first of all, Happy Holidays, i.e. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years, and Saturnalia

I have a lot to be thankful for in my life.

But today I will confine it to Roller Derby.

It has been a great thing for my life. I took over the game my father invented, and further developed it as a great entertainment for America, Canada, and Mexico. It was a business built to entertain the public, but along the way I met and employed some of the greatest men and women athletes that I could have known, was a real fan of the game and enjoyed with the audience the fury and excitement and speed of these great banked track skaters.

And I made a living! Actually not as good as when I became part of the ticketing industry, but at 26 I worked for myself and employed a hundred people, and saw America and met so many people in so many regions. Our games were seen on 110 tv stations, we played at (and sold out) all the major arenas and some of the major stadia. And I made one huge mistake: running this enterprise as a family business with no partners and when the economy sunk us, I had no one to turn to for additional resources, so I had to shut it down.

I am proud that all the skaters and employees were paid; we supplied all uniforms, skates, per diem and medical injuries coverage (paid while off), transportation and hotels when on the road….a decent salary for the 60’s and 70’s, and probably the first sport to have profit sharing for the employees…..when we shut down, the skaters and employees (to their surprise) received a payout of anywhere from $5000 to $60,000, depending on their pay scale and length of employment And our ticket prices: $1 to $3. Larry Smith started his business with his pay out…..some blew tens of thousands of dollars partying…and this was 1973.

So I went into the ticket distribution business (never scalping), and what I learned in promoting Roller Derby carried over into BASS Tickets and eventually Ticketmaster. And including Brown Paper Tickets (the best!), that covered the next 40 years of my work life.

So 10 years ago Gary Powers, after starting (and maintaining) the National Roller Derby Hall of Fame, hosted the 70th anniversary of Roller Derby dinner in Chicago, and who showed up for the evening but dewy-eyed Val Capone and the fledgling Windy City Rollers, and we all saw their game the next night, and that started a period of revitalization of my life and association with Roller Derby.

I felt so welcome and was invited to Rollercon in Las Vegas (and Judi provided over 300 pair of her Bonjour Fleurette flower slippers,featured on Sex and the City and Oprah), and Loretta Behrens and I addressed the attendees about the old and new days…..then I was invited to WFTDA nationals in Portland (my home and the home of my father, the creator of Derby and once again the welcome mat was out.

I was invited to the Bay Area Derby girls games and went when I could, and of course to Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, Sacramento for area games. And the nationals in Chicago (where I had gone to college) were a real treat.

Then the bottom kind of dropped out with weird instances that I have no desire to relate. I found I was resented (and even hated) by some (most I didn’t know) because I represented THAT Roller Derby, I guess. When I got over the incident, I just continued on seeing and supporting the people in the game, and they know who I am and how I relate to today….I have over 12,000 friends and followers on facebook and twitter and many more on my blog.

But this is not about me and my travails. I have seen very specifically in the last few months statements by at least one person that I completely respect, that modern derby has no relationship to Leo or my game, and was created by the women as a flat track game that empowers women in sports…..and guess what, I have no argument with that. I have no claim on the game as it exists today. For whatever reason if that is important, then I gladly acknowledge what you believe……I guess I am surprised that the name Roller Derby was attached to the game.

But I am an individual who loves the sport my father created. I am a fan. If there are aspects I don’t enjoy, I will say them. Understand, I have no power to influence or change anything, but I do have the right to express myself.

roller derby is on the greatest growth spurt in recent years; the issue in many leagues appears to be decreasing attendance. I am not the enemy. I advise skaters. I would love to help everyone increase attendance and other aspects of the promotion of the leagues. That is one of my functions of work and the seminars at Rollercon. and why Brown Paper Tickets encourages me to work on community projects like the blood drives (in three major areas next year!).

