We are the Champions of the World

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This was the championships in Chicago two years ago……It was the best one I have seen out of the three to date…Chicago was old home week to me, the Palmer House was wonderful, the Windy City Rollers treated me wonderfully, and my friend Marsha Jordan at ABC was kind enough to do a wonderful feature on the event.

I will see my fourth championship this coming weekend in Atlanta, and I will be at the Roll Models booth (best uniforms going), giving away trinkets and having autographed Derby books as usual.  It will be great, but not the magic of Chicago where the game originated.  And I have the feeling this will be the last WFTDA tournament I will attend….Please drop by!

I had not been back to Chicago for a while.  I got off of the plane, got my suitcase and wheeled it for miles, it seems, as I wanted to take the train to the Loop.  For just $2.25 I was able to go just 18 stops till Monroe, get out and pull my 50-pound case up 50 or so stairs and walk a block and a half to the Palmer House.

It brought back memories of my high school days in Skokie and my college days at Northwestern…..we would come to the Palmer House for the big events at the Empire Room and  the after prom parties.  The lobby looked the same, the huge painted ceiling and the none cookie-cutter feeling of the Marriotts, Holiday Inn, Ramadas etc.  The room was tiny but cozy, with the marble bathroom floors I had remembered.

I had a phone call from Marsha Jordan, whom I had first met 38 years before after our sold-out game at White Sox Park (50,000 plus).  Marsha is an Emmy winning journalist and producer at ABC 7 in Chicago and she had thought it would be a good idea for WLS-TV to cover the event for the Windy City Rollers (When will other media catch on to what a huge event Roller Derby has become?).  So I rushed over to the UIC Pavilion where the last game of the first day was taking place.  Marsha interviewed people from the WCR and me (for old time’s sake) and I got to say hello to Val Capone and others and DNN put me on the air.

When I got back to the hotel there were many of the leagues who had come from everywhere for this 12-team tournament composed of the regional winners.  And most had not qualified for the final.  I sat down and had a nice glass of Coppola wine with three beautiful women from the Gainesville league.  The all worked in some scientific capacity in that University town and all had attended University of Florida.  Roller Derby had become so important in their lives;  two out of three were married, the third had her boyfriend there.  They were happy that Gainesville was surviving as at least 6 other leagues in Florida had not been able to sustain the tremendous effort to keep Roller Derby alive.  I know it is wrong to generalize, but these women typified what I had come to know about Derby girls, open, confident and supportive of their league and their community.

I talked to many others that night:  the women of Naptown (Indianapolis), Charm City (Baltimore), Nashville, Olympia, Rocky Mountain and on and on.  Olympia is the Green Bay of WFTDA:  all the other finalists were from major US Cities, but Olympia – the defending national champions of the WFTDA – is a town of 37,000, some 60 miles south of Seattle.  They have many speed skating champions on their team as well as a major training program.

Remember, all of these people have to raise the money to get to these tourneys; some of the teams stayed 5 to a room.  Many had driven from far locations.  An unbelievable story is two skaters on Oly (sisters) had babies just four weeks apart, just 8 weeks ago and four weeks ago, and both skated and their husbands were on hand taking care of the babies when necessary.  And because the airlines would not allow the four-week old baby to fly (!), they had driven the 35 hours from Olympia to Chicago……talk about sacrifices!

Everyone was so good to me and appreciative of my family’s contribution to the history of Roller Derby (the first game had occurred just two miles from the hotel 75 years ago at the Coliseum which had been torn down).  And from my facebook postings and these blogs and the games I have gone to, they were aware of how devoted I am to what they are doing.  I finally fell asleep at about 1 AM feeling very good.

There were games all day long on Saturday starting at 9:30 AM.  I couldn’t make that one (time difference and all) but was there for the 11:30 game on.  It is amazing how far along the skating has come since I started watching in 2005:  the teams were beginning to focus on pack play which is the real strategic part of the game:  how to help your jammer while getting the other blockers out of the way and then making the pack ready to block the opposing jammer trying to score and clearing the blockers so your jammer could score.  The two best at utilizing the concept: Rocky Mountain and Oly, although others including Gotham Girls, Philly, B.A. D.,Kansas City, Nashville, Windy City and the others were not far behind.  And the dozens (maybe a hundred) other leagues on hand watched and learned to take back to their cities.

I have to say a word about how this tourney was run; as a former promoter who rented more arenas than you can imagine, it was amazing to me how the volunteers from WFTDA and the Windy City Rollers ran the Nationals.  UIC Pavilion is a great facility with about 7500 seats available for the tourney.  Volunteers were everywhere and helpful. I spent some time with a nice man who was in charge of the building for this event.  He mentioned how wary they were when they first rented it to the WCR when they saw the tattoos etc, but he said these are the nicest tenants they deal with and the fans show the most respect for the arena……is everything about Roller Derby so great?

