Saira Peesker, cp24.com
Clam Slam organizer Natasha 'Nasher the Smasher' Jesenak (centre, in green) crashes into Alicia 'Bambi' Bernard (in leopard print) during the 2008 Toronto Roller Derby season. Both players will take part in the event, which celebrates the sport's queer side. (George Knight Photo)
Clam Slam organizers Aimee Haskell and Megan McPhail put up a poster for Muff Dive, a fundraiser for the Pride roller derby bout.
Toronto Roller Derby's queer contingent wants you to watch their Clam Slam.
A team of the city's hard-hitting derby women are taking on gay players from across the country in the official Pride Week roller derby game, promising even more camp than usually found in the flashy and physical sport.
Held on Friday, June 26, the game pits the hometown Clamdiggers against The Vagine Regime Canada, an "away" team featuring queer skaters from Kitchener-Waterloo, Edmonton, Victoria and even further afield.
The event will feature more than just tough girls in sexy outfits skating around a track, says one of its organizers.
"People will get to see an exciting game, hot rollergirls and gay dodge-ballers in short shorts," promises Natasha "Nasher the Smasher" Jesenak, a member of Toronto's Chicks Ahoy team. "It's going to be a fun, gay show."
In addition to putting a focus on gay players, the Clam Slam will be emceed by artist/drag queen Andrew Harwood, who is described by organizer Aimee Haskell as highly entertaining and "a little raunchy."
"He fits the bill for our rock-and-roll, queer, trashy derby event," notes Haskell, a former Chicks Ahoy player who was sidelined by a broken ankle last year.
Harwood's role as announcer involves explaining the action at track level to the crowd, so those who aren't well-versed in the sport's rules can be assured of a helping hand on game day.
(A quick primer: Each team has four blockers and one "jammer" on the track at a time. The jammer must pass players on the opposing team to score points, while the blockers try to help their jammer pass through the pack as they block the opposing jammer.)
Drawing new fans to roller derby
The game's organizers hope the event will expose new fans to the game, which already receives significant support from Toronto's gay community.
"Hopefully it attracts fans who would watch soccer and baseball and stuff, but also fans that wouldn't be into sports," says Jesenak, who took up the sport largely due to its queer-friendly image.
So did Haskell, who says she fell out of team sports in her teens after realizing she didn't quite fit in with her teammates.
"I found the sports community rather conservative in a lot of ways," she says. "Roller derby offers a package deal. You can still experience your alternative lifestyle within the sport."
"Derby also seems to accept women who may not have had a real sporting background, or who don't fit the image of what an athlete looks like," adds Jesenak.
"We teach people to be athletes, where other sports expect people to be athletes already."
The sport's popularity among queer athletes stretches well beyond Toronto's borders.
Clam Slam organizers first got the idea for the match while in Las Vegas at a roller derby convention last year. There, they learned about the original incarnation of the Vagine Regime and its fearless leaders, Injure Rogers and Chaos Fury.
"The Vagine Regime has been really inspiring," says Haskell. "We heard about that and were inspired and wanted to see an event like that go on in our city... A real inclusive, spread-the-word celebration of dykes in derby."
The Clam Slam isn't the only event during Pride week that will bring derby girls to the fore. The league was chosen as this year's honoured group for the Dyke March, which will be held on Saturday, June 27.
Clams will slam at George Bell Arena on June 26 at 7 p.m. Queer players who want to get involved can email firstname.lastname@example.org. A fundraiser for the event, "Muff Dive," will be held June 5 at Club Z.