The evolution of roller derby

By CURTIS J. PHILLIPS, Connect Weekly

Fort McMurray athlete Leanne Johnson is a star in the world Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. PHOTO: TOM KLUBENS

Fort McMurray athlete Leanne Johnson is a star in the world Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. PHOTO: TOM KLUBENS

“Despite a beautiful, gravity-defying apex jump from jammer Cherry-oto-Fire…”

These are the descriptive words from the game report in Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) International playoffs, last Saturday, in Detroit, Michigan; as the Indianapolis, Indiana based Naptown Roller Girls top team Tornado Sirens lost to the Nashville Rollergirls in a Division II semi-final.

Away from the roller derby world and flat tracks of the WFTDA – where players give themselves catchy nicknames – Cherry-oto-Fire is better known as Leanne Johnson. The same Leanne Johnson, then with the maiden name Haney, that graduated a few years back from Westwood Community High School where she played on the Trojan’s girls basketball teams, while also dabbling in volleyball and track and field.

The same Leanne Johnson, standing five-foot-nine, that traveled to New York city during her Grade 10-11 years to pursue a career in modeling. Watching her first women’s roller derby action in 2010, she tied on the laces in 2011 for the St. Albert Heavenly Rollers and for the next three years was an offensive force in the jammer position, reaching all-star status on the Canadian circuit.

She attributes much of her success with crossing over from the basketball hardwood.

“Basketball is quite a transferable sport to roller derby. Positional you have to be low and move laterally and be able to jump. All the moves from basketball on defence and offence is transferable. The only difference is that you are on skates,” said Johnson, 28, in a telephone interview from Detroit following her team’s third place playoff victory against Chicago Outfit Roller Derby 190-107 Sunday.

In 2014, she relocated to Indiana with her husband Stephen who is also a roller derby star, suiting up for the Race City Rebels, while wearing the moniker Magic Johnson.

“He (Stephen) has the magic moves like (Los Angeles Lakers basketball legend Magic Johnson) and he wears the basketball shorts when he plays,” mused Leanne of her husband. The two also have an 18-month daughter named Liberty.

With three tiered skill level teams in the Naptown Roller Girls organization, Johnson was not too sure where she would fit in or let alone even be good enough, to play when heading south of the Canadian border.

“The girls competing at this level are strong and experienced and the competition is strong and I wasn’t too sure coming into the league what level I would be as I was coming from a smaller roller league community.

In preparation for their bouts, which has their away games in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Columbus, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh, to name just a few locales, Johnson says the team trains three times a week and also has weight training and cross training sessions.

The Naptown Roller Girls have been to several Division I finals and play in front of up to 3,000 fans during home games.

“Women’s roller derby is no longer like it was in the 1960s’ or 1970s’, where it was theatrical and outcomes were predetermined and wrestling-type contact on track with close lines and such took place,” said Johnson.

“Women’s roller derby is no longer like it was in the 1960s’ or 1970s’, where it was theatrical and outcomes were predetermined and wrestling-type contact on track with close lines and such took place,” said Johnson, who is co-captain of the Sirens. “The sport has evolved. It still has entertainment with the nicknames and outfits, but it is physical and is strategic in nature.”

Catch you on the rebound!

– Connect Weekly –