Frank Deford could have destroyed us…the crazy times


Roller Derby was different from other sports…..we were outliers; so our rules toward press, etc were not deferential, because we got so little outside press.

So when Frank Deford from Sports Illustrated got permission to go on the road when we did our annual winter tour, I called the skaters together.  I said don’t get chummy, be careful what you say or do; this is America’s most prestigious sports magazine and we won’t get chances like this again…they all acknowledged, and shook their heads.

Now Frank who just passed away -America’s greatest sportswriter –  and I became lifelong friends but we weren’t at that time in 1968.  He didn’t tell what happened for years, but now here in his own words:

“Unlike other professional athletes, Roller Derby skaters were unaware that you should play up to a writer from a national magazine; rather, they felt no compunction about embarrassing me.  One of the most prominent skaters – let’s call him Tom – was obviously gay, and late one night in Minneapolis, when I was seated with several skaters in a dark hotel bar after a game, he made a move on me.  It was duly noted by those in attendance. As the plot would have it, I had already arranged to ride alone with Tom to Duluth the next day. Also duly noted.”

“When the game began in the packed Duluth arena, I was seated by myself at the press table. After only a jam or two, the Bay Bombers called time out and skated over to a position just above me. There, a cappella, led by their fabled captain, Charlie O’Connell, they looked down upon me and sweetly sang, “Here comes the bride.”

“I was mortified, but then it dawned on me that none of the baffled Duluth patrons understood what was going on, so I blew kisses to the Bombers, and the game resumed.”

Frank didn’t reveal the story until 40 years later, thankfully.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking News: All meet to work together to assure future of Roller Derby


I never thought it would happen, and I don’t know how they managed to keep it quiet…..there were so many involved.

It was at the Palmer House in Chicago Saturday and Sunday.

There were the heads of WFTDA, USARS, MADE, MRDA, JRDA (including Claire Ashcroft from the UK!), and a rep from Renegade Derby. And reps from Roller Derby in Australia, Canada, UK, Brazil, Mexico, Sweden and I am not sure where else. And of course April Ritzenhaler from TXRD and Demolicious from LADD.

Val wasn’t there, but I saw Juanna Rumbel; Jane Hammer and Demanda Riot; Suzy; Lara Irons (Hot Wheels); Sandi Mustang Johnson (the troublemaker): Elle Hoar (who has put together a regional league in Canada); Tony Muse; Justice Feelgood Marshall; Szerdi Nagy(South Africa); Angie Kls from France; Elektra Q Tion; Ivanna S Pankin; Brandy Rettig; Teresa TC Miller; Carly Marie; from original Derby: Loretta Behrens, Judy Arnold, Cliff Butler, John Hall, all of whom have worked in training modern Derby skaters (I guess Buddy Atkinson, Jr couldn’t make it); Debbie Rice, Mark Weber, and Quadzilla from Rollerjam and today, and more….sorry I can’t list you all.

and the purpose of the conference (believe it or not!): to all work together to present a combined front in 2015 so that the Game would work for all; leagues big and small, the fans, and of course, the skaters.

On hand to serve as chairwoman and chairperson: Mia Hamm and Andy Dolich. Mia of course brought women athletes to the forefront with her abilities in the Olympics (and did a lot for sports bras also). Andy, the former marketing and operating head for the Oakland Athletics, Golden State Warriors, and consultant to the 49ers now heads his own sports firm and has always recognized the potential of Roller Derby. And Marsha Jordan from ABC TV Chicago and other members of the press were there, including Robin Graves, Vic “Moxie”, Five on Five, and Hit and Miss, and Rollin’ News.

Also there as observers and possible contributors, Windyman, Bob Noxious, Judi Flowers,Erin “Lucy dynamite” Loggia, Donna “The Hot Flash” Kay,  Bill Yates, Frank Deford and others.

there was a general session on Saturday morning, defining the areas to be covered: rules, operating standards, marketing, officiating, and more. Then there were breakout sessions: Rules to try to combine the best (from the skaters and fans view) rules to make the game more accessible: should jams be 1 minute, 90 seconds, 2 minutes long? Should all skaters be permitted to block at all times? how could the rules be simplified for less penalties, should there be a limit on scoring an any play? Should there be different levels of rules depending on the quality of the leagues? As you can see, a very difficult agenda.

One group was dealing with the problem of supersaturation in market areas: could leagues be combined? should there be mini leagues in geographical areas to increase fan interest? and of course more.

