throughout the years.

Photo by RAWKU5 from

Things change.

Believe it or not, when I went to high school no one shouted or made any noise when a basketball player on the other team was making a free throw.  It was considered bad taste and just wasn’t done.  That went for college games also.

Since we were post war (The War…..have we ever not been in a war since), I guess we were pretty calm by today’s standards.  Rudeness to a teacher just didn’t occur, although there was some lively interplay between students and instructors.  But many of the teachers (particularly men) had served in the armed forces and you just didn’t screw around with them……no graffiti or anything close to it.

When you went to a sporting event, whether baseball, football or basketball, you dressed up.  Men wore ties and jackets, women dresses or nice suits ( no “slacks”).  I am not referring to student games, but for some reason our pants were not drooping.

Then came the sixties and everything went topsy turvy, student protests, Black Panthers, flower powers, drugs, and more.  By then I was already married with children.  Believe it or not, I took over Roller Derby when I was just 26 years of age and was making $125 a week selling wholesale sporting goods, and we had just bought a 3 bedroom, two bath house in Palo Alto Ca on a sixth of an acre lot.  The house cost $22,000.

Roller Derby kind of wrapped me in an insulated world.  Every Sunday I was at Kezar Pavilion where we had our live telecast and also videotaped the last 4 periods of the game for our 110 station television network.  Kezar Pavilion was adjacent to Kezar Stadium where the 49ers played.  There were no dressing rooms in Kezar Stadium, so when the 49ers played a home game they used the tacky dressing rooms in the Pavilion.  Sometimes there was virtually no overlap between the time the players left and our teams arrived, to really scummy and wet dressing rooms.

Kezar Pavilion was and still is where San Francisco public high schools play their basketball schedule.  It is all bleacher seating with two balconies on the end and you can squeeze in maybe 3500 people.  My first visit to Kezar was during my freshman year at Stanford when some friends and I had driven up from Palo Alto to see USF play USC, as Kezar was also USF’s home court at that time.  And I got to see the champion Dons with Bill Russell and K.C. Jones whip USC.

The skaters liked Kezar…..a small bar called the Kezar Club (what else) was right across the street and was a gathering place for fans after the game.  And the Pavilion was a homey intimate building…..It didn’t take many people to make it look full and we would not open the end where the cameras were for seating until all other areas were filled.  The building was quite noisy and with the bright colors of the uniforms and the track it was quite a neon spectacle.

Ashtray from the Kezar Club.

And on television stations all over the country people would watch as each telecast opened with Walt Harris in his wonderful deep, sonorous voice said “Tonight’s game between the Bay Bombers and the Northeast Braves is coming to you from Kezar Pavilion in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco”.  I am sure viewers thought that the most important place to visit when in San Francisco would be this wonderful arena.

Walt, who had broadcast the 49ers games in prior years on KOVR in Stockton/Sacramento never really got his due from KTVU, the station which carried our telecasts and had a very tight ass program director, who thought Roller Derby, although it had terrific ratings,was not to his taste.  Because Walt was the voice of Roller Derby they would not use him on other sports, although he was the director of the San Francisco Giants when they were televised in their away games.  And when we did any out-of-town telecasts, from Madison Square Garden or other cities, we always used Walt whenever possible.

Walt told one story which I really loved.  The Giants were playing the Cardinals in St. Louis and when Walt got off the plane he was with the two very famous Giants announcers:  Russ Hodges who had broadcast the Giants when they were in New York (“The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant!” when the Giants beat the Dodgers on the fateful Thompson home run) and Lon Simmons who is now in the baseball Hall of Fame.  All of a sudden a bunch of fans came running up to get autographs and rushed right by the Giants announcers to Walt.  After he signed a dozen or so they moved on with Russ and Lon grumbling.  Roller Derby was on Saturday night at 10 PM on KPLR in St. Louis and of course Walt was famous, as were all of our skaters.

So in our own way, we were just as underground as today.  Will Roller Derby ever get its just due?

The Sports Fan

I have always loved sports, but although I went out for football, basketball, and baseball in high school, I really wasn’t very good.  I know it disappointed my father because he was such a good basketball player.  They did keep me on the JV football team at Niles Township because I was 4 foot 8 and 90 pounds as a sophomore. and we had such a great team that I wasn’t a handicap, although I only got to play a few times.  The students would always cheer my name in the second half because I looked like I belonged in a pee wee league.  I stayed with it, took the beatings in practice, and at the awards ceremony as I got my letter, Coach Mackie referred to me as his secret weapon, a 90 pound atomic bomb.

