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.

why we all need a Glide


Jerry Seltzer.

I went to church today. Please click the link above to see where I was.

Now if you know me at all you know what I have expressed about organized religion: not all bac, but those that seem to use prejudices to try impose their thoughts on people……whether anti-gay, anti-science, anti-black, whatever; or use a television pulpit to spout their garbage and rake in millions.

I will tell you about Glide Memorial in San Francisco, probably the most unique church anywhere, so we say “only in San Francisco?”

Of course there is a back story. When I came back to the Bay Area after 10 years in Santa Monica with Ticketmaster, I found out I had been “volunteered” to Glide to help with their 30th anniversary celebration. They had on their board the founder of Esprit, VP of Bank of America and more of the same……what they needed was a promoter. So I found a venue, the Masonic in San Francisco, arranged for ticket sales, advised them on promotion and a different kind of fund raising. Cecil Williams (more on him in a little while) was able to get Robin Williams, Bobbie McFerrin, Mayo Angelou and many more and put together a great evening….about $300,000 was raised.

Now Cecil had come to the City 50 years ago, a young Methodist Minister from Texas, where his father had served as janitor in the Church. He was designated to take over Glide Methodist Church in the heart of the Tenderloin (a bad area) in San Francisco….Right away the congregation (what was left of it) could see he was a different kind of church leader.

He took down the huge crucifix in the sanctuary, explaining this was to be a place to worship a living God…..and he did so much more.

For those who saw the Will Smith movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” Cecil played himself as Will and his son, homeless, needed a place to stay and to start a new life….Cecil is the man with the beard who encouraged him.

Today Glide serves the people as a huge community enterprise. The main purpose is to serve all people of the community, no matter what their condition or status. The motto: “Our God loves everyone”. They have a $17.5 million budget….just think what they could do with the $135,000,000 that sleaze of the magachurch in Texas who just resigned had on hand.

about 3000 are served food daily. There is rehab, programs to get people off of drugs and alcohol, women’s programs and shelters for victims of abuse and more…these are headed by Jan Kiritiami, who he married in 1982….and there is a brand new building next to the church for women’s services. And adult programs, and programs for juveniles…..I wish there were 1000 Glides across America…I haven’t even scratched the surface of what they do, with love, and contributions. There are 12,000 members of the Church, including many of the famous, who are likely to show up any Sunday morning.

The service was just marvelous; one of the best bands in the city, the Glide Chorus, and individual singers and speakers made the hour and 1/2 “entertainment” spin by…..No quoting heavy passages of the Bible (yes, some were quoted) to scare the hell out of anyone that if they don’t support their religion they are doomed; it was so uplifting and the wonderful mixed audience of street people, those regulars, and all categories such sang and held hands and hugged each other….not knowing the path that brought them there but just happy to be part of it. And all invited to be part of the wonderful things that Glide does for the community.

In 2000 the Quakes of Rollerjam came to San Francisco to do some press appearances, arranged by the marvelous Rosemary O’Brien from CBS. We took them all to Glide and that was probably their best experience in the City. Stacey Blitsch, the wonderful skater, sat there with tears rolling down her cheeks….I guarantee you that the BAD girls and other Derbyites have been to Glide.

Make it a point to come to San Francisco, go to the corner of Taylor and Ellis on Sundays at 9 am or 11 am. It will be good for you. It was for me.

And for those of you who are harassing or bullying (the subject of so much what I put out here the last few weeks) and employing just bad behavior…..I hope you make a special trip to the city by the Bay.

Five Strides on the Banked Track, the classic now available on Kindle or ebook!


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Roller Derby on the road.

Appeared as a short version in Sports Illustrated.

This classic sold out almost immediately and was never reprinted…..available at up to $600 from amazon.

this version will all the original photos and copy (and with a new forward by The Commissioner) is available at a very reasonable price. read the above information on how to get your copy.

Let’s talk about freshies a long time ago.


Our good friend Louisa Kalimeris was so concerned about Freshies in Derby that she created this marvelous site:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/rawmeatsydney/

She was hoping if those getting into the game could exchange information and get help that their journey could be easier….and of course she was concerned about the bullying that had happened to her and almost drove her out of the sport.

Well in the old days of the Derby (OK, Commissioner, tell us all about it), getting into Roller Derby was much different. It was professional, the players were paid…not much by today’s standards, except for the “top” skaters. Remember, our ticket prices were $1, $2, and $3……playoffs up to $4, and when we played Madison Square Garden we had a $6 top. Of course the fact that rent and reimburseables at the Garden were $40,000 (in the 60′s) had a lot to do with that.

There was no outdoor roller skating to speak of at the time: no inlines, quads had wooden wheels originally (until 1959 when we started using urethane), and virtually no one who came into the game had any skating background. There were a few that had ice skated, but they all had to be taught how to skate on the banked track.

So training schools were established in several areas, including New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and viewers on telecasts were told if they wanted to join the Roller Derby, come down to a training school with a pair of skates with no toe stops. And they did by the hundreds, from all walks of life. And they usually had a former skater training them; they paid $1 for a one and a half hour session until they (only a few) reached the point where they were assigned to a “minor league” team which would keep training (with all the others) and occasionally playing before the professional game.

And getting women to try out was so difficult, that in many situations men were told they couldn’t start training unless the brought a woman to learn also.

Obviously no bullying or harassing at the training school….you were trying to qualify for a job, a career, becoming a super hero, a television star

Training was rigorous, 5 days a week…longer sessions if you showed promise….you learned how to fall (on your butt), how to “take” a rail to not be injured, how not to hurt another skater (the trainer without warning would through a chair in the middle of the moving pack; you either reacted quickly and jumped or fell); and you learned the five stride, the most effective way to skate the track (like the diamond on the flat track), and mainly you learned endurance.

The pack would do a fast pace in training starting at 5 minutes (so many would drop it) eventually going up to an hour….you could not even be considered to go the professional game unless you could do an hour pace, regardless of your other skills.

So you got called up…..now each team had just 7 or 8 men and 7 or 8 women. The pack never stopped (no sissy starting line except at the start of the game), and the top skaters rarely left the track….usually only jammers were substituted….so you waited until someone was injured or sick….and here is how the game was played…notice the differences:

So if you got to play you had better show your skills fast; the new kids were not shown a lot of kindness, and there was some hazing.

But if you made it, you were in Roller Derby, not making a lot (average new skater $25 per game, plus uniforms, skates,medical for skating, per diem on the road, housing on the road, skating 5 or 6 games per week) unlike the top skaters (in 60′s dollars) making $40 K to $60 K but earning every cent of it.

But if you talk to any of the skaters today, they will tell you it was the best time of their life.