throughout the years.


Photo by RAWKU5 from stock.xchng.com.

Things change.

Believe it or not, when I went to high school no one shouted or made any noise when a basketball player on the other team was making a free throw.  It was considered bad taste and just wasn’t done.  That went for college games also.

Since we were post war (The War…..have we ever not been in a war since), I guess we were pretty calm by today’s standards.  Rudeness to a teacher just didn’t occur, although there was some lively interplay between students and instructors.  But many of the teachers (particularly men) had served in the armed forces and you just didn’t screw around with them……no graffiti or anything close to it.

When you went to a sporting event, whether baseball, football or basketball, you dressed up.  Men wore ties and jackets, women dresses or nice suits ( no “slacks”).  I am not referring to student games, but for some reason our pants were not drooping.

Then came the sixties and everything went topsy turvy, student protests, Black Panthers, flower powers, drugs, and more.  By then I was already married with children.  Believe it or not, I took over Roller Derby when I was just 26 years of age and was making $125 a week selling wholesale sporting goods, and we had just bought a 3 bedroom, two bath house in Palo Alto Ca on a sixth of an acre lot.  The house cost $22,000.

Roller Derby kind of wrapped me in an insulated world.  Every Sunday I was at Kezar Pavilion where we had our live telecast and also videotaped the last 4 periods of the game for our 110 station television network.  Kezar Pavilion was adjacent to Kezar Stadium where the 49ers played.  There were no dressing rooms in Kezar Stadium, so when the 49ers played a home game they used the tacky dressing rooms in the Pavilion.  Sometimes there was virtually no overlap between the time the players left and our teams arrived, to really scummy and wet dressing rooms.

Kezar Pavilion was and still is where San Francisco public high schools play their basketball schedule.  It is all bleacher seating with two balconies on the end and you can squeeze in maybe 3500 people.  My first visit to Kezar was during my freshman year at Stanford when some friends and I had driven up from Palo Alto to see USF play USC, as Kezar was also USF’s home court at that time.  And I got to see the champion Dons with Bill Russell and K.C. Jones whip USC.

The skaters liked Kezar…..a small bar called the Kezar Club (what else) was right across the street and was a gathering place for fans after the game.  And the Pavilion was a homey intimate building…..It didn’t take many people to make it look full and we would not open the end where the cameras were for seating until all other areas were filled.  The building was quite noisy and with the bright colors of the uniforms and the track it was quite a neon spectacle.

Ashtray from the Kezar Club.

And on television stations all over the country people would watch as each telecast opened with Walt Harris in his wonderful deep, sonorous voice said “Tonight’s game between the Bay Bombers and the Northeast Braves is coming to you from Kezar Pavilion in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco”.  I am sure viewers thought that the most important place to visit when in San Francisco would be this wonderful arena.

Walt, who had broadcast the 49ers games in prior years on KOVR in Stockton/Sacramento never really got his due from KTVU, the station which carried our telecasts and had a very tight ass program director, who thought Roller Derby, although it had terrific ratings,was not to his taste.  Because Walt was the voice of Roller Derby they would not use him on other sports, although he was the director of the San Francisco Giants when they were televised in their away games.  And when we did any out-of-town telecasts, from Madison Square Garden or other cities, we always used Walt whenever possible.

Walt told one story which I really loved.  The Giants were playing the Cardinals in St. Louis and when Walt got off the plane he was with the two very famous Giants announcers:  Russ Hodges who had broadcast the Giants when they were in New York (“The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant!” when the Giants beat the Dodgers on the fateful Thompson home run) and Lon Simmons who is now in the baseball Hall of Fame.  All of a sudden a bunch of fans came running up to get autographs and rushed right by the Giants announcers to Walt.  After he signed a dozen or so they moved on with Russ and Lon grumbling.  Roller Derby was on Saturday night at 10 PM on KPLR in St. Louis and of course Walt was famous, as were all of our skaters.

So in our own way, we were just as underground as today.  Will Roller Derby ever get its just due?

7 comments on “throughout the years.

  1. I never could get my parents to take me to Kezar. My dad took one glance on the screen at fans running pell-mell to the track when the slightest fracas would occur and conclude it wasn’t safe. Instead we went to the “beautiful new Oakland Coliseum Arena” (Walt) or the “world famous Cow Palace” (Walt) or “the intimate Oakland Auditorium” (Jerry) which sat forlornly vacant once the Bombers discovered the Coliseum. After the Derby closed and I was at Cal, with my own car and my own money, dammit, I went to a would-be successor “Bomber” event at Kezar. It was an emotional experience for me. Dad used to say, driving past the Antioch Fairgrounds, “We’re driving past hallowed grounds!” because that was where I’d first seen the Bombers. Going to Kezar was like being in the Roller Derby living room. Cigarette smoke, year-old hot dogs and deafeningly loud as an airplane hanger. The best place in the world.

  2. My Dad used to take me to the boxing matches at Catholic University in Wash. D.C. during the late ’50s and early ’60s. All the men wore tuxedos, there was no yelling or cheering during the rounds, at the end of each round and at the sound of the 30 second warning bell you could politely “applaud”. Times are very different.

  3. Jerry, here’s a funny one for you. One of the sportscasters for the modern KPLR (well, actually now he mostly does location reporting for KTVI) is a skater with the St. Louis GateKeepers. 🙂

    • We were on KPLR Saturday night at 10 PM and had a tremendous rating and following. When we played St. Louis we were at the old Kiel Auditorium (10,000 seats) and would sell out in advance. The sports editor of the Post Dispatch was at the game and turned to me and said “how did this game sell out when there where no stories in our sports pages?” Welcome to the age of electronic media and today to social media.

  4. Jerry – you probably remember when it was considered bad taste to clap during or after the singing or playing of the national anthem. I believe the 60’s was when that changed too.

    For many of us, the simpler times were better times.

    I sure do miss my weekend Derby fixes!

    Joe

  5. I was so excited to find Kezar when we visited two years ago. I was determined to enter although the doors were locked. Found an open office door in the back, and walked right in with wife and kids (thinking I was nuts). Office staff let us wander around and take photos. It was Wrigley Field to me.

  6. One of my fondest memories of a trip to San Francisco for a National Roller Derby Hall of Fame event was entering Kezar for the first time with you as our guide. It was something I will never forget. Kezar Pavilion was, and is, hallowed ground for Roller Derby fans everywhere.

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