When someone can announce a few weeks ago that July 16 is “I love Roller Derby day” and it simply means people should acknowledge it in their own way, and yet over 6000 people signed on and many others in almost every country where the game is played participated.
If I appear redundant in stating just how amazing the rebirth and growth of the game is, please consider the following: Roller Derby died out in the early seventies, a sport that was an outgrowth of the 30’s marathons and six-day bike races, and because of the fact there was no ball or pellet, had women participating, and was touring like the Globetrotters, was never seriously accepted by those who followed the so-called real sports.
Then other promotions, including roller games which did the image no good, and Rollerjam, which could have been successful but many elements didn’t come together (more in that in another blog); and the “writers” (yes they wrote a script) made it worse than WWE and made a parody of the game.
Then suddenly it is reborn in Austin, Texas, not at all in its present form, and with no genius like me to guide it. Today there are well over 686 women’s leagues, 31 men’s, and 30 junior Roller Derby leagues with some 30,000 participants. They are all amateur, supported and paid for by the members, in 25 countries, with competitors who almost all have other jobs or children, or both, and not only sacrifice for the good of the leagues, but also contribute time and money to community and charity organizations.
Awareness is increasing: the recent Whip It movie with Drew Barrymore, the two national TV commercials with Alleve and Cheerios shows that in the large media markets Derby has made an impact. And in various cities the attendance at their games (I have trouble with “bouts”, but that is me) has shown the appeal of the sport goes well beyond friends and family.
If you search “I love Roller Derby” on facebook, read some of the entries. The love is amazing. Thank God this cult does not require everyone to drink Kool Aid! But I wonder, because these are women competing in a full-body contact sport, because of the clouded history of the game, and maybe because it is all amateur controlled from top to bottom, why isn’t more of society aware of this fast growing phenomenon?
Oddly enough, I don’t think it makes that much difference to a lot of the participants. They certainly want to be recognized for what they are doing, but ultimately it is for each person’s own satisfaction. Many are afraid that if it becomes to0 big or widely televised, the game will lose its feeling of amateurism and grass roots appeal. By the way, if you would like to watch games from everywhere, tune in to the Derbynewsnetwork.com, where they have live streaming of a large number of games. This is because of the sacrifice of Hurt Reynolds and others in his organization to allow everyone to see these matches.
As I said before, there are regional and national championships sanctioned by the WFTDA for flat track games, so you have leagues from all over the US and Canada (and lately the UK) competing with each other. And like the original Roller Derby, most of the participants did not know really how to roller skate and had to go through a rigorous training program; and also had to learn the game which has confusing rules: No ball, both teams on offense and defense at the same time, block the opposing skaters, help yours. The concept makes your head swim, but they really are on it now. I have seen skaters that could have made it in our game, and remember, ours were full-time and paid for their participation; no money for today’s skaters. And banked track leagues, although in the great minority, are increasing.
The future will get more sophisticated for the leagues: there will be cable television, sports coverage, national merchandise, and the emergence of stars that are known by the public. Would you rather watch this fast, fun sport or darts on TV?
The end of the month I am attending Rollercon, the national annual gathering of the Derby girls (and boys) in Las Vegas. I will get a chance to meet many of my facebook friends and to give them whatever counsel or advice they want from my experience. And I keep thinking, what other sport has ever disappeared for 37 years and come back bigger than ever with such an organic growth? Dad, you would be so proud!
August 13 will mark the 75th anniversary of the first “game” at the Chicago Coliseum. The Derby skaters today are fully aware of the historical significance of this date, and many are planning activities including skating marathons to raise money for benefits or other acknowledgments in their cities. In addition, the WFTDA national Championships will be held in Chicago this November. And in October, Cliff Avery of the original Bay Bombers and others are planning a major dinner and event in San Francisco and all who want to attend are invited. Maybe we should just continue to keep the whole revival a secret.
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