So the big birthday is upon us.
75 years ago my father had no idea that what was a variation on a marathon would become one of the amazing sports stories of the 21st century.
I don’t have to go through the history of the last 75 years; it is in Wikipedia, videos, books, etc, as well as the oral histories of so many skaters who delight in telling the tales of what for many was the best times of their lives.
But there are many things to note about the current state of the game.
First of all, this time there is the best chance for the long-term survival because it has come from the bottom up, rather than from having been seen on television and others wanting to duplicate it. There is a strong natural foundation from the 570 plus leagues and many tens of thousands of participants around the world who don’t just see this as a game to play, but as a cultural event that crosses borders and ethnicities and creates a sisterhood (and now brotherhood also) of people who didn’t even know each other, and the common thread is Roller Derby in their lives.
These are not perfect people in a utopian place: there are many different organizations, and rules, and break-off leagues in the same cities (I believe 6 is the maximum), but the love of the game is there, regardless if it is flat track, banked track or whatever. And with the growth of the junior Roller Derby (I will always capitalize it as long as I live), so much is being done for the empowerment and the teaching of community for young people.
And this is not a career choice. Everybody has something else they are doing in their life from working at a profession to raising children. Right now there are no paid leagues that I know of.
As someone who has lived all of the 75 years (and a bit more), you can imagine the changes in the world I have seen and experienced. The one I am perhaps most proud of (outside of family, of course) is what Roller Derby now represents: a contact sport primarily performed by women that embodies my father’s ideal of his game being a completely legitimate sport that hundreds of thousands of fans are enjoying from New Zealand to Berlin, and undoubtedly will be in the Olympics eventually.
What do I see in the future: several thousand leagues in virtually every country, the continuation of the amateur game owned and operated by the leagues and a fully professional game with full-time paid athletes who will never lose their obligation to the leagues that brought them to that point.
Did Leo Seltzer have any concept of how the game would be on its diamond anniversary in 2010, that there would be over 50 leagues in California alone? Of course not.
On this 75th date of the first appearance of Roller Derby, with its groundbreaking use of women as participants, please honor August 13th whether as a moment of tribute or something more grandiose. The leagues in Brisbane, Nottingham, Chicago, New Zealand, Belgium, Brazil, Berlin, Scotland, and others have all notified that they will.
Be proud of the history of the game. Be even more proud that you have created the fastest growing sport of the 21st century. I love you all, the skaters from my era and those of today and all those who are helping to make the game what it has become.
Leo and I and Ken Gurian and Loretta and all others salute you.
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