Blossom Bettles is 12 years old and lives on a tree-lined street in Brooklyn. Her father, who is British, is a photographer; her mother is a meditation and mindfulness teacher from New Zealand. She has a little brother named Sunny. Blossom is petite, with blue eyes and a dimpled smile, and wavy light-brown hair. Her name seems to suit her perfectly, until she straps on skates, dons her gear and becomes Dark Pixie, a fierce competitor in a gritty junior roller derby league in Bushwick.
Gotham Girls Roller Derby, a women’s organization with four competitive teams, serves as the sponsor for the junior league, which was created in 2012 for girls ages 8 to 17 to provide “a positive, empowering space for girls to learn, practice and play a contact sport,” said Tracey DeBenedictis, Gotham’s coaching director. The juniors do not compete for Gotham, but they skate in exhibition games, or “bouts,” at halftime in adult league competitions.
In keeping with roller derby tradition, the rockabilly, Rosie-the-Riveter, riot grrrl aesthetic is in full effect throughout the Gotham organization, from the tattoos and piercings to the fishnets and tutus. And, of course, there are the irreverent skater names, like Smacklemore and Evilicious.
But at the heart of the sport is a gracious and openhearted feminist ethos, wrapped in wrist guards by loving hands. And this is particularly evident in Gotham’s junior league.
“Without Gotham Girls Junior Derby, I have no doubt that I would not have finished high school,” said Joanna Acevedo, also known as Mercy Killer, who is now 19. “Roller derby has been a constant in my life, giving focus to what would otherwise be a very scary, uncertain time.”
Ms. Acevedo, now a college student, rose up through the junior…