Annie, Charlie, Joanie and me

It’s time to regress.

I haven’t spoken much about the skaters in my time.  They are probably still very well known today because of you tube and the wonderful book “Roller Derby to Rollerjam” by Keith Coppage with photos by Rock and Roll legend photographer Baron Wolman (

I am constantly asked why the 1973 season is the only one available and on you tube.  In the late sixties and early seventies there was virtually no home use of video tape and no cable to speak of.  So we made an arrangement with our videotape distributor (we were serving 120 stations by shipping videotapes to them every week) Technicolor TAV  that they owned the videotapes and we owned the program.  So at the end of each year, the tapes were erased (Ugh) and used for the next season.

Therefore Hal Silen and I were able to keep only the final 1973 season but unfortunately we were scammed out of them and couldn’t use them ourselves (that is another story).

But because of this programming America and Canada followed the Bay Bombers and the other teams in our league.  And the stars shown.  There was “Bomber Great” Charlie O’connell, Joan “Golden Girl” Weston, Ann Calvello (too many nicknames, none flattering) and “Peanuts” Meyer, Tony Roman, Ken Monte, Margie Lazslo,Bert Wall and Bobbie Mateer, Mike and Judy Gammon, Frankie Macedo, Lydia Clay, Ronnie Robinson, Sandy Dunn, Bob Woodberry,  Carolyn Moreland, Lou Donovan, Cathy Read, Bob Hein, Delores Tucker, Nick Scopas, Cliff Butler Avery, Bill Groll and on and on and I don’t want to offend anyone, but there is just not enough room to mention all who made Roller Derby great.  Road Manager Hal Janowitz; announcers Don Drewry and Ken Kunzelman,   Referees:  Bill Morrissey, Gene Moyer (also our advance man), Jimmy Pierce (also our truck driver) and our great management staff.

Charlie had been the bad boy of Roller Derby.  He came in very young and cocky, was immediately grabbed by Calvello (bet you didn’t know that!  I think Derby invented cougars) and bounced around and was finally put on the Bombers, which was kind of a catch-all team as there wasn’t that much skating on a consistent basis in the Bay area.  That certainly changed in the late fifties when I took over.

I can’t remember why Joanie had been on the Bombers as she certainly was a star.  The Bombers were coached and captained by Russ Baker and Annis “Big Red” Jensen, two talented skaters whose daughter Barbara skated on the team in later years.  After Russ left to start a business in Santa Rosa, Bill Laurino became coach.  Bill had two fingers he had lost in a construction accident but was quite a skater.  When he disputed a call on a jam and thought there should have been 4 points instead of two, he held up his hand and Charlie yelled “Bill, we should have gotten more than two points”.Figure it out.

Charlie and Joan were athletes.  Charlie had played football, Joan was a softball star at her women’s college in Southern California.  Eventually Charlie became coach and the team and eventually the whole league took on his style of skating which was wide open, full-blast effort.  It really made for exciting games.  Not much finesse, but when you saw skaters flying around the banked track at breakneck speed doing amazing athletic moves it more than satisfied the audience, both on hand and on television.  And Joan, to see this beautiful tall blonde (although in today’s Roller Derby her 5 foot 9 inch height would be dwarfed by a number of skaters) was not only a great blocker, but also could jam.  Remember in that game a player could switch positions between jams.

We built a tremendous audience around the country who could watch a game every week and then once or twice a year could see the stars in person.  If you can imagine going into an arena, setting up the track, skating the game, tearing it down and then moving on to the next city. Hopefully it was not too far, but it still was a very tiring life, skating 4 games a week in different cities.  Also, sometimes it seemed to make no sense:  skate one night in Milwaukee (which is 90 miles from Chicago), the next game in St. Louis, and then come back to Chicago.  The reason? available dates in the arenas.

Joanie was a mother hen, worried about her girls, making sure all problems were taken care of, in addition to her responsibilities as woman captain.  Plus she was always requested for television interviews and this took more of her personal time.  If she complained, you know she would come through as she was definitely a trooper.  One night after we had a game in Richmond, Virginia, Ken Campbell, our southern promoter from Richmond, VA (he also was the Nascar promoter), had arranged an interview in Greenville, North Carolina, and since he was a pilot he flew us in his plane to Greenville.  Joanie hated the flight, but both she and Ronnie Robinson (Sugar Ray’s son) did the newspaper and TV interviews.  As we passed through the airport I said loudly to Joan and Ronnie “I think this will be a great place for you lovebirds to get married.”  (Greenville, North Carolina 1969 not the best place for mixed marriage).  They both would have killed me if I didn’t sign their paychecks.

