Rollercon 2015: banked track, 3 birthdays, ending Roller Derby Wars

I have really been remiss in posting here….but so much going on.

Going to my seventh Rollercon, certainly a highlight of the year. It is no secret I loved banked track Derby; after all my family started it, I grew up with it and it was the game when we became a national favorite, sneaking up on established sports with over 15 million watching on television weekly, and over 3,000,000 attending games yearly.

All Leo Seltzer wanted was his game to survive, become a nationally played sport, and be in the Olympics. When he died in 1978 he no longer even talked about it. His creation had disappeared.

And then you all came around…..starting from one league in Texas (that word is kind of misused; they actually had, and still do, 4 teams in TXRD), and transferred to flat track by one very creative league (Texas Rollergirls) till today when there are 1853 listed leagues in the world. (check out the amazing website by Sam Santos,

So that brings us to Rollercon, which has to be the mecca for everyone in the game to journey at least once…..over 5000 from virtually everywhere will cram the Westgate in Las Vegas July 22 till 26, all created by Ivanna S. Pankin and friends. (get down on your knees and give thanks). And check out the master schedule at for whatever you want to do.

9 tracks this year for training and games and one banked track! And the most amazing games ever are scheduled…..most are created for the event, and you might learn a lot from that fact alone. Skaters regardless of rule set, age, or geography playing for fun. Have you lost the fun in the game? Is it less fun for spectators to pay and watch? That may be one of the most important considerations for your team, league, whatever.

Bob Noxious and I will go there in our marketing seminar Friday at 1:30 at Rollercon….not just advertising, promotion, ticketing, but making your games events…..and fun!

And there really are more than three birthdays, but the especially noticeable ones are Rollercon and WFTDA’s 10th year, and the 80th birthday of the game itself. We will celebrate it at the Brown Paper Ticket booth on Thursday the 23rd at 3:30 with cake and juice, and stars of the past: Judy Arnold, Frank Macedo, and Hiroshi Koizumi on hand, and some stars of today: the immortal Merby Dick Roche, who at 75 is in his fifth year with his team (league?). There will be some surprises on hand also.

The game is thriving, but in reality the world doesn’t know or fully accept it. Instead of fighting amongst the rule sets, why not all join in figuring a way to really broaden the base to the general public and make certain that what you are presenting can be appealing to a non-derby affiliated audience. Unfortunately, when you are charging admission, you are competing with other forms of entertainment, and to survive you have to keep the fans you have and grow the attendees. as I said, Bob and I will address that as part of the larger picture.

This is more than a game to the majority of you; you are not paid, you sacrifice your time and money. But the huge reward is a world that most do not know or understand, a kinship that extends far beyond the game, team or league. Somehow you must let the world see that.

And please come by the booth and give The Commissioner a hug. It is what keeps me going and coming back.

you are 79, whither thou skateth?

In spring of 1935 Leo Seltzer was having dinner in Ricketts restaurant with his managers from the walkathon he was operating. He had taken over the management of the Chicago Coliseum and was starting to book events in the historic arena: the site of many of Chicago’s shows and expositions, including the 1896 Democratic National Convention.

They were discussing what to book after the “walkie” ran its course in the summer. The building was not air conditioned (none were at that time) so there were no tenants looking for a place to book.

Leo had just read a factoid in the (now defunct) Literary digest: that over 90% of all Americans roller skated at some time in their life. “You know”, he said, “we could make a roller skating game.” The others scoffed: “Leo, that is the craziest idea you have ever had, and you have had a few”

So on August 13, 1935, he presented the first Roller Derby to Chicago and the world: a marathon on skates, a team a man and a woman, and the object over 30 days to skate across America (as pictured by a map on the wall with electric lights), and the first couple to achieve it would receive a prize of $500. click link to see the original marathon.

So approximately 10 couples took off on a race to nowhere in a game that has evolved, survived several shutdowns, and today is played by almost 2000 women, men and junior leagues in 49 countries.

And very soon the game will be 79 years old and the birthday will be celebrated by leagues everywhere.

