Breaking News: All meet to work together to assure future of Roller Derby


I never thought it would happen, and I don’t know how they managed to keep it quiet…..there were so many involved.

It was at the Palmer House in Chicago Saturday and Sunday.

There were the heads of WFTDA, USARS, MADE, MRDA, JRDA (including Claire Ashcroft from the UK!), and a rep from Renegade Derby. And reps from Roller Derby in Australia, Canada, UK, Brazil, Mexico, Sweden and I am not sure where else. And of course April Ritzenhaler from TXRD and Demolicious from LADD.

Val wasn’t there, but I saw Juanna Rumbel; Jane Hammer and Demanda Riot; Suzy; Lara Irons (Hot Wheels); Sandi Mustang Johnson (the troublemaker): Elle Hoar (who has put together a regional league in Canada); Tony Muse; Justice Feelgood Marshall; Szerdi Nagy(South Africa); Angie Kls from France; Elektra Q Tion; Ivanna S Pankin; Brandy Rettig; Teresa TC Miller; Carly Marie; from original Derby: Loretta Behrens, Judy Arnold, Cliff Butler, John Hall, all of whom have worked in training modern Derby skaters (I guess Buddy Atkinson, Jr couldn’t make it); Debbie Rice, Mark Weber, and Quadzilla from Rollerjam and today, and more….sorry I can’t list you all.

and the purpose of the conference (believe it or not!): to all work together to present a combined front in 2015 so that the Game would work for all; leagues big and small, the fans, and of course, the skaters.

On hand to serve as chairwoman and chairperson: Mia Hamm and Andy Dolich. Mia of course brought women athletes to the forefront with her abilities in the Olympics (and did a lot for sports bras also). Andy, the former marketing and operating head for the Oakland Athletics, Golden State Warriors, and consultant to the 49ers now heads his own sports firm and has always recognized the potential of Roller Derby. And Marsha Jordan from ABC TV Chicago and other members of the press were there, including Robin Graves, Vic “Moxie”, Five on Five, and Hit and Miss, and Rollin’ News.

Also there as observers and possible contributors, Windyman, Bob Noxious, Judi Flowers,Erin “Lucy dynamite” Loggia, Donna “The Hot Flash” Kay,  Bill Yates, Frank Deford and others.

there was a general session on Saturday morning, defining the areas to be covered: rules, operating standards, marketing, officiating, and more. Then there were breakout sessions: Rules to try to combine the best (from the skaters and fans view) rules to make the game more accessible: should jams be 1 minute, 90 seconds, 2 minutes long? Should all skaters be permitted to block at all times? how could the rules be simplified for less penalties, should there be a limit on scoring an any play? Should there be different levels of rules depending on the quality of the leagues? As you can see, a very difficult agenda.

One group was dealing with the problem of supersaturation in market areas: could leagues be combined? should there be mini leagues in geographical areas to increase fan interest? and of course more.

Another was focused on marketing, ticket sales, and merchandising, with Bob Noxious and Judi Flowers and Andy Dolich lending their expertise.

There was a wonderful dinner in the Empire Room Saturday night, sponsored of course by Scott Riegelman of Riedell…..and everyone got along so well…there appeared to be great progress. There were to be two more breakout sessions on Sunday, and then the final gathering Sunday afternoon to try to present and vote on actual procedures to be put in place.

I was seated between Hot Wheels and Szerdi Nagy; suddently I couldn’t hear anything because of the incessant barking.

And that damn Bishop woke me up….

Sandi Mustang Johnson…..she set off a Derby explosive


About 4 years back I started expressing some feelings about how the game was becoming not fan friendly.

And the head of an organization came down on me in quite a strong manner; and I don’t want to relive the experience which was widely misinterpreted, but I just said what the hell, let’s get on with it.

Of course I have strong feelings about Derby; the game was created by my father; I shepherded it through its most popular period and was so happy to see the revival in 2003, so if this is what everybody wants, so let it be.

Then yesterday Sandi posted on her home page a 500 word or so statement of her feelings, why she has left the game after 10 years, and that set off a firestorm that I never expected. There have been over 100 shares, thousands of views, and so many great comments. I urge you right now to go to her page and read it or to my page where she kindly let me repost it or to any of the others who have also done the same.

I don’t even want to try to compress what she said, because she did it so wonderfully and with such feeling. Why have crowds for her home league (Knoxville) decreased so much? Why wherever she went to skate she was seeing empty buildings? what can be done to reverse it. And then the comments have piled in….please read them.

I have expressed concerns over the current ruleset not being fan friendly, and this was stated over and over by those out there, but with the caveat hey we skaters like the game, leave us alone! And it is apparent that there is no once simple fix to whatever the problem is.

If you are skating for yourself and friends and family, then just don’t worry about charging admission and possibly boring the audience, but if you want to charge admission, then you must admit that you are an entertainment, which is difficult…….but don’t construe that to mean not a real competition…..look how successful TXRD and the LA Derby Dolls are.

And if you don’t get money from the games and merchandise and concessions, then obviously you have to get it from your players and not be able to sustain travel expenses or other perks.

