PADUCAH, Ky. — For anyone who has competed in or watched a match, it is apparent that roller derby is not a sport for the faint of heart, and a recent junior league scrimmage at Kingsway Skateland proved no different.
As a kickoff to this year's season, Paducah's own West Kentucky Rockin' Rollers junior derby league team faced off against the Lexington Pebbles and Louisville's River City teams in a combination of scrimmages.
"This was sort of a practice run to get ready for our upcoming season," said coach Kiaya "Kiaya Kaze" Young.
Armed with knee and elbow pads, helmets and mouth guards and touting names like "Berry Bomb," ''Lady Macdeath" and "E=MC Scared," players whizzed around the arena egged on by the supportive cheers of parents and onlookers.
The Rockin' Rollers' junior league team got its start in 2012, when a handful of adult players decided they wanted to start up a youth club.
"I had kids that wanted to play and a lot of us on the adult team had kids, so we decided to form a kids team," said coach Barbie "Barba Fett" Clark, who also plays for the Rockin' Rollers.
The junior club started off with about five players, Clark said, and has grown consistently over the last three years. This year, there are about 25 players ranging in age from 5 to 17.
The really little ones don't take part in matches yet, the coaches said. They need to go through a few years of training before they can compete.
Unlike its competitors, the Paducah team is unique in that it is co-ed, although the majority of players are girls.
"We wanted to make it all-inclusive," Clark said. "Plus, I have boys who wanted to play." That said, Clark added, being a mixed-gender team also can pose a problem because it's difficult to find teams willing to play them.
"A lot of the girls' teams don't want to play against boys," Clark said, "so it can be challenging."
It also means the team may have to travel farther to find other teams to play, she added.
Regardless of the obstacles, Clark and Young said they have a great time coaching their players and love seeing them evolve as they grow in the sport.
"Some of the kids come to us never having been skating, and we have to teach them how to skate and then teach them the game on top of that," Young said. "It's a lot of fun."
Being a part of a team is also a confidence builder for many of the players and especially for the girls, Young added.
"It's really about empowering the kids," Clark said. "A lot of these kids have never played a sport before, and this is what they found that they love."
Young added: "A lot of our players were really shy when they started or never felt like they were a part of anything. So it's really neat to watch them come in here and make that connection with derby, and they become so much more confident."
The Rockin' Rollers' season started this month and will run through October.
Those interested in learning more about the sport or in joining the junior league can stop by Kingsway Skateland and check out a practice session from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. Saturdays and 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays.
"We recruit year-round," Young said, "and we always need skaters."