I got to see Misty Greer, Ms Dolan, so many others of my favorites that my head spins.  I was able to see the Gotham Girls for the first time and could understand why they epitomize to so many people what the modern Roller Derby is all about.  Bonnie Thunders set a championship record by scoring over 100 points in the third place game!  Suzy Hotrod seemed to be on every jam.

On Sunday was the most intensive skating I have seen in the modern-day sport as Oly and Rocky Mountain from the opening whistle to the end slugged it out like Mohammad Ali and Joe Frazier.  Skaters were hitting the floor and getting up immediately; jammers were flying around the track; blockers were working overtime.  When it finally ended Rocky Mountain had become the new National Champions by the slimmest margin: 147-146.  The winners went crazy, the losers crestfallen temporarily, but then in the spirit of Derby were smiling and warmly embracing the women from Denver.  No slow play or stopping, thank goodness.

And Leo was there, and Ann Calvello was there, and Toughie was there, and Ivy King was there, and Ma and Billy Bogash were there and Joan Weston was there, and all of Roller Derby was there and holding hands in a circle and saying thank you for Derby Love.

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22 comments on “We are the Champions of the World

  1. Great write-up, Jerry! Makes me wish I’d been there in person even more. There were so many people watching online it overwhelmed at least one streaming service. I also read that this was the best-attended Championship tournament yet (per Mo “Quadzilla” Sanders). From a video Mo posted on Facebook, I’ll take his word for it.

    At least two skaters from my league attended, I told one of them to look out for you.

  2. Great write up, SOOO wish I could have been there, the finals were AMAZING! loved watching in from home chatting to derby fans all over the world Sunday evening (in London, UK) I am so happy that I found roller derby!! lots of derby love from me and the LRR x

  3. Great posting about these events and how these gals are taking derby now to more of a professional level.
    Like any thing new when the kinks all get iron out and learning about playing defective & offencive & understand that derby is a sport and a great game once you learn to play by the rules.
    I have seen many of these gals when they first started out and the work & effort to keep it growing is just wonderful.
    I have seen many now becoming the teachers for the new groups forming,many have found not only flat track is growing & so will bank track become separate and be just as exciting as the flat track skaters.
    Looking forward to hearing about many others groups all over the world now spreading this news.
    Jerry you have been a wonderful help in keeping the name of the Derby with your great writting & being able to travel and meeting many of these wonderful skaters.
    Looking forward in seeing you soon here in Las Vegas.
    Great going Ladies were Proud to say it now here to stay
    My best to all groups
    Loretta ‘Little Iodine’ Behrens

  4. Well done indeed! Great work. The event was just as your described so eloquently. You painted the picture very well. That Palmer House really is something else. Great service too. Pleased to hear that the UIC venue was so pleased as well.

  5. Great article. It is always so nice to see how much sentiment you have for derby and your past.
    I have noticed something, however: you seem to have a bias against Rocky Mountain. They get a couple of brief mentions in an article about the championship, which they won. Oly gets more mention – a story about their sacrifices and this: “The winners went crazy, the losers crestfallen temporarily, but then in the spirit of Derby were smiling and warmly embracing the women from Denver.” It kind of makes it sound like Oly was the “bigger” team, deeming RMRG (who made the god awful mistake of going “crazy” to celebrate their win) worthy of congratulations.
    If this was truly an article about the championships, one would think it would contain a congratulations, a pat on the back and some acknowledgement of the hard work of the group of women who came out on top during an amazing tournament.
    This is not the first time you have slighted RMRG. You have stated that RMRG is, in essence, ruining derby with the “slow pack” or “western” strategy, when they utilize every strategy in their arsenal. Slow pack, like it or not, is part of the game now, and is used by many teams because it can be effective. And RMRG didn’t start it. Denver Roller Dolls did. BIG DIFFERENCE.
    You have even gone as far as incorrectly calling them “RCMR” or some such on occasion.
    I know these comments will be attacked and ridiculed because you are so highly revered. But your withholding of praise, or saying anything slighty positive about Rocky Mountain, has not gone unnoticed, and frankly it is beginning to look a little petty.
    RMRG is incredible, but I don’t need to tell derby fans that. Their skating and unbelievable skills speak volumes to the incredible athletes they are.
    A nod from you might be nice.
    Just sayin…

  6. Andrea, ask any of the RMRG women about my feelings for them. I even wore my Tee shirt proudly in Chicago. The fact that I am opposed to the slow pack is based upon the fact that one of the basic Roller Derby rules was that the skaters must skate continuously in a counter-clockwise motion and stopping or blocking backwards would be penalized. It is not the slow pack that should be illegal, but the stopping and blocking backwards. When I went to Denver on behalf of the Dolls I made it a point to meet the Roller Girls last May and have had constant contact with them. I am not perfect, no one is, but as far as my showing the favoritism you mention, it is wrong.

