When I first sat down with a crew of the Misfits, the teen component of the IC Bruisers, I expected to hear your standard fun fare about youth enjoying group sports in a community-supported program.
Instead, the most agonizing of teenage angst poured forth.
Ileana Knapp (skater name Collide-a-Scope) found the support she needed as an 18-year-old to overcome thoughts of self-harm when she found the IC Bruisers and the Misfits.
Alysa Cato, 18, (skater name Sneaky One) skates after being bullied in almost all other organized sports. She felt rejected from other public school organized sports before she found the Bruisers and its three-level set-up, to accommodate kids of all ages and skill levels. Kathryn Guerrero, 15 (skater name Kit Kat the Crunchinator) and her family travel 2.5 hours twice a week so she can practice with the team, which also includes her sister Chevy.
Caleb Dloughy, 18, was turned away from organized team sports in schools because he was supposedly too heavy and also inexperienced. Dloughy (skater name Praising Cow) has since lost 55 pounds while sharpening his skating skills with the Bruisers.
“Before I found derby, I didn’t work out. I was in a rough emotional state. I didn’t want to be alone,” he said. “But here, I found this family I had never had.
Risston Buehler, a 14-year-old who came out as transgender last year, felt renewed when he found the IC Bruisers roller derby team. He had to leave behind his favorite skating rink in Cedar Rapids over alleged LGBTQ prejudice there.
Even coach Brian Ferreira, a veteran, brings a heart-wrenching story to the Misfits. Ferreira says he fights post-traumatic stress disorder all the time. “This bunch of rug rats and misfits gives me something to keep going.”
“When it comes down to it, nobody comes between them.”
The Bruisers are more than a sports team. They also have two social media support groups. They are continuously reaching out to to each other seeking support for all kinds of teen-age issues, from gender identity to sexual orientation to body image to self-esteem and ending thoughts of self-harm.
Ferreira is also available around the clock for kids’ needs, as are most of the parents.
The team is also in need of a new practice location; its former home is now leasing its space to another organization.
One parent said even successful teenage athletes find a comforting home in the Bruisers. “My kid tried every sport, and she did it well. She still felt she wasn’t good enough and didn’t fit in. Until here,” said one parent.
Ferreira is still amazed at the role his organization plays in kids’ lives.
“Team sports, especially in schools, are very specific, and very difficult,” he said. “Many of the kids who play for us have tried other sports and tried to belong elsewhere. They just couldn’t. They find a home here.”
Parents say the sport helps their kids make friends, learn sportsmanship, learn to keep trying, understand teamwork, get in shape, and even get along with their siblings.
“I can watch Kat and Chevy go from arguing in the car about who gets the last ketchup packet, to being on the track an hour later, with Kat turning into Chevy’s number one protector. ,” says Amy Guerrero, about her two daughters who are Bruisers.
“At the end of the day, my kids will lace up their skates, put on their gear, and pop in their mouth guards again because this is what they love to do. If I can do something as small as drive them to practice, help tie Chevy’s skates, and refill Kat’s water bottle, I can do that.”