WHEN Wakey Wheeled Cats skate out against rivals Liverpool Roller Birds on Sunday, it will be a bitter-sweet affair.
For not only will it be the final game of the season for Wakefield’s only roller derby team, it will be the last game for four veteran skaters, including the league’s co-founder, Kirsty Quinn.
The Cats, who are based at Lightwaves Leisure Centre, were one of the first leagues in the UK when they started training in a tiny sports hall at Miss Quinn’s workplace in April 2009 after she founded the team with friend Stephanie Sellars.
But almost seven years later, the league has just taken part in the sport’s first ever British Championships, and with more than 50 members skating three times a week, are an established part of Wakefield’s sporting community.
Miss Quinn, 36, a legal manager, said: “When Stephanie and I started the Cats back in ‘09, the sport was very new – we were amongst the first 20 roller derby teams in the UK.
“I will miss the Cats being such a big part of my life - I coached the team from the very beginning, and in turn have watched those that I coached go on to become coaches themselves. I captained the A-team until last year and was also chairperson for the club throughout that time .
“I have made some lifelong friends along the way – but the thing that I am most proud of is that the club has grown so much and enabled so many local women to get involved in sport.”
Sunday’s game at Halifax’s North Bridge Leisure Centre will also be the final game for jammer Vicki Gray, blocker Louise Edwards, and vice-captain Lindsay Pantry, who started with the Cats after writing a feature on the team starting up while working as a reporter at the Wakefield Express.
The early days of the club were chronicled by the paper, and the skaters even produced a video blog for the Express website.
All four of the retiring skaters took part in the Cats’ first ever open game in 2010 and have been a permanent feature of the A-team ever since, while also helping to run the league and assist with coaching.
Miss Pantry, 31, who now works at the Express’ sisters paper The Yorkshire Post, said: “I remember stepping into the sports hall, notebook in hand, back in 2009 and thinking it was one of the maddest, but most exhilarating sports I had ever seen - and I had to get involved.
“Since then the team has grown so much, and roller derby is now a recognised sport with an established league in the UK and even a World Cup. It’s amazing how far it has come in a short space of time, and the Cats were there right at the beginning.
“For me, the best thing about the team is how welcoming it is, providing sporting opportunities for women of all backgrounds, no matter what their experience or fitness level, and seeing them thrive.
“It will be bitter-sweet skating on Sunday, against a team we have known well over the last few years - but we’ll all be fighting hard for a win on our swan song game.”
The last time the Cats played the Birds, in August last year, Liverpool won by more than 200 points. But with the Cats having the home advantage this time round, there will be everything to play for.
League chairman Katie Swift, 31, a vehicle damage assessor, said: “Playing against Liverpool is always a highlight for the Cats, as they are such a strong team, and we want to make this final game of the season a memorable one for both the retiring skaters and those watching.
“With Kirsty and the other skaters leaving, it does feel like an end of an era for the Cats, but we have lots of skaters waiting in the wings fighting for a spot on the A-team, so the next few months will be an exciting period for us.
“We’ll also be opening our doors to new recruits in the New Year, so keep an eye out on our website or Facebook page for an announcement soon.”
Miss Quinn added: “I would like to thank everyone who has supported us so far – local companies such as The Hop, Riot Not Diet, Kaboom Images, Division 24, and Lightwaves, Wakefield Wildcats for their partnership, and of course our family and friends – without them the Cats wouldn’t have got past our first year.”
Tickets are available for the game, which includes a curtain-raiser game featuring up and coming skaters, at www.wakeywheeledcats.co.uk