    The point I was making about Oly was one to emphasize how all rollergirls show more sportsmanship than in any other sport and support each other.

    Please check out your opinion with RMRG or any of the other leagues. I support what they all do. Period.

  7. I appreciate your love for the sport. That is evident in what you write. And personally I can’t thank you enough for being so vocal about it. It’s great to see.
    Perhaps I came off a bit harsh. For that, my apologies.
    I am sure your personal dealings with all derby teams are always done with the same love you have for the sport. I don’t have personal contact with you. I was not privy to your wearing of an RMRG shirt. I only read what you put out there. And what I have seen put out there, in your words alone, is what I mentioned in my previous comments.
    RMRG gets a lot of love from a lot of people. And I’m sure they feel a lot of love from you.
    I am merely pointing out what I see, as a casual observer. Honestly, I am not the only one who sees it, but I am probably the only one who will say anything.

  8. Hey Andrea….I know so few real names in the derbyverse I may or may not know you.

    Wanted to correct you a little bit on the whole slow pack strategy – Denver didn’t invent it…Duke City was doing it first, followed closely by Charm City. If you’re going to correct someone’s facts, please make an attempt to do it factually.

    Secondly, as Jerry isn’t an official (skating or non), I believe last I checked he’s allowed to have his own thoughts about whomever he likes. You attack his supposed “prejudices” against RMRG because of a typo and giving more words in his blog to Oly. Last I checked forgetting to spellcheck and wordcount do not a bias make.

    What you maybe didn’t hear was an interview that Jerry gave recently when he was in Denver. He was on a sports radio show with the promoter who works with the Denver Roller Dolls. When the interviewer asked if DRD was the “only derby” we can catch in the Mile High City, at first the promoter (working in his best interest to promote the team that makes him money) cut Jerry off at the pass. After he cut Jerry off, the Commish did something that I will always love him for – began listing all of the leagues in Colorado and where they play. He knew exactly the number and where we were all at. That’s 12 leagues to know about in case you were only concerned with two out of the 4 here in Denver. That, my dear, was Jerry *correcting* someone’s bias.

    Please don’t make our sport out to sound like little kids clamoring for the attention of a valued uncle. Please don’t make us (and that is all of us, not a particular team) sound like we’re petty bitches just because of a little word count, an opinion, or lack of spellcheck.

  9. Andrea,

    It is not easy to convey tone with text, and I believe you did not mean to come off as angry as you did with your comment. However, even in the spirit of it, you are reading a lot more into it than most of us did. All I read was a nice post from a man who is extremely close to the sport, and head over heals in love with it. I certainly felt NO bias or bitterness in his words, only hard-core admiration. If only we could find more fans like Mr. Seltzer!

  10. Jerry and Andrea,

    Sorry I am so late to chime in. I read Jerry’s post soon after he posted, glowed a bit with derby pride, and then did not follow the comments.

    RMRG has found Jerry supportive in many, many ways. He has visited with us at our training facility, chats with us every chance he gets, and wore his RMRG shirt at Championships. He even sought us out to say hello and good luck while we were in Chi-town.

    He’s in a tough spot because he supports and loves all derby. He has opinions about the sport and how it is played, how far it has come and where it is going, and tries to support all leagues. That can be tricky. Sometimes he has bumped into league rivalries that he has had to negotiate. For instance, he wears a group of RMRG buttons we gave him. That got him pinned with an Oly button in Chicago. 😉

    He has done well and I know RMRG has never considered him anything short of supportive.

    That said, Andrea, thank you for sticking up for RMRG when you thought something was awry. We appreciate and need your support as well.

    RMRG didn’t invent slow play, but when it became apparent that it was going to be a part of derby that would not be ousted by the rules, learned how and when to execute it. That’s the beauty of RMRG. Fight Club can do it all and knows when to do it.

    Derby love to you both.

    Dangerous Leigh A’zon
    Rocky Mountain Rollergirls

  11. Loved reading this!
    It was amazing to meet you just before the final game! It was great to be able to watch the bout with you, a moment for the scrapbook.
    Roller Derby has truly changed my life! Forever! I am thankful for all that it has brought to my life everyday!
    Derby Love!
    Old Capitol City Roller Girls
    Iowa City IA

  12. Pingback: 2010 in review « Jerry Seltzer

  13. Dammit, Commish! This is the third time I’ve read this post, and I can never get through it without some strange water ending up on my cheeks. The last paragraph absolutely makes my heart sing.

  14. Reblogged this on RollerDerbyJesus.com and commented:

    I loved this championship….back in Chicago, at the Palmer House, saw Marsha Jordan who created a wonderful video on WLS-TV. Great action, and I was credentialed…..what more could I ask?

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