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.

Please friend Hiroshi Koizumi (Mr. Japan Roller Derby)

Hiroshi was a star of the Japan rollergames team years ago.

But he has devoted himself to Roller Derby. He created a wild version (flying skaters, leg whips) and continued to skate at the Tokyo Dome after other versions disappeared.

He has helped the Modern Roller Derby women, and he was largely responsible for the men’s team which arrived short-handed and with little knowledge of the MRDA game to the World Cup, and their skill and persistence made them the crowd favorite.

He has worked hard to bring roller skating to the forefront in Japan, heading a youth sports day during the recent Tokyo Marathon and receiving special recognition from the Japanese government.

And he has big plans for Roller Derby in Japan in the future.

He has been in the US for the past few weeks, visiting teams and skaters in New York, Chicago, Vegas and others, and this weekend is at Battle of the Bank in San Diego. He was hosted in Los Angeles by Demolicous LADD and the people at the Doll Factory.

Not sure where else he is headed, but I know I will see my friend again in Northern California in mid July, and I hope he comes to Rollercon.

I and others believe he belongs in the National Roller Derby Hall of Fame.

He is a wonderful man, his posts are fun, and often written in Japanese with translation available.

So please ask him to be your facebook friend now and comment to him. He is a treasure of the skating game.

Do I hate Roller Derby?

I do not, but I must plead mea culpa.

I am opinionated.

It won’t get any better as I add one more year to my collection tomorrow.

I find it easy to criticize when probably I should really be more supportive of the attributes of what has happened in the last ten years.

Almost 2000 leagues in the world, including women, men, and juniors.

Somebody must be doing something right.

I have this vision of what the game should be; oddly enough, everyone does not agree with me.

Although many of you feel I want to “take back” the game to what it was 40 years ago, that is untrue.

There are things about the rankings method, the stoppage on the track, the blocking backwards, the blowouts that really bother me; but if that is what the nature of the game has become, so be it.

I am not any kind of official or affiliated with any rule set (although some believe I am). I just want to see attendance grow, not decline; more teams of equal ability competing, and anything that enhances Roller Derby.

There is no way any of us can wave a magic wand and bring it into being. And when I see the BAD girls play fast paced games with their four equally balanced teams, I see what the game is. And it is not unique to that league.

I would like to see rule modifications that bring it to the original intent of offense and defense always at the same time; I love the chase of one jammer after another.

But you out there play the game, and if this is what you want and the fans support it by attending, then just stay with it. And at Rollercon I hope I can help you market your games.

I still have the first modern Derby tee shirt I ever received, a Hotrod Honey given to me at Rollercon in 2006. And there are so many great athletes playing the game today: from Bonnie and Suzy to Tony and Bloody and V-Diva and Demanda and Quadzilla and on and on.

I won’t say I won’t make comments, but it is easy to criticize. I know what you go through just to be able to skate the game you love.

I want to move forward with you.