Roller Derby and the Military…..was there really a game on an aircraft carrier?


Yes…….more on that later.

My father was very patriotic.  He was too young for World War I and too old for World War II.  But he did all he could for the War effort.  Before the 2nd World War Roller Derby was at its largest in terms of total personnel:  4 “units”, each with two teams playing across the country.  The teams did not interchange, as in those days Derby played in cities from 14 to 28 days in a row, depending on the size of the city and the love of Derby.  So the teams were “white shirts”  (home favorites) and “red shirts” (non favorites).  When they went from Cincinnati to Kansas City, the home team was Kansas City, the visiting team St. Louis, etc.

When the War came my father told all the skaters that if they went into the service or worked in War industries, they were guaranteed their jobs back when the war ended.  The Derby was down to one traveling unit of those who did not qualify for the service or did not get a wartime job.

There were always free tickets for the military, and promotions to sell war bonds.

When the War ended, most skaters came back.  Some who felt they were too old or didn’t want to do it went into other professions, got married, etc.  (Some 20 years later when I was operating the League, a skater who I had known from the 40’s came up to me at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco and told me he wanted his job back as Leo had promised.  Unfortunately his skating skills were gone, and we got him a job selling programs…..you have to be careful what you promise.)

During the Korean war my father worked with the Army and USO to arrange a tour for Roller Derby to go the Far East to play for the troops.  One of the skaters later told me they landed in Bangkok for refueling and a stop over (no jets, then), and the players freaked out when the officer who greeted them was Captain Seltzer.  He was my first cousin Lloyd who was an officer in the Air Force as was his brother Bob Seltzer.   Of the four Seltzer cousins (including Sherman, see post about him) who were in the service, I was the only enlisted  man.

When I was operating Roller Derby we also tried to do something for servicemen and women.  When we would play in Hawaii, games were scheduled on a consistent basis at Pearl Harbor and Schofield Barracks.  But I was thrilled when I was contacted by the US Navy in Alameda, Ca, to schedule a game on the carrier, USS Ranger.  I told them there would be no charge and all personnel would be free, but we needed help with the logistics.  So they provided the transportation and personnel to set up the track on the  hangar deck (first deck down), and an official game was played.

The commander of the ship sat in a special chair trackside .  There were a few bleachers, but most of the sailors stood.  One time I look over at the Captain, and my then 6-year old daughter Ellen had crawled onto his lap…..he seemed fine with it.  The event was a huge success.

As a result of this game, I was invited to go on the family day “cruise” when all personnel’s family left on the ship from Alameda, went under the Golden Gate Bridge and many miles out into the Pacific.  They then had their jets take off and eventually land.  I think it was the most terrifying noise I have ever heard.  They fed us on the way back….Quite a day.

The other game we gave that was interesting was to San Quentin for the prisoners and personnel……Luckily, Calvello did not cause a riot.

6 comments on “Roller Derby and the Military…..was there really a game on an aircraft carrier?

  1. Just remembered something……the planes did not land on the carrier……they flew to the Naval Base in Alameda…..Obviously they did not want the guests on board to be subject to any kind of risk!

  2. That’s awesome, and a great morale-builder.

    As for the prison… wow. I was thinking awhile ago how great it would be to bring derby to the kids at my work (especially the young women) and then tried to imagine the freakouts management would have about contraband and safety issues.

  3. Pingback: Roller Derby Stuff - Link Shovin' 27-05-2014 - 909's Fresh Meat Tips

  4. So AWESOME! I worked for years at a locked juvenile detention center. One of my crowning achievements was getting a bout put on for the youth in their gym. It was quite the security process, getting everyone/ everything in (especially skate tools!). The kids LOVED it! They DJ’d, kept score for us, made programs, refreshments, & MVP trophies. I worked primarily in the girls unit, and for many, it really helped to change the way they thought about themselves & what is possible. Thanks for letting me share! The Rehabiliskater of Maine Roller Derby

  5. thanks, Lisa……I don’t think the potential of what can be done with Roller Derby has even been scratched!

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