And so much more came out: too many leagues in limited areas; not enough attention paid to game presentation and being fan friendly; each game is often meaningless because it is played for “rankings” rather than competition; smaller leagues are ignored; the travel teams become so important that other skaters feel like they are not getting their money’s worth and on and on. And skaters want to skate and not play a stop action game. not my words.

Everyone wants to own Roller Derby……that concept ended 40 years ago. Wouldn’t it be great if there could be a super conference of the heads of the different rulesets, educated observers like WindyMan and others and just work out a concept of a game for the skaters and fans that is entertaining, and address all the other issues.

Baron Wolman is one of the greatest photographers for entertainment and sporting events that we have ever seen (his stuff is in Hard Rock cafes, museums, and galleries throughout the world). And he has seen Roller Derby in its various forms for 40 years expressed a comment: if the game could become professional again, and get national coverage, it would so help the amateur teams and create interest and they would flourish.

Of course I agree with that, but with the present situation and decreasing attendance in most areas, no one is interested right now.

Can we broaden this whole discussion and do something about it? Selfishly, not too sure how much time I have left.

What can Roller Derby learn from World Cup futbol?


Soccer is the world’s game, whether we like it or not in the US.

To some it may seem slow, complex, but really it is a very simple game. And they are smart enough not to muck it up.

Continuous action (note they do not allow television to have commercials during the play, except for a small visual of a product by the score); the one referee doesn’t slow things down……for some reason the fans don’t like officials huddled and the players not playing….and not excessive rules.

The fans know that any one score can mean so much so the anticipation is tremendous.

And if anything, there certainly is not an excess of cheap points.

the players don’t stop and just stand around.

And continuous effort and speed, and the fans love it.

That’s all I am saying.

Obviously if your attendance is maintaining and growing don’t pay any attention to the above.

So he helped with the creation of modern Roller Derby but didn’t know it: Frank Deford


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Frank has been a friend for longer than either of us want to think about. And he laughingly said “You will always be the Commissioner.”

I related elsewhere how we met in Oakland and he ended up writing the longest piece ever for a single issue of Sports Illustrated to date about the Roller Derby The March 1969 article was read by 10 million people, a different 10 million than the 15 million that watched our games every week on television across America and Canada. He created a whole new base of understanding about our strange game.

Had he been a fan of Roller Derby when he wrote it? No, he was fascinated with the concept of “barnstorming”, the one nighters we did across America for 4 months of the year; the people who were in it, behind it, who came to watch and why. And Roller Derby was a working class sport, without the high salaries and ticket prices that folks even then were complaining about. And service charges were not outrageous then, but still higher than the 99 cents that Brown Paper tickets charges on all tickets.

And after I had spent time cautioning the skaters about what they said to Frank (as he put it) “they opened their guts” and he got everything he wanted to write for the article and the book….and one prominent male skater made a pass at him, which he was kind enough not to mention to me until years later…..not a great tolerance by society for gay athletes at that time. And he seemed to have captured a pretty accurate image of me in that era.

Frank wasn’t a skater outside of occasional sojourns to a skating rink. He played basketball in high school and in college until his coach told him he wrote better about the game than playing it. And he developed as a writer and today writes about a lot more than sports, delivers an occasional piece for Sports Illustrated, has a weekly commentary on Wednesdays for NPR radio, and does occasional features on HBO Real Sports…..this time of year he and Carol are in Key West where he is working on his 19th book.

Out of the article came “Five Strides on the Banked Track”, the seminal book on Derby that is in such demand that it disappears from libraries and sells on Amazon for as much as $650. Little Brown did an initial small printing, and the book disappeared (including my copy).

So after all these years after the demise of the original Roller Derby, after Rollerjam came and went, modern Roller Derby is here. And Frank is thrilled. He has watched games on the internet and is amazed that a successful game can be played on a flat track and that, different from the original enterprise, it has become a movement, a therapy, for those engaged.

Shortly after Joan Weston’s tragic death from a debilitating disease, Frank was asked to write her obituary for the New York Times magazine, and he wrote such a beautiful tribute that the genesis for Rollerjam developed for the two producers in Tennessee. That the game ultimately failed was really a fault of the attraction they ultimately presented: a writer-created banked track story of good and evil with cages, helicopters, you name it. But the skaters were wonderful; a number are in Roller Derby, and three of the men were important parts of the World Cup Champion USA team.

http://i.cdn.turner.com/si/2010/writers/frank_deford/05/19/roller.derby.revival/Joan_Weston.jpg (Please click link to see Frank’s article on Joan Weston and the return of Modern Roller Derby)

It was just a few years after Rollerjam ended, with the memory of a skating game in people’s minds, that April and her crew brought in modern Roller Derby. I mentioned this connection to Frank and he was very pleased.

“If anything I wrote helped to results in the reincarnation of Roller Derby in the 21st century, then I am happy. I loved meeting and traveling with the Derby skaters of the earlier generation, and there seems to be such a bonding and almost a therapeutic connection in today’s game that most don’t realize.

And for even more of a connection, Timothy Travaglini, an MRDA skater and member, has been instrumental in having this classic book available to today’s Derbyites, followers, and all. He is with Open road media who has just issued on line a kindle (through amazon.com) and e-book version. Please click on the link at the top of the page.

And they asked the Commissioner to write a foreward.