Rollercon this year showed the maturity of the modern game. (by the way, next year Rollercon will be 10, Roller Derby 80; how will Ivanna deal with the convergence?). Every day there were game after game, showing the diversity of the rules, the players, and enjoyed by all on hand.

But all is not serene in skateland. Those who have read my previous post and the comments of Sandi Mustang Johnson on her facebook page know that there is some discontent throughout the skate world. And all who participate should look at the problems, if you acknowledge there are any.

In the discussions generated by the previous postings, the following seem to be of the greatest concern:

1. The game had become boring to fans and spectators, and attendance was decreasing sharply in many areas.

2. As the sport keeps growing, there were too many leagues in compacted areas.

3. The smaller leagues were suffering because of the rankings, and perhaps the rules should be modified for leagues not in the top tier,

4. Perhaps there should be clear divisions, with the larger cities in the top tier, and the smaller in a lower tier, only completing amongst themselves.

And more, which you are welcome to add to.

Some skaters only want to train and skate games and do not want to be encumbered with fund raising, ticket selling, or concerned with the costs of presenting games to the public, which brings up the valid point, should many leagues even be in the “promoting” business. The examples of softball and soccer were brought up: why not just play for fun, not charge admission, and exist by the dues of the players and contributions by family, friends, and sponsors?

Obviously some leagues are doing well, and can sell tickets and merchandise and get sponsorships so they can support travel teams, etc. But others complain of difficulty in scheduling because of venue availability, other leagues in the area playing the same dates, and when the emphasis is on the travel team, the lesser players – who pay their dues and fulfill all the functions – have a lesser role.

At 79 reality is really settling in……should there be a quick rule modification to satisfy skaters and fans (unlikely), should leagues in compacted areas merge? Should you consider other rule sets?

If you are facing any of the problems stated, or know others, it may be the right time to try to come up with solutions. Some leagues in Canada and Australia have formed regional leagues to help with scheduling and meaningful competition. Some players (V-Diva from the Philly Roller girls) have formed independent teams to go around and play other rule sets, and some like Teresa TC Mueller and her cohorts have formed Detour Derby, a no drama, no cost to players event that occurs once a week in Colorado….and on and on. And let us not forget the LA Derby Dolls and TXRD for making the skaters and fans happy.

If survival without stress is a concern, take some time to look at your options.

Happy Birthday.

Celebrate the history of Roller Derby

This is the historic Chicago Coliseum.

It was built in the late 1800s, constructed largely of the bricks from the terrible civil war Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia, and was located at 1513 S. Wabash St.

For a long time it was the main exposition and gathering place for Chicagoans:  The 1896 Democratic convention was held here, and events from sporting goods shows to basketball and horse shows utilized the building.

And on August 13, 1935, Leo Seltzer put about 20 men and women on roller skates in order to skate a marathon the distance of the US from coast to coast for a prize money of $500

A team was one man and a woman, and they would alternate, and rest on view in the infield in between skating times.  The event started each day in the morning and lasted until about midnight.  The admission was 10 cents, and the skaters augmented their winnings by performing skits, or singing during the breaks, called open houses, when fans would throw coins to show their approval.  The players were fed and housed separately within the North Hall of the building.

Seltzer received much condemnation for allowing women to compete but knew that was a major attraction for the audience.

The last Derby was skated in the 60’s.  The building was then used as the main gathering place for Elijah Muhammad, and the speakers included Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali.

The building was demolished in 1982; there are now housing units there.

Many of the almost 1500 modern Roller Derby leagues around the world are celebrating the 78th anniversary of their sport this week.  Santa Cruz Derby Girls are having a Red Cross-Brown Paper Ticket blood drive on that day.  And the Undead Betties will be having a 78th anniversary drive in Livermore on August 16.

From Roller Derby to Rollercon

transcontinental-roller-derby-opening-night-august-13-1935.jpg (1024×731).

Above is the image of the very first Roller Derby, August 13, 1935.

And last week was the fifth Rollercon I attended.

Photo: Rollercon Black & Blue Ball

It seems light years since the first event; but what both have in common is the intensity to compete.

