The Yukon Roller Girls are still a ways off from achieving the long-term goal of establishing a local roller derby league and a traveling/representative team, but developments over the last few weeks show the organization is building momentum.
Over the last month, the fledgling non-profit organization has had success in a variety of areas.
Barely two months ago, the coming winter looked as if it could spell disaster for the roller crew, who had not yet secured an indoor practice location for the snowy months.
But perhaps because of the Roller Girls’ strong numbers – with over 50 registered members paying dues and attending regular practices – the organization reached an agreement with the school board to secure practice times in school gymnasiums.
“I think that’s how we got the space, because of our numbers,” said Yukon Roller Girls spokesperson Shannon Pearson. “People ask how many people we have and I say 50, 55, and they say, ‘Wow.’ We usually have 20 (at a practice).”
Currently the Roller Girls are practicing three times a week at FH Collins Secondary School and Ecole Emilie-Tremblay.
“We have two structured practices, Tuesday and Thursday night, and we have our fun, free skate day where we come and practise what we feel we need to practise,” said Roller Girl Andrea Merschilz. “So today I was practising different types of stops and things like that, and some of the girls were practising running on their toe guards.”
The acceptance into local school gymnasiums comes just a couple months after it was thought to be out of the question. Because most of the elbow and kneepads they wear are held together with metal bolts, there were concerns about scratching the wood floors. However, the Roller Girls found a solution, brilliant in its simplicity.
“I found legwarmers at Walmart and those are fitting over our kneepads really well, and we’re wearing long sleeves over our elbow pads,” said Merschilz. “We’ve been using hockey tape or heavy electrical tap to cover our wrist guards and on our pads and it seems to be working.
“And as you can see, we’ll going around and cleaning the floor up before we leave.
“A lot of leagues around Canada seem to be having the same problem, so we’re lucky to have the education department allow us to do this.”
Signs of progress within the territory can also be seen outside it.
Yukon Roller Girl Sarah Gallagher, who was one of the founders of the local organization, has been accepted onto the Terminal City Rollers Girls team in Vancouver where she recently moved to attend school.
“So they’re whipping her into shape and she’ll be back in the summer to show us what she’s learned,” said Merschilz. “It’s based on everything she’s learned here – she was new on skates too. We’re all very proud.”
The wheels are turning on the marketing front as well. In addition to having a new logo, designed by local artist Dan Bushnell, the Roller Girls were featured in Green Wheels roller derby magazine, named this month’s “green league,” i.e. new league.
As for advancing the skills of its athletes, the organization held a “boot camp” over the weekend attended by 32 skaters. More than just a lengthy practice, the camp was overseen by Kelsey Corbett (a.k.a “Hustle Rose”) from the Montreal Les Sexpos out of the Montreal Roller Derby League, who happened to be in town visiting family.
“I really fell for these girls,” wrote Corbett in an e-mail to the News. “I really was impressed by their attitude and desire to learn to play. When I came up, it was pretty obvious that this league was mostly self-taught, though in the four days I was there, their improvement was radical.
“My goal was to brush up on their skating techniques, teach them new, more effective and intelligent ways to block and get through the pack, as well as give them some game-play strategies to work on for this next season. I personally think this was successful. They soaked everything up like sponges.”
“It seems to be part of the roller girls’ sisterhood, that whenever you go to a town and you’re going to be in for a while, you look to see if there’s a group,” explained Pearson.
Aside from also receiving some coaching from Juneau Roller Girls captain Jeanne Crochet (a.k.a. “Jean-Claude Hot Damn”) recently, the Yukon girls are in the process of establishing a permanent coaching relationship with roller-skater Eric Gaucher.
“He grew up in Quebec and learned how to play hockey on roller-skates and he’s great on them,” said Merschilz. “He comes out and joins us for practices, so we kind of have a coach now.”
For more information on the Yukon Roller Girls go to Triples J’s Music Cafe at 308 Eliot Street, your one-stop shop for roller derby inquiries, or look up the Yukon Roller Girls’ Facebook page.
“We’re all really dedicated and into it,” said Merschilz. “I knew a few before, but it’s like having 40 new friends. There’s people here I never would have met outside of this.”
Contact Tom Patrick at