Charlie was surly and wanted to be left alone.  He rarely would do interviews (unless on our telecasts, you can watch one or two on youtube) and that only added to his persona.  Autographs? almost never.  Scowling constantly, but what a great skater.  There is no doubt he and Joanie and Ann (more on her later) were the reason for our great rise in popularity and why we were able to sell out arenas and stadiums across America.

Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end…..

39 comments on “Annie, Charlie, Joanie and me

  1. Jerry…..Charlie, Joanie and Ann were most definitely the reason why I got hooked on Roller Derby ….especially Joanie. And I couldn’t agree more…those definitely were the days.

    • You mention the “names”, but don’t forget the likes of Lydia Clay, Sandy Dunn, Jan Vallow, Janet Earp, Delores Tucker, and Rosetta Saunders! I watched Roller Derby for years and (I’m sorry to say) I NEVER saw Charlie O’Connell fair well against Ronnie Robinson (when he captained the Northwest Cardinals(?)) or John “Porky” Parker. In fact, every time I watched it seemed Charlie O was getting his ass kicked because (for the longest time) he had no size to back him up.

  2. Couldn’t wait for Sat. afternoon Roller Derby, Charlie O, Joanie, Ann was my favorite female skater and I loved watching Groll and Bob Hein on the Pioneers. I’d have to say no one dominated Roller Derby during his day more than Charlie O. I know I speak for millions of fans when I say “We loved every minute of Roller Derby and its stars!”

  3. Most definitely, Charlie, Joanie, and Ann were the big stars when I started watching Derby. I especially loved the rivalry between O’Connell and Monte and later was thrilled to watch Joanie take on Jan Vallow, who I thought was one of the greatest who ever stepped on the track.

    The interleague games were a lot of fun too. I remember games when the Bombers took on the Texas Outlaws (remember Baby Rocko, Shirley Hardman, Earlene Brown, Jim Trotter and company?) and the New Yorkers.

    So many great memories, but one of my favorites is the old Derby theme song that played at the start of every telecast!

    Thanks for all the great memories.

    • Joe: What completely amazed me was when I found out what good friends Vallow and Weston were off the track! You would never have known it by watching them skate!! Vallow was truly a star in her own right. I think she always skated “red”, right?

      • Jan was a great skater…..and she and Joan shared a husband (Nick Scopas), who Joan married years after the couple divorced; they remained good friends.

      • I knew that Joan married Nick and that Nick had been married to Jan before that. Didn’t Jan originally skate in the Roller Games? LOVED Roller Derby and I was fortunate to see a few games (one in my hometown!!). There was nothing like the Derby!

  4. I agree, I fell in love with Joanie as a child growing into roller derby, but soon developed a love hate relationship with Annie and anyone/team against my girls teram Joan Weston. As I grew olderr, I learned to support my home team. Being in Buffalo, NY, it was the NY Chiefs (Bill Groll/Sandy Dunn, ,etc)…Chiefs a top team roster that gave SF Bombers and LA Thunderbrids a run for their money. And what I most remember and love is Buddy Atkinsons’ in field coaching skills. He was clean but he got very dirty when needed with his famous towel. Having skated in SF’s IRSL in the 80’s, I’m back here in Buffalo doing my bit with the girl flat track stuff. I try to do Buddy 🙂 I hope it works, it sells, etc…I wish I had skated under him. Love that guy!

  5. Just a slight correction. Bill Laurino (my uncle) lost his fingers in an accident he had while working in a book bindery not a construction job. He was a great skater and is still doing well after having a storke 7 years ago. He and his wife Joanne are in Palo Alto, CA and he still works 3 days a week at San Fransico International.

  6. Joanie was the main reason I watched Roller Derby. I thought she was the greatest woman skater around. I received and still have 3 Christmas cards she had sent me back in the 70’s. I was really in love with her and was devastated when I heard that she had died. Thanks Joanie for the memories. They were great!!!!!

  7. Jerry-So many great memories because my dad used to take me to the Roller Derby. We had so much fun-it was our thing, Joanie, Anne, Charlie, and the “bad” Bob Woodbury. My dad used to love to tease Morrissey, too. I think you may have known each other, but it was so long ago and I was just a little girl.

  8. I cut my hand, went and got it sutured, then drove 100 miles to Roanoke, VA to watch roller derby. I spent 6 weeks at the training school in Chicago and was fortunate enough to learn from Annie.She was great. Miss them all.

  9. Alway waited for the Roller Derby Team Bus to pull into my hometown arena back in the 70’s. I use to get huge tips for helping the skater carried their equipment bags to the men and laddies lockers room. This also got me into the game for free, I meant so many great skaters in that era of the Roller Derby.

