I always knew that derby was going to be big. It’s the combination of sport, self-expression, grassroots organization and empowerment that is hard to resist.
A couple of years ago I heard the phrase “fastest growing sport in North America” and remember thinking “that’s cool.” But it’s only now that I am starting to really believe it.
I just got back from the Okanagan in British Columbia where eight new leagues have sprouted up in the area in the last year. In January, I am off on a derby road trip around the UK to see how many of their 49 leagues I can skate with. In the same month there’s a derby boot camp in Hawaii that I am missing out on, and I had to turn down an invite to skate in Switzerland.
There are lots of other indicators that derby is heading mainstream. The appearance of derby girls advertising everything from Cheerios to Advil. The huge popularity of UFC, another previously “underground” sport with an entertainment edge. The economic recession – derby was created in the 1930s for an audience that could no longer afford expensive baseball tickets. And the movement of derby out of the lifestyle section of the paper to where we really belong – the sports section.
What does this mean for our sport? Does it mean that some of us will finally achieve our dream of being paid to skate? Does it mean that derby will be offered in schools to young girls that desperately need a sport that celebrates their differences rather than punishes them for their inadequacies? Or does it mean that Nike or Red Bull is going to take the reins and package up the sport that I love into something more “palatable” or “edgy” for the general public?
I worry that people wanting to market this sport will try to bring back the fights that luckily have been dropped by anyone who is serious about derby; just look at hockey. I worry that they will take something that we all worked so hard to mould into something beautiful and make it cheap and meaningless.
But there is the alternative. That derby will keep that essence that inspires us to push ourselves on the track, to spend countless hours working on committees, to offer a helping hand to new leagues, to spread the derby love and build a community. And it’s this alternative that I hold out hope for.