you are 79, whither thou skateth?


In spring of 1935 Leo Seltzer was having dinner in Ricketts restaurant with his managers from the walkathon he was operating. He had taken over the management of the Chicago Coliseum and was starting to book events in the historic arena: the site of many of Chicago’s shows and expositions, including the 1896 Democratic National Convention.

They were discussing what to book after the “walkie” ran its course in the summer. The building was not air conditioned (none were at that time) so there were no tenants looking for a place to book.

Leo had just read a factoid in the (now defunct) Literary digest: that over 90% of all Americans roller skated at some time in their life. “You know”, he said, “we could make a roller skating game.” The others scoffed: “Leo, that is the craziest idea you have ever had, and you have had a few”

So on August 13, 1935, he presented the first Roller Derby to Chicago and the world: a marathon on skates, a team a man and a woman, and the object over 30 days to skate across America (as pictured by a map on the wall with electric lights), and the first couple to achieve it would receive a prize of $500.

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/roller-skating-derby-in-new-york click link to see the original marathon.

So approximately 10 couples took off on a race to nowhere in a game that has evolved, survived several shutdowns, and today is played by almost 2000 women, men and junior leagues in 49 countries.

And very soon the game will be 79 years old and the birthday will be celebrated by leagues everywhere.

Rollercon this year showed the maturity of the modern game. (by the way, next year Rollercon will be 10, Roller Derby 80; how will Ivanna deal with the convergence?). Every day there were game after game, showing the diversity of the rules, the players, and enjoyed by all on hand.

But all is not serene in skateland. Those who have read my previous post and the comments of Sandi Mustang Johnson on her facebook page know that there is some discontent throughout the skate world. And all who participate should look at the problems, if you acknowledge there are any.

In the discussions generated by the previous postings, the following seem to be of the greatest concern:

1. The game had become boring to fans and spectators, and attendance was decreasing sharply in many areas.

2. As the sport keeps growing, there were too many leagues in compacted areas.

3. The smaller leagues were suffering because of the rankings, and perhaps the rules should be modified for leagues not in the top tier,

4. Perhaps there should be clear divisions, with the larger cities in the top tier, and the smaller in a lower tier, only completing amongst themselves.

And more, which you are welcome to add to.

Some skaters only want to train and skate games and do not want to be encumbered with fund raising, ticket selling, or concerned with the costs of presenting games to the public, which brings up the valid point, should many leagues even be in the “promoting” business. The examples of softball and soccer were brought up: why not just play for fun, not charge admission, and exist by the dues of the players and contributions by family, friends, and sponsors?

Obviously some leagues are doing well, and can sell tickets and merchandise and get sponsorships so they can support travel teams, etc. But others complain of difficulty in scheduling because of venue availability, other leagues in the area playing the same dates, and when the emphasis is on the travel team, the lesser players – who pay their dues and fulfill all the functions – have a lesser role.

At 79 reality is really settling in……should there be a quick rule modification to satisfy skaters and fans (unlikely), should leagues in compacted areas merge? Should you consider other rule sets?

If you are facing any of the problems stated, or know others, it may be the right time to try to come up with solutions. Some leagues in Canada and Australia have formed regional leagues to help with scheduling and meaningful competition. Some players (V-Diva from the Philly Roller girls) have formed independent teams to go around and play other rule sets, and some like Teresa TC Mueller and her cohorts have formed Detour Derby, a no drama, no cost to players event that occurs once a week in Colorado….and on and on. And let us not forget the LA Derby Dolls and TXRD for making the skaters and fans happy.

If survival without stress is a concern, take some time to look at your options.

Happy Birthday.

2 comments on “you are 79, whither thou skateth?

  1. What a wild few days it has been after one post to facebook. I am extremely happy to see all the sincere, well thought out comments from all over the world. I’ve made a lot of new friends and lost a few. Like a few have already said, I didn’t really post anything completely original. It was just straight from the heart and meant to bring about some discussion and hopefully some positive changes. One thing is evident. There is no simple fix, and there are multiple right answers. Now, where do we go from here, folks?

    Thank you, Jerry for taking interest in my original post and the discussion following.

    Much love to the Roller Derby family, community, fans, and friends(hope that covers everyone 🙂
    Sandi aka Miss Murder

  2. “some discontent throughout the skate world” is one way of saying it. You have a game that is, in large part, run by and made up of women who have made a career of making bad decisions. These are single moms that, if they work, work as hair dressers, bartenders, tattoo artists, wanna-be fetish and pin up models and the list goes on. This is not to say that all women in these “career” paths are irresponsible or that these are the only kinds of women who play the game. There are also lawyers, nurses, and other professional women. Unfortunately these professional types with families don’t often stay around. They are driven off by the booze hounds who live for afterparty. Leagues are so steeped in drama and a cult like environment that responsible family people simply can not afford to participate. I can not tell you how many times I’ve seen pregnant derby girls smoking and drinking and none of their team members standing up to say “hey, maybe that’s not such a good idea.” USARS has tried to advance the game in a positive direction by removing the sleeze factor and adding a family factor, but WFTDA has fought them so hard that anyone having anything to do with USARS is automatically looked upon as an enemy. In short, derby sells sleeze and has no room for honest competition or family values.

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