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Junior roller derby experiences harassment at Santa Rosa Park

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The SLOCO Junior Derby Devils experienced constant harassment over the last several weeks in the Ken Hampian Roller Rink, effectively closing the rink at Santa Rosa Park for drop-in use until Aug. 9.

Devin Hyfield, recreational manager for SLO's Parks and Recreation Department, said that the recent incidents became a safety concern and such behavior isn't tolerated.

The incidents, some of which were reported to the San Luis Obispo Police Department, occurred when a group of young male skateboarders clashed with the junior derby league participants—aged from 4 to 15 years old—and their coaches.

ROLLING COMMUNITY The SLOCO Junior Roller Derby experienced harassment and bullying on several occasions and is now raising awareness for rink-goers. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MARINA PENNA
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF MARINA PENNA
  • ROLLING COMMUNITY The SLOCO Junior Roller Derby experienced harassment and bullying on several occasions and is now raising awareness for rink-goers.

Marina Penna, president and head coach of the junior derby, said the harassment began with juvenile acts but escalated on July 18.

It started with skateboarders throwing grapes into the rink while the derby kids were using it. Another incident occurred when the older Derby Devils went to the bathroom—they usually went as a group or in pairs—and the same group of skateboarders offered them drugs, asking them "if they wanted to get high," Penna said.

In both instances she said, the derby board's human resources representative approached the group or who they believed the adult in the group was and asked them to stop.

On another occasion, Penna said, she and other coaches witnessed the same group of skateboarders running around and shocking each other with a Taser—she alerted the police department.

On July 18, the Derby Devils were practicing in the rink during the team's reserved time. Penna said the team doesn't share the rink with anyone else, even if they're using only half the rink, because of COVID-19 safety measures. In an effort to prevent people from entering during their allotted time, the derby board created signs that they hang on the rink gate. Penna said, for the most part, people have been understanding.

However, that day the group of about 10 skateboarders tried to enter the rink, but the derby coaches and human resources representative told them the rink was reserved and they weren't allowed in. The group ripped off the derby's signs and yelled at the human resources representative.

"She told them they had to get off the track, and they surrounded her in an attempt to intimidate her, we think. They were yelling at her, calling her the 'C' word and the 'N' word," Penna said.

The group initially refused to leave the rink, but eventually did and shouted more obscenities aimed at the roller derby youth and coaches, including the word "whore."

The coaches called the police, but when law enforcement arrived the group scattered.

Penna said the derby team has historically had great interactions with skateboarders, inline skaters, and others who use the recreational areas. This recent group has been a big problem, but she was proud of the maturity with which even the youngest on the derby team handled the situation.

"This is the only time that it's ever gotten as bad as it did. You know, if you talk to anybody in the roller skating community, especially anybody who would be feminine identifying or appearing, you're going to hear incidents or problems with harassment," she said.

Hyfield with Parks and Recreation said if someone is witnessing harassment, bullying, or an intrusion on permitted activities, they should call the San Luis Obispo Police Department's non-emergency line at (805) 781-7312 to file a report.

Per an existing city ordinance, Hyfield said skateboarders aren't allowed in the rink, and this group's actions have closed the rink to all but permit-use holders until August. Drop-in basketball is also not allowed during this time as well. Parks and Recreation is issuing regular permit holders a key so they can unlock and lock the facility after their use.

The derby board alerted the community to these incidents via a post on Facebook, not to get anyone in trouble, but to call for a safer recreational area for all.

"I would hope that if someone sees harassment, if they see bullying at the skate park, I would hope they would step in, stand up, and stop the harassment regardless of who it's happening to," Penna said. "Aside from being horrendous and upsetting, it's an overarching issue with particularly [boys and young adult men]."

SLOCO Junior Roller Derby was established in 2013 by Central Coast Roller Derby adult team members. It's an affirming and welcoming space for youth regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, income status, and/or abilities.

The team's goals aren't just about creating great athletes, Penna said, it's also about creating good humans. The Derby Devils participate in an age-appropriate version of Athletes as Leaders, which teaches youth how to address bullying, intimate partner violence, healthy boundaries for relationships, and more.

"We want our community to be strong, stand up for each other, and support each other. This space really allows these kids to get to know one another on a level that they might now have a chance to," she said.

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