Another was focused on marketing, ticket sales, and merchandising, with Bob Noxious and Judi Flowers and Andy Dolich lending their expertise.

There was a wonderful dinner in the Empire Room Saturday night, sponsored of course by Scott Riegelman of Riedell…..and everyone got along so well…there appeared to be great progress. There were to be two more breakout sessions on Sunday, and then the final gathering Sunday afternoon to try to present and vote on actual procedures to be put in place.

I was seated between Hot Wheels and Szerdi Nagy; suddently I couldn’t hear anything because of the incessant barking.

And that damn Bishop woke me up….

So he helped with the creation of modern Roller Derby but didn’t know it: Frank Deford


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Frank Deford passed away yesterday.

Frank has been a friend for longer than either of us want to think about. And he laughingly said “You will always be the Commissioner.”

I related elsewhere how we met in Oakland and he ended up writing the longest piece ever for a single issue of Sports Illustrated to date about the Roller Derby The March 1969 article was read by 10 million people, a different 10 million than the 15 million that watched our games every week on television across America and Canada. He created a whole new base of understanding about our strange game.

Had he been a fan of Roller Derby when he wrote it? No, he was fascinated with the concept of “barnstorming”, the one nighters we did across America for 4 months of the year; the people who were in it, behind it, who came to watch and why. And Roller Derby was a working class sport, without the high salaries and ticket prices that folks even then were complaining about. And service charges were not outrageous then, but still higher than the 99 cents that Brown Paper tickets charges on all tickets.

And after I had spent time cautioning the skaters about what they said to Frank (as he put it) “they opened their guts” and he got everything he wanted to write for the article and the book….and one prominent male skater made a pass at him, which he was kind enough not to mention to me until years later…..not a great tolerance by society for gay athletes at that time. And he seemed to have captured a pretty accurate image of me in that era.

Frank wasn’t a skater outside of occasional sojourns to a skating rink. He played basketball in high school and in college until his coach told him he wrote better about the game than playing it. And he developed as a writer and today writes about a lot more than sports, delivers an occasional piece for Sports Illustrated, has a weekly commentary on Wednesdays for NPR radio, and does occasional features on HBO Real Sports…..this time of year he and Carol are in Key West where he is working on his 19th book.

Out of the article came “Five Strides on the Banked Track”, the seminal book on Derby that is in such demand that it disappears from libraries and sells on Amazon for as much as $650. Little Brown did an initial small printing, and the book disappeared (including my copy).

So after all these years after the demise of the original Roller Derby, after Rollerjam came and went, modern Roller Derby is here. And Frank is thrilled. He has watched games on the internet and is amazed that a successful game can be played on a flat track and that, different from the original enterprise, it has become a movement, a therapy, for those engaged.

Shortly after Joan Weston’s tragic death from a debilitating disease, Frank was asked to write her obituary for the New York Times magazine, and he wrote such a beautiful tribute that the genesis for Rollerjam developed for the two producers in Tennessee. That the game ultimately failed was really a fault of the attraction they ultimately presented: a writer-created banked track story of good and evil with cages, helicopters, you name it. But the skaters were wonderful; a number are in Roller Derby, and three of the men were important parts of the World Cup Champion USA team.

http://i.cdn.turner.com/si/2010/writers/frank_deford/05/19/roller.derby.revival/Joan_Weston.jpg (Please click link to see Frank’s article on Joan Weston and the return of Modern Roller Derby)

It was just a few years after Rollerjam ended, with the memory of a skating game in people’s minds, that April and her crew brought in modern Roller Derby. I mentioned this connection to Frank and he was very pleased.

“If anything I wrote helped to results in the reincarnation of Roller Derby in the 21st century, then I am happy. I loved meeting and traveling with the Derby skaters of the earlier generation, and there seems to be such a bonding and almost a therapeutic connection in today’s game that most don’t realize.

And for even more of a connection, Timothy Travaglini, an MRDA skater and member, has been instrumental in having this classic book available to today’s Derbyites, followers, and all. He is with Open road media who has just issued on line a kindle (through amazon.com) and e-book version. Please click on the link at the top of the page.

And they asked the Commissioner to write a foreward.

Five Strides on the Banked Track, the classic now available on Kindle or ebook!


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Roller Derby on the road.

Appeared as a short version in Sports Illustrated.

This classic sold out almost immediately and was never reprinted…..available at up to $600 from amazon.

this version will all the original photos and copy (and with a new forward by The Commissioner) is available at a very reasonable price. read the above information on how to get your copy.