- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Something happens to the kids when they step onto the hardwood of the Grant Wood Elementary gym.

Roan and Tristan transform into Barf Maul and T-Rex. Michelle and Sarah switch to Wolf Fang and Skareah. Torrie becomes Judy Jr.

“They are totally different from the time they are outside to when they come in,” said Brian Ferreira, who coaches the I.C. Bruisers, the area’s only junior roller derby team.

Ferreira, who answers to Beezer once practice starts, had been a fan of roller derby for a few years. Once his kids showed an interest, he helped create the co-ed Bruisers and dozens of double lives.

So far, 36 kids have signed up and the league has 24 active members, the Iowa City Press-Citizen (https://icp-c.com/1xw4cej ) reported.

He said he has tried to make the team feel inclusive for his three kids: 15-year-old Timothy Grepl (Garden Gnome), 13-year-old Lilian Grepl (Molasses) and 11-year-old Cecelia Ferreira (Rainbow Assassin).

“No matter who you are, you’re accepted because you can be who you want to be when you walk through those doors,” he said.

The I.C. Bruisers is free for kids 7 to 17 to join, and the league has skates and gear available for loan.

All skaters are required to wear a helmet, a mouth guard, wrist guards, elbow guards and knee pads for safety. A registered nurse certified in CPR and first aid attends every practice. Ferreira also adds a level of safety as a medical instrument technologist at the Iowa City VA Health Care System.

So far, the team’s worst injury in practice has been a broken ankle. More likely, team members leave with bruises - if anything.

All gear must be on before the kids get to practice and then a coach checks it.

The coaches work hard to make sure the only thing black and blue are the team’s colors.

“If they don’t fall properly, they can get hurt,” Ferreira said.

So, naturally, Ferreira teaches the kids how to fall.

“You always try to lean forward,” he says, so you land first with your knees, then elbows and then wrists. The team even practices this - along with how to start, stop and pick up speed while skating.

Torrie Kofron, 14, aka Judy Jr., of Cedar Rapids said she had wanted to skate on a roller derby team for about four years because her mom used to compete for the Eastern Iowa Outlaws in Cedar Rapids.

Judy Jr. now captains the Bruisers and says the team works well together, rarely argues and supports one another.

“If someone falls, we’re all on the ground to help them,” Judy Jr. said. “We don’t stop until everybody knows what we’re all doing so that no one feels excluded or left out.”

She said all the team members want to be better and are dedicated to improving.

“We’re all learning how to do the same stuff at the same time,” she said.

Michelle Babcock, 8, aka Wolf Fang, of North Liberty says it’s fun to skate with her friends and she looks forward to each practice.

Ferreira said Wolf Fang barely knew how to skate when she joined the team.

“Now she’s one of our fiercest skaters,” he said.

Michelle’s twin sister Sarah, aka Skareah, agrees with her sister about how enjoyable roller derby is.

“I like skating and I like skating with other people,” Skareah said. “. It’s fun to learn with others.”

The girls’ mother, Jennifer Babcock, who also is a board member and helps with the team’s fundraising efforts, praised the Bruisers for being so inclusive and specifically for being a nonprofit.

“Anybody who is interested and wants to join can potentially join,” Babcock said.

Kids wanting to join the team are welcome to come to any practice.

“If they are interested and they approach us, they can be a part of it,” Babcock said.

Parent and Bruisers board member Danforth Johnson of Iowa City runs the team’s social media.

Johnson dismisses the idea that roller derby is too dangerous for his sons: 11-year-old Roan, aka Barf Maul, and 8-year-old Tristan, aka T-Rex.

“They are wearing full pads . on the same court that people play basketball and never wear any of that stuff,” he said.

Johnson said he appreciates that the coaches aren’t going to berate his kids, who get to build friendships with those of different ages and backgrounds.

“The people involved in roller derby on any level are a pretty supportive, nurturing bunch that’s very accepting of all types of people from any walk of life,” he said. “And so if my kids are interested in being a part of that, then I’m all for it.”

Head coach Claire Czerwionka, who works with Iowa City Community School District students as a social worker, said she wants to create a positive environment that stresses personal growth.

“You’re constantly trying to beat your own records rather than somebody else’s,” said Czerwionka, who skates as Amelia No Heart for the Old Capitol City Roller Girls.

The skaters push themselves in time trials where they race to see how many laps they can complete in two minutes. Czerwionka also tracks the skills each skater masters, and once a skater masters one, he or she helps another reach the same level.

“We’ve tried to create an environment where kids want other kids to succeed and are really encouraging them to succeed,” Czerwionka said.

As more kids advance through the Junior Roller Derby Association levels, the team will have enough skaters for a full-contact bout with another team.

In 2015, the team is looking to host its first home bout and likely will travel to Des Moines and the Quad Cities to play.

Ferreira only has one requirement of kids who want to join the Bruisers.

“You’re going to fall down. Just get back up,” he said.

___

Information from: Iowa City Press-Citizen, https://www.press-citizen.com/

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