Rolling Through Risks: A Look At Injury In Junior Roller Derby

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You may be familiar with adult roller derby, but how about Junior Roller Derby?

Much like its adult counterpart, a game of junior roller derby includes two teams of five roller skating on an oval track as they block their opponent’s point-scorers, called jammers, from lapping them while advancing their own within two-minute bouts.

But it’s not all fun and games. There’s always a chance for accidents that could lead to injury, even with mandatory safety equipment.

So why would a parent be okay with their kids in Junior Roller Derby?

Phil Honeywell, merchandise and marketing chair for the Wheat Whackers in Pullman, Wash., says it is common for parents to have safety concerns. Inviting worried parents to observe practice sessions helps reassure them, Honeywell says. They get to see their kids learning the necessary safety procedures, such as placing one’s legs and arms close to the chest to cushion the impact of a forward fall.   

“It’s not that it isn’t without risk. But with the gear that the kids wear, with what they practice, junior derby does a really good job of mitigating that risk as best they can. There are injuries in every sport that you want your kids to do… [junior roller derby] is no worse, and it’s no better.”  

17-year-old Max Honeywell, one of Phil’s sons in the sport, skates regularly for both the Wheat Whackers and Cherry Bomb Brawlers in Spokane. He started playing the sport three years ago after trying soccer. Max says that outside of a few scratches, the only time he needed medical attention for an injury was during a game in Salt Lake City. He fell on concrete and sustained a deep tissue bruise to his knee.

“I was trying to get around someone, I didn’t realize that my kneepad had slid down a little bit… but they tripped me and I fell down on my bare knee, and that really hurt,” Max says. “And then the person fell on top of my legs. I almost dislocated [or] broke my knee. I actually had to use a wheelchair to get around the venue because I could not put any weight on it.”

According to a recent study on derby-related injuries from the International Journal Of Injury Control And Safety Promotion, leg-related injuries like Max’s are the most common types of injuries at the adult level. Injuries to the ankles and knees make up 23 and 21 percent, respectively. Other injuries include those to the head at 11 percent, with diagnosed concussions making up the bulk of that.

When Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville Professor of Public Health Michelle Cathorall started studying roller derby injuries several years ago she said there was a lack of medical research on the sport, even less so at the junior level. Cathorall thinks this is likely due to the sport having a niche audience, a challenge that affected her research initially.  

“The information on the sport is so small that [my editors said] it wouldn’t appeal to a broad enough section of our readership,” Cathorall says. “But I found a couple of journals willing to take the risk and publish it, and I think that was because it is a growing sport.”

Cathorall has completed two studies on roller derby injuries, and is working on an app designed to avoid potentially inaccurate memory recall by collecting data on derby-related injuries directly and anonymously from players. Using the data, Cathorall wishes to create an injury prevention program specific to roller derby, and may pursue research on junior roller derby in the future.

The app in development is slated for a pilot test sometime during summer 2019. Until then, junior roller derby players and parents will have to wait for further research on adult leagues for injury information.

Phil Honeywell says the junior roller derby experience has been a positive one for him and his children ever since they first started the sport.

“As a parent, it’s really fun to look out and see all three of my kids [play together]. I look out and there’s Max jamming, [his siblings] are blocking. That’s pretty freaking cool.”

Copyright 2018 Northwest Public Broadcasting

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