You have every right to not like me or want to be a friend…but please make sure you are not tilting at windmills. I love you all.

rules of the game, 1970

Everything old is new again, spirit of 76

Last night I was at the Oakland Convention Center with several thousand of my closest friends and the Detroit, Texas, Windy City, and Bay Area teams.  Most people were not aware that it was the eve of the birthday of the game they were playing and watching.

Photo by Marija Jure from

That’s really not important.  If anything, Roller Derby is so today, it could have been started yesterday.  Women who enjoy what they are doing, empowered by the game and their teammates; often their husbands or partners or families on hand.

And the skaters in that first game 76 years ago were so reflective of the times:  representative of the Talking Head’s song “We’re on the Road to Nowhere'”, in the heart of the depression, skating endlessly in a marathon to win a few hundred dollars but getting meals and lodging just to stay alive.  And women competed which was so controversial.  The winning team was composed of a boy of just 16 (he snuck in) and his partner.  Only Keith Coppage, official Roller Derby historian and Gary Powers who keeps the Hall of Fame alive, would know who they were.

And the game has changed so much but still has the original essence.  From the banked track (the first one was not really banked for skating).  Take a look at the photo at  And you will see the skaters standing in a posed position at the old Chicago Coliseum, with cots in the huge infield for them to rest until it became time for them to get back on the road again.  Their sleeping quarters and kitchen were elsewhere in the arena.  And the audience could take a walkway above the track to go to portion of the infield to sit and watch and eat!  And they paid almost nothing to get in, could stay as long as they liked.  And there were breaks when the skaters would each do a little entertainment routine and the audience would throw coins if they enjoyed it.

Photos and article from "Life" Dec. 1948. Full article at the link below.

Those were your grandparents.  And the ultimate joy for me came when on the one occasion, a side effect of what Gary Powers had put together for the 70th anniversary of the game at the Chicago Historical society on August 13, 2005, the old and new met.  A number of members of the recently formed Windy City Rollers (thank you, dear Val) attended the dinner, and there were tears when they met Ivy King and the other plus 90’s who skated in the first go around.  and the next night we all attended the game at the Congress Theater and the hardy pioneers saw the new Roller Derby, still in its initial stages with very few leagues. And the championship tourney in Chicago is now the Ivy King cup.

Shortly thereafter all those who skated on August 13, 1935, were gone.  But very much like the Divinity painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, they touched and passed on The Game.

Guard it carefully.

“Life” Dec 1948 Article

The Tao of Roller Derby

Obviously I am not a psychiatrist or a psychologist, but I am thankful for the various stages of my life, because I think I understand the new Roller Derby.

I was born three years before my dad invented the game.  I grew up with it and eventually was drawn into the management and excitement of the promotion of the game.  I was able to see it go from a defunct attraction to a huge game with millions watching each week on television and then saw it go crashing down in the early 70’s, and I had to get on with my life.  The next 30 or so years I worked in various enterprises.

During that time, I learned about Rock and Roll, sports teams, theater, concerts and more, and the people and personalities that went along with them.  I loved music and probably saw hundreds of performers and concerts in that time and got to understand why people attended these sometimes overwhelming events.  I left that part of my life in 1997 and did other things (related earlier).

Then Gary Powers, someone I had never met, contacted me.  He was planning the 70th anniversary of Roller Derby in Chicago (Gary is the ultimate fan; he has the RD Hall of Fame in his house in Palm Springs).  It was to be held at the Chicago Historical Society.  On the night of the event, some 80 people were on hand, including 3 participants in their 90’s who were in the very first Roller Derby.  Also on hand, were about a dozen members of the Windy City Rollers, members of the new league of Roller Derby women.  (And one, the great Val Capone, would become my first Derby Wife).

