Declaring your independence

Photo by Ryan Tamayo from

The fourth of July weekend always seems to be the best and happiest holiday with no gifts exchanged.

We always celebrated it at the Oakland Coliseum Stadium when the A’s were out-of-town with Roller Derby, marching bands, special events and of course fireworks.  Southern Californians may remember Tommy Trojan who strutted his stuff in front of the famous Trojan band and was on the sidelines when SC scored as he was the extra point guy.  Anyway, he would create our huge fireworks displays after our games.  And we had tremendous crowds for these games, up to 35,000 paid.

We kind of took over for the city of Oakland in those years as they didn’t have funds for fireworks, so the Bay Bombers bombastic was followed by tens of thousands of citizens outside the stadium.  We always made it a benefit for something in Oakland and I remember giving a check for $14,000 to the March of Dimes one year, and $17,000 to a very surprised and pleased Mother Superior for the Providence Hospital fund the following year.  40 years ago that was a lot of money.

I love fireworks and usually try to be up in Seaside Oregon (see earlier posting on “By the Sea”) where if it is not rainy or foggy you can see the fireworks up and down the coast for miles.

And of  course the fourth of July is just a month away from the annual day of founding of Roller Derby, August 13 (1935).  So I thought I would use this occasion to put forth my personal wishes for Roller Derby in the next year.

First, a caveat:  whatever I say about the game or whatever I express, it is all for the love of what the current 940 leagues in 35 countries have accomplished in bringing back this sport from the ashes, an unheard-of feat.  It costs them to skate, of time, funds, and effort, and yet the game grows and thrives.  But I know that we all have opinions which we should express.

1.  The continued growth should be sustained.  Almost 500 new leagues in the past year alone.

2.  The flat track game be simplified so it is easier to watch and play.

3.  The banked track game to continue to grow.

4.  More interplay between leagues near each other who are of the same skill set but not the same sanction or control.  I am going to the championship game of B.A.D. this weekend, and thought wouldn’t it be sensible to have a Nor Cal tournament with so many leagues within 100 miles.  And so many teams could play so many more games.

5.  The establishment of a national TV network in addition to DNN (or utilizing Hurt and everybody else who makes us think that the viewing of our favorite teams everywhere is just a natural thing….what they have done is unprecedented).

6.  Steps toward a professional league.

7.  Continued fun and enjoyment for those who play, participate and watch this wonderful sport.

8.  Some league or region establish the Leo A. Seltzer cup or trophy for their championship.

9.  Even more admiration and love for the Commissioner.

I assume you may have a few ideas on what you would like to see happen in the growth and development of Roller Derby…’s your chance.

I love Roller Derby every day

Photo by Kathi_B from Stock.xchng

When someone can announce a few weeks ago that July 16 is “I love Roller Derby day” and it simply means people should acknowledge it in their own way, and yet over 6000 people signed on and many others in almost every country where the game is played participated.

If I appear redundant in stating just how amazing the rebirth and growth of the game is, please consider the following:  Roller Derby died out in the early seventies, a sport that was an outgrowth of the 30’s marathons and six-day bike races, and because of the fact there was no ball or pellet, had women participating, and was touring like the Globetrotters, was never seriously accepted by those who followed the so-called real sports.

Then other promotions, including roller games which did the image no good,  and Rollerjam, which could have been successful but many elements didn’t come together (more in that in another blog); and the “writers” (yes they wrote a script)  made it worse than WWE and made a parody of the game.

Then suddenly it is reborn in Austin, Texas, not at all in its present form, and with no genius like me to guide it.  Today there are well over 686 women’s leagues, 31 men’s, and 30 junior Roller Derby leagues with some 30,000 participants. They are all amateur, supported and paid for by the members, in 25 countries, with competitors who almost all have other jobs or children, or both, and not only sacrifice for the good of the leagues, but also contribute time and money to community and charity organizations.

Awareness is increasing:  the recent Whip It movie with Drew Barrymore, the two national TV commercials with Alleve and Cheerios shows that in the large media markets Derby has made an impact.   And in various cities the attendance at their games (I have trouble with “bouts”, but that is me) has shown the appeal of the sport goes well beyond friends and family.

