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West Linn Tidings
Local skaters shine in the Rose City Rollers Junior League
By Mac Larsen,
The Hangar at Oaks Park was packed for a Sunday afternoon, a testament to the popularity of roller derby and the strength of the derby community in the Portland metro area.
It’s called “a game of brutal beauty.” The junior skaters, making their way around the rink for the Sunday, Sept. 17 bout between the Bleeding Hearts and the Death Scar Derby Droids, barely noticed that, to the inexperienced eye, roller derby looks intense.
Harley Genovese or “Harley Quinn,” a junior at Lake Oswego High School, said she doesn’t think much about the contact-sport nature of roller derby. She just loves to skate.
“If I’m being completely honest,” said Lydia Kay or “Scooby Doom,” a Riverdale High School sophomore from West Linn. “I don’t notice. If it’s not an injury, I don’t notice the falling, the hits, the elbows in the face.”
Junior Rosebuds, the Roller’s junior home league, is a chance for female and gender non-conforming individuals between 12 and 18 years old to compete in roller derby. Skaters from across Portland, and the surrounding communities, practice with their teams twice a week to compete in the Junior Rosebuds season.
“I mean, it's definitely considered an alternative sport; you know, I saw everyone in the crazy bout makeup and fishnets, not really something that typical sports have. I guess that kind of drew me in. I hadn't really liked any of the sports I tried out, like soccer. So it was just another thing to try and I ended up really liking it,” Lydia said. Lydia joined Rose City Rollers’ other junior league the Rose Petals, for 7 to 12-year-olds when she moved to West Linn.
“When I was little I think I thought of it as a given, like this is a female sport and that's cool,” said Lydia. “But I think now, when I think about it, I have a bit more awareness and pride about it. I think it's very cool that I can be a part of such an inclusive community with derby. That's very empowering and I'm very grateful for that. I think it's a very cool space for a lot of different people to feel very welcome in.”
Harley joined Rosebuds with her sister right as the pandemic was starting in 2020. Once the pandemic restrictions were lifted she knew she was going to go right back to the Hangar to play derby.
“I would say it definitely not only helped me make friends, but it helped me with my social skills and feeling comfortable just talking to other people,” said Harley. “It definitely has allowed me to learn how to be a part of a team, not just in sports, but in things like school or the outside world in general. It's just a really good opportunity to learn about other groups of people because Rose City Rollers specifically is just a very inclusive community.”
Harley also said that, as co-captain of her team, The Rainbow Bites, she’s discovered that she’s comfortable as a leader, both on the rink and off.
She’s one of the team’s Jammers, the skater who scores points during a bout. It requires a high level of skating technique and finesse.
“I’m very passionate about it. I’m the one scoring points and so I have people depending on me, which I think is a good experience,” Harley said.
Many of the team’s best and most experienced skaters also compete on the Rosebuds All-Stars Travel Team. The All-Stars compete against other junior league travel teams from across the United States. Last year, the team qualified for the Junior Roller Derby Championships in Washington, DC.
In Portland, the Rose City Rollers, the area’s local roller derby league and nonprofit organization, are an institution. Since its founding in 2004, the Rose City Rollers All-Star team has repeatedly led national and international leagues.
“It’s a place where no one is judged. I’ve had parents say it’s night and day for their kids after joining derby,” said Kim Stegeman or “Rocket Mean,” the founder and executive director of Rose City Rollers.
Stegeman said that after the pandemic the junior league teams have slowly built back up; many of the Rosebuds started in the Rose Petal league and, by the time they are 18, they could be ready to move up to the adult Rose City Rollers league.
“I think that, hands down, one of the best parts about joining roller derby as a teen is finding a community where you feel like you belong and finding a group of people that are really accepting,” said Loren Kaplan-Mutch, the league’s digital marketing and communications specialist. “I think it's so important for youth to have something like that. No matter what age you're at, everybody wants that; everyone wants to belong.”