Los Angeles, CA

L.A. Roller Derby makes its COVID-19 comeback!

Deanna Barnert

Skaters reunite on the rink for games and team-building

Roller derby players are thrilled to reunite after COVID-19 shut down the sport/ Tristan King Photography

(Los Angeles) Thanks to COVID-19’s Delta variant, some roller derby players aren’t yet ready to rumble in Los Angeles… but after over a year and a half apart, leagues are finally coming back together for no-impact practices, training, and even some scrimmages.

“September 20 was our first practice back, and our last practice was in the beginning of March 2020,” reveals Shayna “Pigeon” Meikle, owner and manager of Beach Cities Roller Derby. “I was so freakin’ excited to smell the funk of my league mates and it was magic to be back on the track with 17 of them. Taking such a long break from the team sport I play has given me a whole new appreciation for what we do!"

With L.A. derby leagues beginning to reunite, the famed Derby Dolls hosted Fresh Meat tryouts and welcomed new banked track players to their team on September 13, and Beach Cities will be recruiting new members in January 2022. There are also scrimmages and interleague games popping up in nearby Orange Country and Fontana. And for those under 18, leagues like Los Anarchists Junior Derby in Burbank are hosting practices, scrimmages, and matches.

Members of the International Women's Flat Track Derby Association like Beach Cities, however, are prohibited from competition or impact. “There are return-to-play guidelines related to the number of hospital beds available,” Pigeon explains. “And if we don’t follow them, the Women's Flat Track Derby Association has threatened all of our statuses. They would pull our association, forever.

“The association is very strict because that's in the spirit of roller derby,” she adds. “It's an extremely inclusive, underground culture, and this association is always going to look out for the most vulnerable in our communities.”

Derby referees like Evelyn "Stevie Fleetwheels" Block are as ready as players are to get back in the game./ Tristan King Photography

That means no games, rumbling, or contact. “We're just going to get used to practicing together again and get back to moving like a school of fish,” Pigeon says. “We were so in-tune with each other after years of training together 3 times a week, but most of us have full-time jobs, we're parents, we're doing all sorts of things. We're not a bunch of athletes. We’re everyday people who made room for derby in our schedules. So when the pandemic hit, we didn’t practice together. We were like, ‘See you when the pandemic's over.’”

Some may think derby is all about ramming your opponent out of the way, but it turns out, there is more to this team sport. “Like gameplay, strategy, technique and foundation,” lists Pigeon, adding that rebuilding communication is essential, right now. “You’re learning how to develop a secret language within your team so that next season when you’re saying stuff on the line, the other team doesn't know what you're talking about. It takes time to develop that.”

After all this time apart, the edict to avoid contact is actually a gift. “Normally, we have to spend so much time training for impact – because it’s so hard on your body – that we don’t have a lot of time to work on the foundational work or understanding this complex game,” Pigeon explains. "So it's extremely advantageous."

Finding a home

With Pigeon's Roller Rink pop-up now open in Long Beach, the Beach Cities league has a new home in which to re-find its groove – which is no small thing.

“One of the biggest challenges of owning or managing a roller derby league is securing rink time at private businesses or city parks because it's difficult getting priority or even being respected as a female sport and a legitimate business,” Pigeon explains. “So during this pandemic, I worked tirelessly to secure a venue. It’s now open to the public every day of the week, except for the time slots I'm reserving for my roller derby league.”

While old school derby players are coming back together all over SoCal, the COVID-19 pandemic has also created a whole new generation of skaters – and many of them are now looking to get into derby. With leagues focused on training, this may be the ideal time to find your team or start preparing by attending Pigeon's Roller Rink's Beginner Derby classes on Tuesdays.

“If you’re interested in getting involved in roller derby, it’s as easy as a Google search,” Pigeon says. “Just type in your part of town and ‘roller derby,’ you'll find your team. And each league has a training program. They train people how to skate and how to become roller derby athletes. So if anyone's interested, just search and reach out to your local league.”

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Deanna Barnert is a Los Angeles native and entertainment journalist with thousands of news stories, features and profiles published internationally. A member of the Television Critics Association, she’s written for "Emmy" magazine, MSN.com and SheKnows.com, served as News Editor for "Soaps In Depth," and interviewed some of your favorite stars and creators. A true Angeleno, Deanna knows L.A. is the best place to live... and the worst! She made her hometown more accessible to newcomers via her contribution to "The Complete Resident’s Guide to Los Angeles" and its pocket mini, "The Essential Tourist Guide" -- and now she's doing it for NewsBreak! Deanna is an avid traveler who lived in Madrid, Spain, for two years and did some time in NYC, but she always comes home. Check out what Deanna’s doing now by following @TVDeeva on social media.

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