    Diane Svyerson, Gwen Miller, Judy Sawinski, Jan Vellow, Margie Laslo, Peter Kelly, Frank Macedo, Tonnette Kardmas, Patty Cavin , Ann Calvelo , The Atkinson family,
    Francine Cachu, Paul Rupert, Sue Thomas, Gail Bowers and Joan Weston who play for half a season for the Canadian Braves ( All-stars )

  10. I loved the Roller Derby,was at Shea stadium and msg, more times than I could count. Why is there no greatest jams DVD, or best plays, etc. Why did Judi McGuire and Mike Gammon divorce and why Charlie O’Connell? Did Joan Weston marry Nick Scopas,after he divorced Jan many questions. My parents were fans of the derby in the 40’s and 50’s. There should be someone to help us true fans. I notice Tony Roman and Carol Meyers son Mark has some videos on YouTube. Its great to watch even if its only a minute.

  11. on facebook, join the National Roller Derby hall of Fame….keeps up to date on all the original skaters and personnel, and you can ask questions.

    • I did join the National Roller derby Hall of Fame but what little info that comes out of it is nothing. I did see the 2016 inductees for the hall of fame but like before you really have to have someone who loved the game,as well as the players to keep up.

    • Just to give you an update on my uncle Bill Laurino. Bill is currently in a group home and has been having bouts of dementia for the last couple of years. We lost Aunt Joanne in March from a long battle with cancer. I am still hoping to get him in the Hall of Fame for all he did early on as a skater, manager, and coach with the teams he had the honor of being a part of. I remember a lot of the skaters coming to our home whenever they came into Chicago to have a great Italian meal. Ann Calvello, Joanie, and Tarry Lynch. Bombers, Westerners, T-Birds, didn’t matter they all loved Bill.

  12. I met Charlie when he opened the Char-Vic Restaurant and Lounge in Danville California. We hit it off right away when we discovered we had the same birthday. I lost track of him after the Char-Vic failed and my company relocated. For some reason his wife used the name “Vicki” even though all the internet info says he married Mike Gammon’s ex Judi McGuire. Had a lot of good times with Charlie.

    • Charlie had a wife before Judy who had passed away. I knew Charlie when he owned the Parker House Bar in San Leandro Ca. His wife Judy worked in a bank.
      There was another roller derby guy by the name of Frankie that worked there also.
      I was in the Navy at that time and spent many a late evening at the bar listening to his stories. I was saddened to hear of his passing.

  13. Thanks Commish for this great posting. I was first drawn to Derby by the great skating of Gerry Murray, Midge Brasuhn, Gene Gammon, Slugger Kealey, Annis Jensen, Mary Youpellr, Red Smartt, Sammy Skobel, etc., etc. They were all great and I stayed a loyal fan with the great newer stars. Ticket prices were low and we developed friendships with fans and skaters. Thank your Dad and thank you for a great almost lifelong experience.

  14. We had a group of people that played roller Darby every wknd … It was are child good dream to become stars….I was Ann calavello…my sister was Joan Weston…we had good fans to come watch….never forget it…never…

  15. Bill Laurino passed away on February 14, 2018. Spent the week before with him and he would still tell stories of his days in Roller Derby. He was a great guy and loved dearly.

  16. My life came full circle two weeks ago on 7/7/18 when a friend I was visiting in Kansas drove me to Des Moines to meet Gerry Murray with whom I’d been in communication for a year. It marked 60 years from the first time I saw her skate in NY. My friend and I took Gerry to lunch and I admit there were tears in my eyes when I dropped her off at her apartment. Just a great lady. Her son, Mike Gammon, was my first sports idol. Gerry turns 98 in September!!

    Sometimes life ain’t all that bad!
    Mike Murray

    • Hi Mike….Was your grand mother a really good cook by the name of Mary…
      really miss you guys…I think I met you once on 12th Street at your grandmothers
      Gary O’dell

    • WOW!! That is fantastic. Although Jerri was a little before my time, I did get to see her skate in the latter years of Derby. What a meeting that must have been!

    • I am very interested on hearing about the old players and what they are doing now. I also don’t understand why dvd are not available of some of the great jammers of the time. Please help me and all the other fans . Thank you

      • The main reason, Claire, is because the majority of games were TAPED OVER! When Roller Derby was at its zenith, they did not have the sophisticated devices they have now for recording something. However, if you look hard enough, there are several DVDs that have some of the best jammers from the Roller Derby, e.g. Tony Roman, Mike Gammon, Larry Smith, Cliff Butler, Eddie Krepps–the list goes on and on! As for the ladies, there were Judy McGuire, Carol “Peanuts” Meyer, Francine Cochu, Delores Tucker, Lydia Clay, and Rosetta Saunders–just to name a few!

  17. I hope some how you can manage to retrieve those wonderful Old Roller Derby Videos of the 60’s, and very early 70’s, surly with today’s technology there just has to be away, I sure do miss them, and so blessed to have watched them. Old Retro Roller Derby In my opinion is still the greatest sport ever!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s