Besides the arch of black and gold balloons gracing its entrance on Saturday afternoon, Anarchy Hall looks like any other nondescript industrial warehouse in Sun Valley. But inside of the 8,000-square-foot flat track facility, home to L.A.’s own Los Anarchists, are all the trappings of a 21st century roller derby revival.
The league’s logo, a scratchy L.A. inside an anarchy symbol, is painted on one wall. In a corner behind the track, there’s space for bands to play. Before the match, skaters roll around with pun-y derby names emblazoned on the backs of their jerseys. Some have tufts of brightly colored hair peeping out from under their helmets. A couple of nose rings sparkle from the sidelines. Anarchy Hall is a brand new monument to the most punk-rock sport of all — but the difference here is that the players are kids and teens.
Los Anarchists Junior Derby is an all-female roller derby league open to players between the ages of 5 and 17 (if you turn 18 during the season, you can finish out your games before moving up to the adults). They’re part of the Junior Roller Derby Association (JRDA), which connects youth leagues across the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe, and they’re the rare junior league that functions independently from an adult one. Los Anarchists are new to the roller derby scene; this is their first season. Still, some of their players are already derby veterans.
Shelby Castro, known as Lil RegulateHer, has practically grown up on the flat track. She was introduced to the sport by her roller derby-skating mom and started playing herself at the age of 6. “When you start as a little kid, you see these people that are much more experienced or much more comfortable in their skates, so it makes you worried,” Castro recalls, “but they’re really nice and they know how to help you and help you get better and you can see what they do and build off of that.” Now 14, Castro has already participated in the roller derby Junior Olympics and will compete in the JRDA’s World Cup this summer. She practices four to five times a week, including three weekly sessions at Anarchy Hall, and says she usually does her homework in the car as her parents drive back and forth from Ventura.
Los Anarchists was founded to build a league that fit the specific needs of the young players and it’s been a largely DIY effort spearheaded by the parents. Castro’s dad, Michael, aka Quadfather, is the head coach. They spent a few months floating between different practice spots until they were able to find a permanent home in Sun Valley. Thanks to the league’s supporters, they were able to outfit the facility with everything from an air conditioner to cross fit equipment to a sound system. It’s ready for regulation competitions. Now the team is beefing up its game schedule so that they can rank. Next weekend, they’ll be playing in Oregon.
On this particular Saturday, though, they’re playing with Bakersfield’s co-ed junior league, Diamond City Minors. It’s a “mash-up scrimmage,” Michael Castro explains. In other words, players from both leagues are split up into two teams to create a even match of players based on size, skill, and experience. The points rack up quickly as the kids lap and block their way across the track.
“It’s a sport that’s not recognized as much as it should be,” says Michael Castro of roller derby. And it’s one that has benefits for the players. “There are lots of kids looking for a place to feel accepted,” he adds. “Junior derby is accepting of everybody. Half the kids that I know, they wouldn’t hang out with each other at school if they didn’t know each other. It’s created a bond and a sisterhood for them.”
Gabriella Gulino, aka Mount Crushmore, is a 15-year-old skater from Simi Valley who fell for the sport when her dad took her to a match for her tenth birthday. Like Shelby Castro, she previously played in the roller derby Junior Olympics and will participate in the World Cup this summer. She says that being a part of roller derby has been an empowering experience. “When you join roller derby, it gives you a chance to be interactive with many girls,” she says. “It’s super empowering in that way, to have friends and to be there and to be you and be who you want to be and not be judged.”
“We all support each other,” says Lila Funge, aka ShamBlock Shake, a 15-year-old player from Los Angeles. “We’re like one big family. We can tease each other. We can shout at each other. We can scream at each other. But, at the end of the day, we all work together for the same goal.”
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