I had been hearing rumbles of the new Roller Derby but frankly had not been really aware.  Since we had shut down in 1973 so many attempts to revive it had followed, most following the terrible example of roller games with clowns and humiliations and more – don’t misunderstand me, roller games had some great skaters, but Roller Derby was different.  I had worked as a consultant on Rollerjam in the early part of this century which had great in-line skaters, but unfortunately that had also turned into a travesty, so I was through looking for any successful revival of my father’s game.  He loved it so much; he wanted it to go from the exaggerated skating to a fully legitimate game which would eventually be in the Olympics, but he never got to see that happen.

The night after the event in Chicago Gary, the skaters and I were invited to the Congress Theater in Chicago to see the first flat track game I had ever seen.  We were greeted by loud alternative music which went on all game long and women who skated the game I knew but in a very different way.   And there were pillow fights, and suitcase races, and other facets I did not like, but the women were wonderful and so respectful of what those before had brought to them. The Windy City Rollers named their league championship “The Ivy King” cup.  I didn’t know that eventually these non-skating fooleries were ended.

I started following the growth of the women’s leagues and attended Rollercon, their annual event in Las Vegas the following July along with Loretta Behrens who also has followed the leagues avidly.  I met so many bright and wonderful women (about 2000 in attendance from as far away as Australia and UK) and started to understand what this was all about.  These were women who were attracted by a culture they did not have in their every day life.  A friendship and sisterhood that set them off from others, often characterized by tattoos and costuming and derby names (Val Capone, Juanna Rumble, Venus Envy, etc) and a connection with each other that certainly transcended sports.

Roller Derby was the ultimate empowerment.  They had their own game which was only skated by women at that time (I asked one player from Texas why they didn’t let the men who were all around and helping them skate also: “they’re our bitches”).  I spoke to one woman who was a therapist (I was amazed at how many therapists, teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers were among the throng) why she was doing it.   She told me that all Derby women were in it for some reason to make their lives better, to escape their daily problems, etc.  It does sound strange when you think that these women, many who had never skated before, engaged in an extremely difficult boot camp, training and learning sessions, to achieve the goal of being able to compete in a full body contact sport and displaying their bruises and injuries the same way that Prussian officers used to show their dueling scars.

But it goes way beyond that;  unlike our games which were professional promotions aimed at an audience, these were women who formed their own non-profit leagues, paying monthly dues or fees, raising money not only to continue but also for the community and charity commitments.  They are hard driving, hard playing athletes who go to bars after the “bouts” for fun and dancing with friends and fans.  And they are doing it for themselves, not for an audience.

It is a little hard especially for men to understand that these women (on the whole) are dressing and acting the way they do not to entice anyone but to please themselves.  The games are 100% legitimate, and almost in spite of themselves they are attracting paid audiences, with over 7000 attending recently in Seattle and crowds of 4000 or more are not unusual in Chicago, Toronto, Australia and elsewhere.  There are all kinds of different Derby now, flat track under the auspices of the WFTDA; USARS, OSDA, skated under the old rules; banked track and who knows what else.  There are now 13 banked track leagues, 31 men’s leagues usually under the auspices of a woman’s league and more.

As of this moment in time there are some 540 leagues worldwide, with up to 30,000 women competing in 16 countries, and I feel it will double within 2 years.  There are now inter-city and inter-state competitions and even inter-country, with championships each year.

It is not enough to say that theirs  is a sisterhood between the women, it seems to go deeper than that.  What is commonly expressed is that “I hate Derby, but I can’t live without it” or more commonly, “Derby saved my life” .  There are two new excellent books you can get that explains the authors’ personal experiences: “Down and Derby” by Alex Cohen and Jennifer Barbee, and “Going in Circles” by Pamela Ribon.

I don’t think Leo Seltzer would have ever thought that Roller Derby would have been as it is today, a real life event for its participants, many of whom have daughters participating in junior Derby or husbands or boyfriends as referees or other participants.

Don’t dismiss what is going on, as it is not going away this time.  And if you are unhappy or happy, overweight or not, or anything else, get off your butt and do it.   Even if you don’t make the team, it just might make your life better.