Because of my father’s profession and love of sports, I have been very fortunate in my lifetime  seeing many great events.  I saw the last World Series the Cubs were in!  (Figure that out), Sid Luckman and the Chicago Bears playing at Wrigley Field;  Army with Blanchard and Davis vs. Michigan at Ann Arbor; Illinois-UCLA in the Rose Bowl with Buddy Young; Jake Lamotta knocking Bob Satterfield out of the ring at a fight my father promoted at Wrigley Field;  the Warriors sweeping the Bullets for the NBA Championship;  the A’s twice winning the World Series; two 49er Super Bowl wins in Miami (one in the company of SF Mayor Frank Jordan);  The Lakers winning the NBA with Magic Johnson (I have a plaque with the 88 team picture on my wall); and Fred Rosen and I going into the Pistons dressing room in Portland right after they won the NBA championship.

There is much more, but it is getting boring.

Along the way Herb Michelson and I met with Mohammad Ali at Pelosi’s in Oakland, trying to get him an exhibition fight as a benefit during his bad times.  We weren’t successful.  And one time as I entered the Oakland Auditorium the night before a game, the East Bay unions were having a rally, and I was there just in time to shake Senator John Kennedy’s hand.  And so on.

As odd as it may seem, Roller Derby always has been a highlight of my life.  Yes, I know it is a family thing:  My father invented it, his brother Oscar worked with him, my uncle Irv promoted it in Texas, My brother-in-law Ken worked in a “unit” in New York and New Jersey, and was the broadcast partner of Ken Neidl on the ABC network, and my sister Gloria also worked in the office and kept track of the films, among other things.  And today Oscar’s son Ed runs the Roller Derby Skate Company.

From the first time I saw Roller Derby, I loved it.  When I hear that the ideal soccer match is “a beautiful game” I think that is how I feel about Roller Derby.  You would forget these people were on skates as they would fly around like ballet artists, making impossible moves on the banked track.    I hesitate to even name favorites as I am certain I will offend whomever I leave out.

And as the game got rougher and more violent (and I will take the blame for that), it lost the magic, although it would show up in the Playoffs or in certain games on the road (Madison Square Garden, St. Louis, etc) where the skaters could just skate to their utmost ability and the crowds responded with great appreciation.

So the game went away except for the exceptions I have previously mentioned.

Last night I went to San Jose (100 miles from Sonoma) to see the Silicon Valley Roller Girls compete against the Treasure Valley, Idaho team.  It was at a skating rink with about 1500 people jammed in.  Tickets were $12 with kids free, I believe.  You can tell it was a family event.

Yes, flat track is not as fast as banked track; I couldn’t distinguish what the announcer was saying, and having promoted so many events myself, I wish they had added some ceiling lighting to make it easier to focus on the action arena.  But this is just one of the 555 leagues around the world, and there was some amazing skating.

They are not as skilled as our skaters were;  after all many had skated for 10 years or more and could act from instinct, but these were women who had to work other jobs, get paid nothing for skating and yet went all out.

My friends Dennis and Lori Erokan were there, as well as my cousin James Myers (Uncle Irv’s grandson), and we all had a great time.  There were some tremendous scoring plays, terrific pack action and hits that I thought would end the night for some of the women, but they bounced back up, and at the end of the night (despite a terrific beating by the SVRG team) both teams went off together for partying.

And skaters were on hand from Chico, San Francisco, Lodi just to watch these teams play.  I was able to meet so many and saw their respect for the game and the history, and yes I got some hugs and photos….(you don’t understand, it was my father who invented the game).

I did feel pride in what they were doing, along with the other games I have seen recently in Denver, San Francisco, Sonoma County.  With spoiled athletes making tens of millions of dollars and showing great selfishness on television, how refreshing to see what the Derby Girls (and now Derby boys) are putting into this all-amateur, legitimate sport, with no huge payouts, just the satisfaction in playing in something that is theirs.

They deserve all of our support.  Look at www., pick out a league in your area, and go see them play.  You won’t have to pay hundreds of dollars either for tickets to support prima donnas and take your kids along.  They will have the times of their lives.