Roller derby squads take spins in Burbank to boost sport – and woo blood donors for Cedars-Sinai

( In Black) The Los Anarchists Anar-Kitties take on the Spokane, WA Pixes, during the fourth junior roller derby tournament and blood drive collaboration Saturday, Burbank, Jan 21, 2023. Cedars Sinai in Past events have collected between 50-100 pints of blood. January is National Blood Donor month and it is a particularly critical time for replenishing stores of donor blood.
(Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer)

( In Black) The Los Anarchists Anar-Kitties take on the Spokane, WA Pixes, during the fourth junior roller derby tournament and blood drive collaboration Saturday, Burbank, Jan 21, 2023. Cedars Sinai in Past events have collected between 50-100 pints of blood. January is National Blood Donor month and it is a particularly critical time for replenishing stores of donor blood.
(Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer)

People give blood at the Cedars Sinai bus during the fourth junior roller derby tournament and blood drive collaboration Saturday Burbank, Jan 21, 2023. Cedars Sinai in Past events have collected between 50-100 pints of blood. January is National Blood Donor month and it is a particularly critical time for replenishing stores of donor blood.
(Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer)

People give blood at the Cedars Sinai bus during the fourth junior roller derby tournament and blood drive collaboration Saturday Burbank, Jan 21, 2023. Cedars Sinai in Past events have collected between 50-100 pints of blood. January is National Blood Donor month and it is a particularly critical time for replenishing stores of donor blood.
(Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer)

People give blood at the Cedars Sinai bus during the fourth junior roller derby tournament and blood drive collaboration Saturday, Burbank, Jan 21, 2023. Cedars Sinai in Past events have collected between 50-100 pints of blood. January is National Blood Donor month and it is a particularly critical time for replenishing stores of donor blood.
(Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer)

( In Black) The Los Anarchists Anar-Kitties take on the Spokane, WA Pixes, during the fourth junior roller derby tournament and blood drive collaboration Saturday, Burbank, Jan 21, 2023. Cedars Sinai in Past events have collected between 50-100 pints of blood. January is National Blood Donor month and it is a particularly critical time for replenishing stores of donor blood.
(Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer)

( In Black) The Los Anarchists Anar-Kitties take on the Spokane, WA Pixes, during the fourth junior roller derby tournament and blood drive collaboration Saturday, Burbank, Jan 21, 2023. Cedars Sinai in Past events have collected between 50-100 pints of blood. January is National Blood Donor month and it is a particularly critical time for replenishing stores of donor blood.
(Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer)

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At “Blood Fest 4: The Bloodening,” staged Saturday, Jan. 21, at Burbank’s Los Angeles Kings Sports Center at Ralph Foy Park, no blood was shed — but plenty was shared.

For four years, the Junior Roller Derby Tournament and Blood Drive have been organized by Los Anarchists Junior Derby program to help Cedars-Sinai woo donors to gather much-needed blood for the medical center’s patients during a time of deep need.

But the event also serves as a showcase for the contemporary incarnation of roller derby. It is not, participants were quick to share, your father’s roller derby (or your grandfather’s). Today’s youth roller derby is a straight-arrow, the-rules-really-matter activity, with real scores, real safety measures and real outcomes — not so much like the wild-and-woolly 1950s TV staple that many of us grew up with, fraught with staged mayhem, mock violence and overwrought heroes and heels.

“There are many rules in place,” said Neala Smith, 14, a competitor in Saturday’s action. “It’s a real sport. It’s not about punching people,” she added, while swiftly serving up a quick primer in how the sport works, with points scored by speeding past designated members of the opponents’ team.

“It’s competitive and it’s fun,” said the Burbank resident. “It’s all part of an international roller derby league community. And it’s really appealing to a lot people now.”

Neala caught the derby bug after watching the 2009 dramedy “Whip It,” directed by Drew Barrymore, who also starred as derby diva “Smashley” Simpson.

While the sport’s on the up and up, wild nicknames and character flourishes are still part of the roller oeuvre. Neala, for example, goes by the on-track moniker “Sugar Rush.”

Craig Delaval, dad of derby daughter Paloma “Shovey Dovey” Delaval, said that aspect of the sport truly taps the creativity and individuality of its participants.

“They all choose their own roller derby name,” said the Los Angeles resident. “And they get to apply their own flourishes to the uniform and their makeup. At 15, my daughter is very much into fashion and makeup, so she can express herself while playing an intense sport.”

Intense is a word also used by Los Anarchists Coach Rachel Blackman, an L.A. resident.

“It allows you to be exactly who you are – a little flashy and a little fun,” she said, “but you are totally grinding it out and getting a great workout.”

Participants truly love their sport, Delaval said. It’s a fast-moving, action-fueled activity on wheels with plenty of bumps, turns and tumbles, but rollerfolk look after their teammates to assure they are safe — and afford the same care and caution to skaters on the opposing team.

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“While the games are competitive, there is so much camaraderie,” said Delaval. “Players even give awards to the players on the opposing team after each game”

Blackman said she hoped Saturday’s tournament introduced the sports to a wave of future participants. “It’s a chance to showcase the sport,” she said. “We’re aiming to show it off as a sports option that you may not know about.”

But Blackman also echoed the other mission of the day — the life-saving part.

“We’re so grateful that we get to enjoy a lot of great roller derby, bringing people together after the pandemic in a safe way. And we’re also here to support Cedars-Sinai and to get as many people to donate blood as possible.”

More information on the Los Anarchists program: https://www.losanarchists.com/

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