I hate to disappoint many of you, but if you think Rollercon is a 5 day party you have no concept of why people are there.

It is amazing that athletes who are doing what they love take time from their work or lives – often at great hardship – to attend the most intensive boot camp, training school, games (some skate 3 or 4 a day!), to better play the game that brings all 5000 of them together.

Photo: Admin Silence of the Jams and Demanda Riot at Rollercon!

Those who attend sure enjoy themselves in the other activities (including the great parties and hugging of the Commissioner), but they are there to skate, learn to skate better, and enhance their skills.

The games are amazing; almost all full-bore; fully engaged as the game was intended, and getting off the track exhausted and exhilarated.  Old rivalries fought at the highest level (RMRG vs Denver Dolls, for example).  And often where you least expected:  The over 40 game was a barn burner; coed, full speed (damn Pitchit is fast), blocking and engaging over and over (Hot Wheels is not just a glamour puss, but one hell of an athlete), and really played with the skill that age game bring.  And the USARS game was an eye opener to many; closer to the original rules…..and fast, fast, fast.

At the USARS championship last year I asked Sassy of Oly if everyone could play USARS….she said they could, but many wouldn’t because it is too hard and requires great conditioning.  And MADE and OSDA skate virtually the original rules (all 4 pages….for those who haven’t seen them, take three minutes to watch a demo on you tube, Roller Derby Rules 1970)

And yet I saw WFTDA matches where the skaters were there to play, and there was no purposeful disengagement, even on (ugh) powerjams, and the fans loved it.

Just shorten the jams by at least 30 seconds, allow the pivot to do what I created the position to do (jam after a jammer breaks from the other team) and penalize the player and not the helmet, and see what a difference it would make.

I really didn’t believe there were at least 1000 of you I hadn’t met, but I did break my own hugging record in just the first two days; I got to become Donna “thehotflash” first Derby wife and she my third – although she became quite jealous after the ceremony and stood between me and all others.

Photo: Soooo cute...!!! The happy couple about to take their vows at the 2013 RollerCon Derby Wedding, Donna with Jerry Seltzer


And I did dance off, pants off, and wore my 26-year-old safari jacket to the fabulous Riedell party (one of the many great sponsors who really support Rollercon) and not only did I get great photos at the Black and Blue soiree, but some great lady gave me a standing lap dance that I will remember for quite a while.

I attended as many things as I could, and Bob Noxious and I hosted a packed house seminar on marketing and building attendance…..there is so much more you can do that is free with Brown Paper Tickets and I think we demonstrated that to our group, many of whom used BPT.  I think Bob got a video of the two hours, but will know later.

And I want to welcome Tony Muse and the Roller Derby Skate Company to Rollercon.  These skates were originally the only ones designed for Roller Derby years back, and he figured it was time to re-emerge with a wonderful new product.  Check them out.  They have been producing Roller, In-Line, Ice, skateboards and other products for years and have a great reputation.  And guess who was the first salesman Sales Manager George Sloniger hired way back when?   You betcha.

And I have to thank the amazing Doug Martin, who hosted me in the Roll Models booth.  He is a great guy, and his sublimated uniforms bring a professionalism to the sport that I think it needs for those who really want it to become what it should be.

And Lara (Hot Wheels) is such a great representative of Crazy skates, and you will see an interview she did with me on my facebook page…..I had to learn to speak Australian to do it.

I could go on and on, but can only give credit to Ivanna and Trish and Salsa Picante and the dozens of others who keep this thing going.  It really is the best thing in Derby today!  And the amazing crew including Sten and Michelle from Brown Paper tickets who sorted out the logistic nightmare of ticketing this event.  and what great tee shirts they gave away!

And I want to thank all of you who gave me even more shirts to add to my collection…..I will try to wear them all.

I will be at the BPT, Roller Derby, American Red Cross Blood Drives over the next few weeks….what a wonderful project!

But by God I will be back in Vegas next week, with Derby wife #4, and those who didn’t come and take advantage of at least some of the plus 400 events there were part of it, please do next year…I really want to meet you all!