Let’s talk about freshies a long time ago.

Our good friend Louisa Kalimeris was so concerned about Freshies in Derby that she created this marvelous site:


She was hoping if those getting into the game could exchange information and get help that their journey could be easier….and of course she was concerned about the bullying that had happened to her and almost drove her out of the sport.

Well in the old days of the Derby (OK, Commissioner, tell us all about it), getting into Roller Derby was much different. It was professional, the players were paid…not much by today’s standards, except for the “top” skaters. Remember, our ticket prices were $1, $2, and $3……playoffs up to $4, and when we played Madison Square Garden we had a $6 top. Of course the fact that rent and reimburseables at the Garden were $40,000 (in the 60’s) had a lot to do with that.

There was no outdoor roller skating to speak of at the time: no inlines, quads had wooden wheels originally (until 1959 when we started using urethane), and virtually no one who came into the game had any skating background. There were a few that had ice skated, but they all had to be taught how to skate on the banked track.

So training schools were established in several areas, including New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and viewers on telecasts were told if they wanted to join the Roller Derby, come down to a training school with a pair of skates with no toe stops. And they did by the hundreds, from all walks of life. And they usually had a former skater training them; they paid $1 for a one and a half hour session until they (only a few) reached the point where they were assigned to a “minor league” team which would keep training (with all the others) and occasionally playing before the professional game.

And getting women to try out was so difficult, that in many situations men were told they couldn’t start training unless the brought a woman to learn also.

Obviously no bullying or harassing at the training school….you were trying to qualify for a job, a career, becoming a super hero, a television star

Training was rigorous, 5 days a week…longer sessions if you showed promise….you learned how to fall (on your butt), how to “take” a rail to not be injured, how not to hurt another skater (the trainer without warning would through a chair in the middle of the moving pack; you either reacted quickly and jumped or fell); and you learned the five stride, the most effective way to skate the track (like the diamond on the flat track), and mainly you learned endurance.

The pack would do a fast pace in training starting at 5 minutes (so many would drop it) eventually going up to an hour….you could not even be considered to go the professional game unless you could do an hour pace, regardless of your other skills.

So you got called up…..now each team had just 7 or 8 men and 7 or 8 women. The pack never stopped (no sissy starting line except at the start of the game), and the top skaters rarely left the track….usually only jammers were substituted….so you waited until someone was injured or sick….and here is how the game was played…notice the differences:

So if you got to play you had better show your skills fast; the new kids were not shown a lot of kindness, and there was some hazing.

But if you made it, you were in Roller Derby, not making a lot (average new skater $25 per game, plus uniforms, skates,medical for skating, per diem on the road, housing on the road, skating 5 or 6 games per week) unlike the top skaters (in 60’s dollars) making $40 K to $60 K but earning every cent of it.

But if you talk to any of the skaters today, they will tell you it was the best time of their life.

2 comments on “Let’s talk about freshies a long time ago.

  1. Jerry, I totally miss that “classic” derby! I have been a statistician with the modern “WFTDA” derby, and I ready to bail from that. I just can’t stand watching “passive” offense ( I have a much less family-friendly term for it), plus the slow pack speeds, blockers skating clockwise after they knock the opposing jammer out of bounds, etc. The WFTDA game’s rules are just bizarre. Look at how long it took them to get rid of two starting whistles for jams, then we had “stroller” derby where teams wouldn’t even skate across the “pivot start line” so some jams had zero activity. And now WFTDA can’t get rid of “passive” offense. (Sorry, folks, going to 30 second penalties won’t change a thing as some teams are even using “passive” offense even when both teams are at full-strength.) Why not just penalize the teams that aren’t skating? Don’t penalize the team that is trying to block the opposing jammer! That team is trying to play derby. The other team that is stalling by not skating should have a skater sent to the box EVERY time they pull that passive stuff!

    Here’s a note to skaters: There are rules to try to keep the pack together to make it harder for jammers to work their way through the pack. The rules weren’t designed for skaters to “game” the system to find ways of breaking the pack so that your jammer gets a free pass. To play the game that way is totally violating the First Rule of Roller Derby (I’m sure all the skaters what the rule is)!

    I fervently hope I can get involved with a derby organization that skates under “real” derby rules, and not the modern WFTDA bizarre rules.

    Rusty Wheeler

  2. suggest you contact Fernando Reguioro with USARs….closer to original game. it is funny, those who think we are the enemy should realize we just want to bring skating and blocking and strategy and excitement back into it…..in a real competitive game.

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