When many people think of Roller Derby of the 60’s and 70’s, the names of stars come to mind: Charlie O, Joan Weston, Ken Monte, Ann Calvello, Ronnie Robinson, Margie Laszlo, Bob Woodberry, Cliff Butler, Bob Hein, Buddy Jr, Bert Wall, Bobbie Mateer, and more. (Where’s Loretta? She wasn’t skating Roller Derby when I took the helm.)
Actually it was the secondary players that made the game what it was. It is not really fair to call them secondary players, but since we were concerned with who would draw the fans in, we knew the teams would have to be led by one or more of the skaters above to be meaningful to the box office. And it was a very different game: a maximum of 8 players of each sex on a team. The rules were different: the pivot skater could be a scorer if necessary; there were two blockers and two jammers, and they could change positions between jams. The players were penalized, not the helmets, and a maximum of two could be in the penalty box at one time.
Here are some names you may have heard: Mike Gammon, Judy McGuire, Pete Mangone, May Mangone, Nick Scopas, Jan Vallow, Frank Macedo, Eddie Krebs, Lydia Clay, Cathy Read, Sandy Dunn, Carol Meyer, Delores Tucker, Lou Donovan, Judy Sowinski, Larry Smith, Francine Cochu, Jerry Cattell, Judy Arnold, Rosetta Saunders, Sam (Lia) Tiapula, Dewitt Quarles, Joe Foster, Gil Orozco, Ann Bauer, Pete Boyd, Bobby Seever and don’t get mad if I didn’t list you; just remind me.
You could only have so many “stars” on a team or the game wouldn’t work. I always thought our worst games were the annual All Star matches between the top stars of the East and the West, because all the roles of the game weren’t properly executed.
The secondary list probably would have become the superstars of the future, but our time ran out. The real game was in the pack: helping your players get out on a jam, stopping the opposing team from doing so; chasing down the jammers that had gotten out, and of course helping your players get points and stopping the opposition.
Roller Derby was and is a game of the pack. If you control the pack, it makes no difference how great the opposing jammers are, you will have control of the game. And the above skaters made the game exciting so that the stars looked good. Of course there was a reason they were stars; almost always defined so by the fans, but their skills depended on the team, even in the exhibition style of skating.
I loved watching Bill Groll in the pack; Roman and Gammon jamming, the physicality of Sandy Dunn, Lydia Clay who had greater skills than anyone realized.
Today’s Roller Derby is a complete team game. The skill level will only get better and better and right now most don’t have to worry about pleasing the audience, only themselves. The future has not been defined yet, but it will. Today there are 14 more leagues than there were just two weeks ago (approaching 800). It is well on its way to becoming the major sport it should, and you all must work toward increasing your local audience. Your game will bring them in…..you just have to let your community be aware of what you’re doing.