If you search “I love Roller Derby” on facebook, read some of the entries.  The love is amazing.  Thank God this cult does not require everyone to drink Kool Aid!  But I wonder, because these are women competing in a full-body contact sport, because of the clouded history of the game, and maybe because it is all amateur controlled from top to bottom, why isn’t more of society aware of this fast growing phenomenon?

Oddly enough, I don’t think it makes that much difference to a lot of the participants.  They certainly want to be recognized for what they are doing, but ultimately it is for each person’s own satisfaction.  Many are afraid that if it becomes to0 big or widely televised, the game will lose its feeling of amateurism and grass roots appeal.  By the way, if you would like to watch games from everywhere, tune in to the, where they have live streaming of a large number of games.  This is because of the sacrifice of Hurt Reynolds and others in his organization to allow everyone to see these matches.

As I said before, there are regional and national championships sanctioned by the WFTDA for flat track games, so you have leagues from all over the US and Canada (and lately the UK) competing with each other.  And like the original Roller Derby, most of the participants did not know really how to  roller skate and had to go through a rigorous training program; and also had to learn the game which has confusing rules:  No ball, both teams on offense and defense at the same time, block the opposing skaters, help yours.  The concept makes your head swim, but they really are on it now.  I have seen skaters that could have made it in our game, and remember, ours were full-time and paid for their participation; no money for today’s skaters.  And banked track leagues, although in the great minority, are increasing.

The future will get more sophisticated for the leagues:  there will be cable television, sports coverage, national merchandise, and the emergence of stars that are known by the public.  Would you rather watch this fast, fun sport or darts on TV?

The end of the month I am attending Rollercon, the national annual gathering of the Derby girls (and boys) in Las Vegas.  I will get a chance to meet many of my facebook friends and to give them whatever counsel or advice they want from my experience.  And I keep thinking, what other sport has ever disappeared for 37 years and come back bigger than ever with such an organic growth?   Dad, you would be so proud!

August 13 will mark the 75th anniversary of the first “game” at the Chicago Coliseum.  The Derby skaters today are fully aware of the historical significance of this date, and many are planning activities including skating marathons to raise money for benefits or other acknowledgments in their cities.  In addition, the WFTDA national Championships will be held in Chicago this November.  And in October, Cliff Avery of the original Bay Bombers and others are planning a major dinner and event in San Francisco and all who want to attend are invited.  Maybe we should just continue to keep the whole revival a secret.

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I decided to blog just to see if I am interesting enough to attract any readers.

I am in the older generation category but have managed to stay on the edge of the wave of life because of my entrepreneurial nature.

To start with, my father invented Roller Derby, and without my realizing it, it set the course for my life. I never intended to get involved in it but of course I did. After my childhood and schooling and Stanford and Northwestern (when I run out of things to write about I will of course give some facts about those days as well as my army life), I got married, was selling wholesale sporting goods, and suddenly I was the owner, promoter of the defunct sport of professional Roller Derby.

My father Leo Seltzer, perhaps the greatest promoter you never heard of, decided that Roller Derby had become too much of an exhibition and not the sport he always wanted it to be (he had visions of it in the Olympics – more on that later because it still might), and virtually closed it in 1958.

I had been doing some trackside announcing to pick up extra money for my growing family ($25 per game for 5 games a week doubled my income) when he told me he was shutting it down. In the world of coincidences two moons came in confluence at the same time: KTVU Channel 2 in Oakland California had come on the air and was looking for programming and a young man at Ampex in Redwood City developed video tape which made all programs look live on replay as opposed to the old kinescoping film technique (I won’t explain how and why).

So Bay Bombers Roller Derby appeared on channel 2 and I with a borrowed $500 put up bleachers in an unused auto repair garage on East 14th street in Oakland and created a studio for Roller Derby. I was 26 and didn’t know the odds against success.

In future blogs I will get beyond Roller Derby to the world of ticketing, Rock and Roll, the Hells Angels and me, my touring with Dylan, Bill Graham (the rock and roll one), film, my views on the world and much more. let me hear from you.

You can subscribe free to the blog by entering your email in the subscribe box in the upper right hand corner of the page.  And if I get enough of the blog written and appreciated, I’ll add some other chapeters and  put it together as an e-book.