Published on August 29th, 2013 | by Guest Contributor1
Photo: Wayne Thornes
The Hits and Misses of JuniorCon
By Luna Shovegood
About one month ago, the biggest event for junior roller derby was going on in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Girls from all over the country gathered to learn new derby skills, meet players their age, and bout with new people in this exciting and educational three day camp. The trainers were Team USA’s Smarty Pants and Teflon Donna along with Pia Mess.
I’m Luna Shovegood, a 17 year old skater on the FoCo Spartan babes, and was lucky enough to have the privilege of attending this years JuniorCon. I went in expecting to meet a ton of new girls, get some great skills I could bring back to my team and to have a great summer derby experience. While I got what I expected and JuniorCon was a great success with many hits, they definitely had some misses for both parents and skaters.
The camp is very affordable. It cost a little over $100 and this included a shirt, a dance, 2 days of training, and lunch. Parents can drop their children off in the morning and not have to worry about them until four in the afternoon. This was definitely a great deal for what the skaters got out of it.
The Trainers were awesome and it would be tough to find three other skaters who know derby as well as they do. They have been skating for years and, more importantly, were great with kids. I constantly saw them working one on one with girls ages seven to seventeen and they always had the skaters feeling strong and confident in the new skill afterwards. They had their lessons planned out and they were possible for any skater, no matter the skill level.
The temperature and floor of the building was fantastic. They kept it at about fifty five degrees which was always a little chilly at first but as soon as you warmed up it was the best temperature to skate in. With the number of skaters that attended, a warmer facility would have quickly gotten really stinky. The floor was clean and just fine to skate on.
I love that there were lots of options for classes you could take that would appeal to multiple types of skaters. There were classes for jammers and blockers, classes that were on skate and off-skate, classes on hitting and avoiding hits, and some fun classes like “try anything” which was skate skill related and not derby skill related. Every class I attended was lively and even though I’m a fairly experienced junior, there was always something to take away. The trainers weren’t alone either – they had extra staff help out to make sure everything ran smoothly.
Sponsors like Riddell, Derby Skinz, Bullet Boutfits, and others set up booths where you could try on and buy derby gear. One of my friends got her foot measured at the Riddell booth and found out her boot was a size to wide! These booths offered a chance to get some hot new derby outfits and equipment that you can touch and ask questions about – something rarely seen at local junior derby camps. It was an awesome alternative compared to getting everything online.
Their website and the process of signing up is very well thought out, too. The website is easy to navigate and has everything you might need to know about JuniorCon. They supply hotel information if you are coming from out of state along with online registration where you pay your fees and can even sign up for classes. It was smooth and flawless.
They camp itself is cheap but if you are coming from out of town, it gets expensive quick. For many of my Colorado derby friends who made the trip, this was their only summer trip because it was all they could afford. Fort Wayne, while centrally located in the country, is not a major airline destination, so tickets were not particularly cheap. Even if you drive the gas ends up being hundreds of dollars, especially since we are minors and if one of us goes, we need a parent to go too. It seemed like a lot of families made it a summer trip for the whole family, which might have been a bummer for the non-skating siblings. Then once you get there, you have hotel costs and eating out for dinner and breakfast every day. I traveled alone and stayed with friends, and my out of pocket expense was still nearly a $1000. For a family it could be really steep.
It is overcrowded. They had over 200 skaters with only three classes going at a time. Two classes held in the same room which had two tracks on it. Often, I would stand in line half of classes waiting to try a skill which I would get little to no feedback on. There was never enough room and while many girls did get some one on one, I think they’re were so many skaters that most got no feedback even though the trainers were trying hard to work with everyone. When we got to scrimmage at the end of the day, it was difficult to get much time on the track. At the scrimmage bout I participated in, I only skated in two jams over the course of an hour.
There was a wide variety of skill in each class. As a result, lessons often moved at a very slow pace and focused on basic skills. This is great for skaters who have just joined derby or are still working on those skills, but for those with more skill and experience, it can feel like a waste of time and money.
For one of the scrimmages, I signed up as a level three bouter which means full contact and hitting. Unfortunately, though, there were so many girls that they had to split us up and send some of the level three skaters to the level two scrimmage, which was just booty blocking. The level three’s that stayed got the experience of bouting with adult trainers and volunteers in a much more competitive, highly skilled environment. I was left bouting against skaters who were quite a bit below my level, which was a bit of a disappointment. To make matters even worse, though, I felt singled out because of where I came from. Instead of splitting the level 3’s randomly or by skater skill, they did it by which team you were on. Girls from teams that were highly ranked or local skated with the trainers, while the rest of us were sent away. This left a lot of us girls feeling left out and discriminated against. Needless to say, all the skaters from Colorado got to play with level two skaters. While this was fun, it was like paying to teach derby rather than paying to be taught to play. This was not in the spirit of derby and a very huge disappointment to many skaters as well as parents.
It shouldn’t be a big surprise either when I say it went by too fast. With two days of training and one day of dancing and meeting other skaters, I would have loved to have spent even more time learning from the trainers and making new derby friends.
While JuniorCon was a lots of fun and I was glad to get a chance to go and experience it, I’m sorry to say that I would not go again and, unless some changes are made, would hesitate to recommend it to any experienced player who would need to travel to attend. As I turn 18 this coming year I will, though, be looking forward to RollerCon and hoping for a better experience. My favorite part was a class called Jammer Agility taught by Smarty Pants because it made me think about my skates in a new way and appreciate that I have two. My least favorite part was the disrespect that both I and my team felt during that last scrimmage. I am glad, though, that my Facebook and Instagram is filled with new faces I can recognize from JuniorCon and I am ecstatic to teach my team some of the new skills I learned from my time there.