As pandemic-related restrictions loosen, many people across Ontario and beyond hope to 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, Hogtown Roller Derby’s Emily Fowler, whom some people in the derby community might know better as Holly de Havilland, shares an update on the rebound of roller derby in Toronto, or if you prefer, Hogtown.
De Havilland said it might date her, but she found out about derby when she received a friend request from Hogtown Roller Derby on Myspace.
“I can’t remember what year it was, but I was too young to start because juniors weren’t a thing at that time,” she said. “That’s the first thing I saw about derby, and that was around the same time, but before Whip It came out. It was always in the back of my mind, and I remembered it when I was 21.”
At the time, she was going through a rough patch in university, so I signed up and never looked back. Now she is the president of the league.
“I met my partner through roller derby, so it’s an important part of our lives,” said de Havilland.
Like many other skaters, a big part of what drew her back to derby as pandemic restrictions were loosened was the sense of community.
“It’s a very accepting community,” she said. “I found especially joining when I was 21 it was really interesting to see – at that time, it was mainly women at different points in their lives, and especially as I mentioned, I was going through a rough patch, and it was interesting to see it’s okay to make mistakes.”
An older teammate was changing careers, and for de Havilland going through that rough patch, not knowing what she wanted to do, it was eye-opening to see an example that let her know you don’t need to stick to one path your whole life.
“I kind of became an adult at derby, so it was nice to have the support from older people that I don’t think I would have had, had I not joined,” she said.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Toronto, it meant an immediate shutdown for Hogtown Roller Derby.
“It was in Toronto and spreading rapidly,” said de Havilland. “We didn’t skate again until a couple of weeks ago. It was an immediate, almost complete shutdown for two years … We had been prepping for the season and then it hit. We didn’t have any games at all that year.”
The governing body, Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), gave leagues guidelines based on the amount of active COVID-19 cases per region.
“Given that Toronto has such a huge population, we had so many cases we couldn’t open up based on their safety measures,” she said.
They tried to stay active and social by holding online Zoom parties and exercise sessions. In the summertime, they did a couple of scavenger hunts. Team members were instructed to get photos of themselves in various outdoor settings.
“You know, to get us outside and on skates, but it kind of trickled out the busier everyone got,” said de Havilland.
The league has lost a few skaters over the past two years.
“Many people moved, whether it’s because they purchased a property outside of Toronto or they got a different job opportunity, or they could move their job online, so they got to move wherever they wanted to move their whole life,” she said. “Some have had children in the years of COVID, so they are just not in a place where they can come back yet but want to in the future.”
This fall, they have been able to get back to the track, but they are progressing slowly.
“We started going back to the basics with everyone so we all can be safe and not try to go in too hard, especially when we don’t know how many people have stayed active,” said de Havilland. “I know my activity and fitness have gone down, so we don’t want people to push too hard. Psychologically I feel like I should be where I was when we stopped, but it’s been two years without doing anything, so that’s not realistic.”
Hogtown Roller Derby has two courses running, one for our returning members and then a new skater intake.
“We have a lot of interest from new adults, but especially there are many juniors who want to come out,” she said. “I think there is more interest from juniors than adults.”
They don’t have any games set up yet because they want to ensure skaters feel comfortable and confident playing first.
“We just want to make sure everyone is safe, and we feel like if we have plans, it might put a bit of stress on us trying to move too fast,” said de Havilland. “We hope in the summer we will have some games. We just haven’t reached out to other teams yet.”
According to de Havilland, Hogtown Roller Derby is community-focused rather than focusing on winning.
“We are about making sure everyone has a good time,” she said. “If you relate it to hockey or baseball, we are more like a beer league crowd, but we don’t go out for beers after.”
“I don’t know how else to phrase it, though. We are more casual and recreational even though we do play other teams. We’re in it for fun, not the rank.”
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