A number of years ago when I was operating BASS Tickets in the San Francisco Bay Area (a regional computerized ticketing company), I wandered into our phone center and was introduced to a new phone operator, Keith Coppage.
Most of our agents were young: a first job or a transition to what they really wanted to do. Keith was definitely not in that category, and I felt I had met him before.
As time went by I occasionally saw Keith in our main office, which was not unusual. He was an excellent agent, although the hours he could work were limited.
Then I started receiving notes at various times (“September 7th is the anniversary of the first championship playoffs in 1959 at the Cow Palace, when the Bombers lost in the finals to the Chicago Westerners”, etc). Needless to say, it piqued my interest, so I got to know Keith a little better.
Keith’s father took him to see a Bay Bomber game when he was just 9 years old at the Antioch (Ca) Fairgrounds, certainly not the best venue we ever played; outdoors by a grandstand over dirt, but it grabbed Keith and he forced his family to take him to games at the Cow Palace, Coliseum and watched every Sunday night on television when Roller Derby was on.
Now Keith is no trekkie, he went to college and became a teacher at a high school in Concord, CA; not the classiest high school in town, but the one servicing the needs of the newest and poorest residents of the area (I am generalizing again). I guess he teaches English and is also in charge of drama and his students – past and present – adore him.
But he never let go of the obsession. He kept up with Roller Derby and has one of the great collections in America. He is friends with hundreds of other Derbyites. He attended Joan Weston’s training school so he could learn the game better and be near one of his idols.
And he took the odd hours job at BASS to observe me.
Now Samuel Johnson was a man of letters in England, whom a lawyer named Boswell shadowed quite closely and wrote the definitive 2-volume biography of him. I guess there was no Roller Derby at that time because the book never mentions it. But maybe to Keith, I was the Johnson of the 70’s.
I got to know Keith better and realized what a complete person he is; and his writing was amazing. When Rollerjam started, the famous Rolling Stone Photographer Baron Wolman, who had taken some wonderful artistic photos of Roller Derby in the 60s and 70s and I decided to create a book (Baron operates Squarebooks publishing, go to it and see his stuff on rock and roll and the world). So who better to write it than Keith.
And all who read this book (Roller Derby to Rollerjam, the authorized story of an unauthorized sport), realize how the great and humorous story of the game is captured by Keith. see for yourself at http://www.rollerderbycommish.com. Frank Deford among others has given it a glowing review, and you feel Keith on every page.
So yesterday I read a post on facebook by Keith how someone broke into the high school the night before and stole the piano. This district has no money for a new piano; Keith mounts his productions on a shoestring and gets glowing reviews. And to his surprise, so many people responded that Keith posted the following (my summary) “your response is overwhelming, I had no idea how many chums, alums cared……it is so important to me at this time of my life”.
The piano was electric, and he is hoping to get another one donated, or he is really unable to mount the shows…..if you know of any available pianos please friend him on facebook and let him know. Keith, like so many teachers, is not rich, but his love for teaching has been his life’s work.
Keith has just completed a new book on the history of Roller Derby in the San Francisco Bay Area, from 1937 to modern day. It should be out in Spring for Arcadia Press. And he emailed me today, that if he gets any money out of it he would like to donate to the children of the Derby woman from the South Bay Rollers who was brutally killed by her husband last Saturday night.