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 (www.rollerderbycommish.com)
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…..