after 75 what?

I have taken a break from writing for a while.

Saturday night was amazing.  The National Roller Derby Association had a 75th anniversary function at the Clarion Hotel at the SF Airport to honor all the wonderful skaters and personnel from the start until today.


Photo by East Bay Roller Derby


It was the first dinner that I had attended that had both the original skaters and today’s participants. Because the Bay Area Derby Girls were skating in San Diego they couldn’t attend, and the Silicon Valley Roller Girls were also competing.  On hand were representatives from Chico, from East Bay Roller Derby and from Sugartown (Oxnard CA) Roller Derby.  Interestingly enough, all the Roller Girls (who were dressed up and gorgeous) sat on the left side of the room, and on the right side (also dressed up and gorgeous) were the skaters, fans, and family from the first 40 years.

Representing the players from the ’30s was Mary Youpelle, who skated as “Pocahontas” Youpelle – there was no worry about politically correct in those days.  Mary is part native American.  She took the microphone and chided today’s skaters for using toe stops.  “They are for dancing, not for Roller Derby.”  She also gave instructions on wheels, suspensions and bearings.  Once a Roller Derby Star, always one.

Carole “Peanuts” Meyer had recently had knee surgery, but she was there with Mark and the rest of her family.  Bomber women’s captain Margie Laszlo came up from Las Vegas with the irrepressible  Loretta “little Iodine” Behrens.  All the greats who lived nearby including Eddie Krebs, Jan Vallow and more attended, as well as Pete Boyd from New York and many more.  I am doing a disservice by not naming all.    And of course Cliff Avery (Butler), who along with Karlos Ray, “Blades” Gallagher, Georgia Haase and Bob put together the whole awards program and music.


Photo by Coach Kutthroat Chico


So what was the purpose?  The NRDA is preparing for the next step: training skaters on the banked (and flat) track for a professional career, even though none is available now for a fully legitimate game.  The Sugartown Derby Girls raised over $25,000 and are building their banked track in Oxnard.  Soon a number of leagues will be following.  And I understand that Judy Sowinski is doing the same in Philadelphia.

The ultimate purpose is to provide a professional outlet for those who want it, and hopefully help support the amateur leagues in existence.  It is apparent that funding is required for all of the leagues and although some can make it on their own now because of the ability to draw sufficient crowds in their facilities to bear some of the league costs, but they represent a miniscule amount of the total leagues.  And there is a catch 22 here:  to move the large arenas and to promote the matches sufficient to get a large crowd requires a large amount of money.

This fact is why I feel some major promoters who see the future of this game will step up when they realize how successful this game can be given the proper exposure.

The evening ended with Anti Social bringing her team across the room as well as Sugartown and the other Roller girls on hand to meet and mix with the prior generations of skaters.  And they all agreed that Roller Derby was the greatest thing in their life.  Today’s Roller Derby may be very different than my father envisioned, but it is wonderful as are the people in it and the hundreds of thousands who follow it world wide and on the Derby News Network and all the other media outlets and social networks.

It is doubtful if I will be around for the 100th anniversary, but most of you will, and you can look back and say I was a part of it or I helped support it so it could continue to prosper and grow.


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6 comments on “after 75 what?

  1. The future of this game is it’s past…. banked track.

    We must invest our time and efforts in the DIY banked track leagues such as Arizona Derby Dames, LA Derby Dolls, TXRD, etc. as well as the efforts of the OSDA to train professional banked track skaters. Kitten Trax provides a turnkey banked track solution for any group who has the money and the venue for a build.

    With that said, the flat track world will continue to be the workhorse of the sport of roller derby. This is a sport that can be played on almost any flat surface and bouts/games can be held in everything from a high school gym to a place like the Key Arena. Amateur flat track derby leagues (a la WFTDA, OSDA, etc.) must continue to remain a major fixture in the overall roller derby picture. I do not feel that these leagues should be threatened by a professional banked track game. If anything, flat track roller derby will give a version of the game that is more accessible to the everyday person and can be a good training ground for potential professional banked track skaters.

    Just recently here in Phoenix, a city that boasts 3 flat track and one banked track league, the Arizona Derby Dames, the local banked track league held tryouts. This was done about a couple of weeks after their Championship bout. They had 101 girls show up to try out. Only 40 of them would make the cut (they only had 40 slots open).

    You put a banked track in a city, they will come. I feel the same will hold true for pro franchises.

    As we have seen with virtually every LADD game being a sell-out, 4-figure attendance at Arizona Derby Dames and record flat-track attendances at Rat City and Minnesota, the fans are out there and other potential sports fans will come on board if the sport is more exposed to them.

    Now, if we can just get ESPN to take the DIY flat and banked track games seriously.

  2. Prepare to read War and Peace. Sorry.

    As for toe stops versus NTS (no toe stops) plates that’s something that is worth looking into. However I think both camps probably have it a fair bit wrong, with the truth being somewhere down the middle.

    Modern derby skaters tend to be too reliant on their toe stops, and shouldn’t be using them to stop or slow via dragging them. The only good use of them is to come to a dead stop when you’re barely moving (and mohawk stops).

    Instead there are snow plow stops (for slowing), hockey stops (for quick stops), T stops (which are better done with a 45 degree angle than a 90 degree one so as to avoid flat spotting wheels) and mohawk stops (turning around, and stopping in reverse on your toe stops).

    One professional derby skater/coach/manager whose opinion I respect says that the ban on toe stops may have been somewhat politically motivated. Roller Derby skaters were banned from rinks by an association of rinks (who perhaps didn’t want fights on their rinks or young ladies getting blocked in the “tickets”). So the response was perhaps to remove the trappings of amateur rink skaters. 10 degree plates with toe stops.

