As pandemic-related restrictions loosen, many people across 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 2022-23. This time, Royal City Roller Derby’s Steph Ziegler, whom some people in the derby community might know better as Sleeping Brutey, shares an update on the rebound of roller derby in Guelph.
“The travel team had just played a game on Feb. 29 in Rochester, and then everything shut down,” said Brutey. “We got one game in before the pandemic kicked off.”
The league lost a good chunk of people since the play was paused.
“Some of them chose to move to the East Coast or other places,” she said. “When something like the pandemic hits, you look at your life, and big changes can be made at that point.”
Although Brutey said the players missed each other dearly, they stuck to small groups, and prayed for space to open again.
“We used school gyms for the most part during fall and winter, so until schools allowed outside users back in, we couldn’t go practice,” she said.
On top of that, they lost access to space they shared with Tri-City Roller Derby when the Kitchener Badminton Club was sold during the pandemic.
“So, we lost players and our practice spaces,” said Brutey.
However, when the ice came out of the arenas, they started practicing again and recently, school boards have been giving the green light for outside users to go into the gym spaces again.
“Our home team probably won’t be quite as large for the next year or so, but we are starting our intro to derby program, which will give us a fresh-to-derby team,” she said.
One benefit of roller skating that has caused a rise in interest over the past few years is that it is an activity that can incorporate social distancing. Brutey hopes that will be seen in the draw for the Roller Derby 101 courses they are offering through the fall and winter.
“We’re hoping that’s the case where we get to see many different faces,” she said. “We tried to change the marketing to include folks who tried to learn to skate during the pandemic and might just want some pointers or help to get some stuff down.”
Brutey encouraged interested skaters to reach out through the contact page on their website.
Her love of derby comes from a love of competitive sports “that goes back decades.”
“I played hockey my whole life, and many of us who have played competitive sports, you get to an age and all of a sudden it all just disappears,” said Brutey. “You don’t have that anymore. Derby has been a way to continue that competitive nature, skate, and have a team. It’s hard to make friends as adults, or at least I find it is, so it’s a nice way to meet new faces and come together to work towards that same kind of goal.”
If it wasn’t for the pandemic, she said there was no way she would have ever stopped playing derby.
“It was nice to see everyone’s smiling face when we returned, and it’s just good to skate again.”
Community is an integral part of the derby connection for Brutey.
“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever known; I’ll say that for sure,” she said. “You usually go out for beer league hockey, and that’s that, whereas with Derby, if something bad happens in your family, somebody is there to help you. Do you need food? Do you need someone to run errands for you? We look out for each other more than a traditional adult sport and we’re a little more open with anybody who wants to participate.”
Brutey said she could not announce any games until at least January, when the travel team schedule is officially released. Still, Royal City Roller Derby is looking forward to bouts in 2023.
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