher level junior derby, so that’s been a big bummer the last couple of years because that hasn’t been able to happen,” said Rolla. “In that great relationship with the Buffalo league, we share a lot of officials and volunteers. Having referees and non-skating officials (NSOs) is a big part of our organization, so  not having it be easy to cross back and forth has posed some challenges.”

They have got by without referees and NSOs crossing the border because there haven’t been games, but that will change in May if all goes as planned.

“We have a game booked on May 28,” she said. “Niagara Junior Roller Team is playing Tri-City Junior Roller Derby, and our adult league is playing Grey-Bruce. So, it’s pretty exciting to have our first game in about two and a half years.”

Rolla said the focus at practice is to get everyone up to snuff with contact because many skaters haven’t been hugging, touching and close to each other, and that’s a big part of roller derby.

“Now that restrictions have been lifted over the last week or so, we’re starting to add a little more close contact, but the challenge has been, I mean, our goal is always to keep everyone safe,” she said. “People have been coming back who haven’t skated for months or years, so those who have been skating as consistently as possible over the pandemic – our endurance is good, our footwork is good.”

Due to the pandemic, people are coming back to the track at different skill levels.

Niagara Roller Derby is gradually working contact back into its practices in preparation for its first bout in over two years. (Contributed Photo)

“it’s been hard to move forward because we want to make sure everyone is safe before we get into contact,” said Rolla. “Now that we have this game planned, our amazing league trainer has set up a program for us to gradually move into contact so that we can stay safe … we are just going to work as the loving community that we are to get everyone caught up as safely as they can.”

She helps coach the junior program and has found that it is thriving right now.

“I think many young people got roller skates or became interested in roller skating,” said Rolla. “There was a lot of TikTok roller skating happening through the pandemic because it was something you could do outside by yourself, so we’ve had a great interest in junior roller derby, and they have been sticking around.”

Retention for adult skaters is tougher because life gets busy, and people don’t have the time for roller derby.

“We need to build our numbers up in both our junior and adult leagues,” she said. “With our adults, we’ve had an amazing return to derby from some skaters who stepped away from roller derby over the last five or six years, and they are starting to come back, which has been great.”

Niagara Roller Derby runs a learn to skate intake program for all ages starting on April 7.

“You can come out once a week for an hour, get some basic skills,” said Rolla. “Then if you are into the derby part, great, we’d love to have you around. If not, we were happy to teach you skating skills.”

“Everybody that ever (played) roller derby will say it was the life-changing awesomeness that I needed at that point in my life,” she said. “Then as life changes where derby fits into your life might change, but there is always a spot in our hearts for roller derby, our league mates and our teammates and the game, so I’m not surprised that there is a return to derby from many people because as the song says ‘roller derby saved my soul.’”

Rolla said she is proud to have been consistently involved with Niagara Roller Derby for 10 years.

“I think the pandemic has made us value our friendships, community, and relationships, and I think that is bringing people back to derby – that need to connect,” she said. “I’m excited to get back to real roller derby. While roller skating is great, derby is better.”

“Another thing Rolla likes about Niagara Roller Derby is the holiday celebrations at Halloween and Christmas when they open mixer scrimmages.

“We’re looking forward to hosting them again in 2022 for the first time in three years,” she said. “It’s a great way that all of southern Ontario comes together. We play on the same team as people we usually play against. They are one of our flagship events, and we are super excited to mix and mingle because that is something that the pandemic has prevented us from doing is playing with other teams.”

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