    Back in those days speed skaters used 45 degree NTS plates. Casual rink skaters tended to use 10 degree plates with stops. Derby skaters were at some point required to use the former by Buddy Atkinson at the training school, so they did.

    If you check the lineup pics, you’ll start to see some toe stops (and maybe 10 degree plates?) popping up in Roller Games by the 1980s. Apparently on that side it wasn’t considered heresy, just a personal preference.

    At some point in the 1990s, quad skates went by the wayside. Inlines took over speed skating almost overnight. Quad skates were left to figure skaters, traditionalists, nostalgics and little girls whose moms who “want her to have what I had.”

    Somewhere around this time Riedell and Sure-Grip ended their mult-decade marriage? Once upon a time Riedell made the boots, and Sure-Grip provided the plates and wheels. I had to throw this in for the next part to make sense.

    Both started making their own complete packages and buying up smaller competitors to fill the holes in their lines (or to simply eliminate them, like Riedell did with boot maker Oberhamer). Sure-Grip came up with three or four lines of boots. Riedell buys or creates lines of plates and wheels.

    If you’re Riedell and you know that roller derby and speed skating on quads are both basically dead, there really is no need or drive to develop a plate with a 45 degree action. All that’s left on quads is casual rink skaters and what’s left of figure and dance skating. Session skaters and kids are the bulk of the market (both using DA10 plates with stops). Your nephew or cousin’s company fights for the kids and uber-casual retail skate market with Chicago (who ceded figure to Riedell?).

    Sure-Grip keeps on selling their single action 45 degree plates (with and without stops), and fewer skaters buy them. They buy up Snyder to get the higher end of that market.

    In the mid 2000s, roller derby makes a comeback. Riedell seems to do better with their marketing. Skaters by and large get sold packages, with everything coming from one company. More of them buy Riedells, so their skates can only come with 10 degree plates. 45 degree plates are kind of pitched on one skate shop’s site as something odd that old school derby skaters curiously swear by.

    Maybe because the first new league that started up watched tapes of WRF derby, every jam starts from a dead stop rather than with the skaters still coasting from the last jam. Skaters rely on their toe stops to START (I try to encourage skaters to think of them as toe STARTS, not STOPS). Hopefully not to stop.

    They DO use them for jumps. Jammers often “leap the apex” as a risky gambit to legally cut across the infield. If they land out of bounds they can get nailed for track-cutting, if they hit someone before landing they’d probably get a misconduct for a “flying squirrel.”

    One banked track league I know forces newer skaters to replace their toe stops with jam plugs until they are less reliant upon them. I’d try to get that done here if it wouldn’t cause an uproar. There is a bit of a move by some in the modern derby community toward from 10 degree plates to 45s. One thing that is helping with that is that Sure-Grip now has a double action 45 degree (DA45) truck that fits all their old single action (SA45) plates. This could help them by whetting skaters’ whistles for what their subsidiary Snyder has with their higher priced Royal and Imperial models (both are DA45 plates).

    Sure-Grip has gone as far as to introduce a $200 skate that includes a “sport mounted” (mounted a bit short and forward) DA45 Invader. The demand for this package has apparently outstripped their ability to supply them fast enough.

    Does that mean everyone will be skating 45 degree plates tomorrow? No, probably not. Skaters buy what most of their friends buy. What the best skater in their league skates. What they see Bonnie Thunders and DeRanged skating. At present that’s probably Riedell boots mounted on $300 DA10 Reactors with toe stops.

    My league has two top travel team skaters on DA45 Snyder Royals and another on converted-to-DA45 rare Sure-Grip White Magnums (lightweight magnesium plates). One of those mounted on high-end Riedell boots, another on heat-molded Bonts (Aussie boot company trying to gain a toehold in the derby market) and another in some nice Vanilla Brash Knuckles (jam skate company trying to break into derby market).

    I try to talk skaters here into moving away from package skates and toward building a skate with the right boots (probably a Riedell, maybe something else) and the right plates (probably NOT a Riedell).

    Presently Riedell is the 800 lb gorilla. Unless they NEED to develop a 45 degree plate to keep on top of the market (and they are decidedly atop it) they will keep on making plates you have to fight to turn in. They buy more ads and have more skaters on their plates, so they have the mind and market share.

  3. The event, I wager, was perhaps symbolic of the fact that the concept of Leo’s is on the horizon of no longer being considered a joke, that midgets, fat ladies, leaving Kansas City forever and briefcase slugging will be nothing more than a tainted memory.

    And as for being around for it’s 100th, no one I know in sports or entertainment defies logic and odds better than you, Jerry, so I’d go ahead and make your reservations now. Bay area Traffic will be murder in 2035 : >

  4. As always Jerry your right on the ball keeping everyone informed for the future of whats to come in the world of derby
    We all had a great time, & soon it wil lbe time again for the Roller Derby Has-beens reunion.
    Looking foward to having these gals come and join and meet the past to start another future.

  5. Jerry – what an excellent review of the 75th celebration. I am so happy to see how you’ve helped bridge the gap between the old and the new.

    I am also very grateful that you mentioned Judy Sowinski and her efforts of the OSDA PRO Division in Philly.

    Please check out the website — for more info.

    The day is coming soon when there will be fully trained Roller Derby skaters who can put on a fully legit no-nonsense Roller Derby game.

    I am very proud to be a member of the movement on the East Coast and it’s exciting what Carlos, Cliff, Blades and everyone else involved with the NRDA are doing on the West Coast!

    I know there are others too with plans for a banked track and within the next couple years you will see a major return of professional banked track Roller Derby!

    Keep on writing, Jerry. Your blog is always a treat!

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