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Roller derby event draws youth from around the island

May 15, 2017 - 12:05am

HILO — They had been at it for hours but showed no signs of slowing down. That’s not the roller derby way.

Dozens of girls from around Hawaii Island — along with visitors from Maui — hit the makeshift track of the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium last Saturday for Keiki Koa 2, a day of clinics and bouts tailored to the young derby players.

Some girls were 7; others were 17. Some had been playing for years with the Big Island Babes junior derby team; others turned up just that day. Their helmets, knee pads, elbow pads, mouthguards and skates were in seemingly every color of the rainbow. But all players shared the same determination to learn more about their sport.

“You really have to want it, and once you do want it, you can never stop wanting it,” explained Zoe Jones, 14, a two-year roller derby veteran. Jones got hooked on playing after attending the Babes’ Free Skate Fridays at the Wainaku Gym.

The Big Island Babes got their start in 2011, shortly after the Paradise Roller Girls, Hilo’s adult roller derby team, began competing.

“The girls were seeing all these women playing, and they just got really excited about it,” said coach Todd Selden. One of the keiki was Selden’s daughter Lauren, who played for just a month before she was diagnosed with bone cancer. She spent a year undergoing treatment in Seattle before coming home to Hilo.

“That was sort of what got her through treatment, was (wanting) to skate again,” Selden said.

Selden took on coaching duties three years ago.

The first Keiki Koa was a spur of the moment event, organized after the Paradise Roller Girls could not make one of their allotted time slots at the auditorium and offered it to their junior counterparts. Selden saw another opportunity.

“I wanted to sort of help spread derby through the islands, and get the teams talking to each other,” Selden said.

Junior roller derby teams are common on the mainland, but in their early days, the Big Island Babes were the only team in the state.

“In the past two, three years, other leagues have had junior teams,” Selden said.

On Saturday, teams from Waimea and Maui made the trip to the Civic, along with some players from Kailua-Kona. Kona does not yet have a formal team. Of the 42 keiki, 19 were from outside of Hilo.

“Last year, we had 8,” Selden said.

For the next session, Selden hopes for even more visitors.

“Oahu is finally starting a junior team,” he said.

Logan Bingham, 8, and Oceana Kichman, 8, both of Hilo, started playing roller derby after their friends encouraged them to try it out (Bingham had also just received a pair of roller skates for Christmas). Their friends had been playing for a while and were “so fast” on their skates, Bingham said, that they were in the more skilled Nightmares group.

“We’re just Death Wishes,” Kichman said, referring to the less experienced group.

The two Death Wishes spent the morning clinics practicing key derby skills: avoiding blockers on the track, skating backwards and — their favorite new skill — pivoting.

When Oceana first started roller derby, her mother Annie Kichman was a little nervous.

“I thought it was violent, but it’s not,” Kichman said. “It’s not aggressive; it’s all teamwork and strategy. I’m just so impressed with their energy.”

Zoe Jones described roller derby as “chess on skates.”

“I want to say teamwork is my favorite part of this,” she said. “We all teach each other and help each other.”

Keiki Koa 2 closed out the Big Island Babes’ spring session. Their fall session begins in August.

Two more Free Skate Fridays are scheduled from 6-8 p.m. Friday and May 26, at the Wainaku Gym. Skates and helmets are provided.

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