This was about Keith and the book, but now Keith is being honored!


My name is on it along with the real author Keith Coppage.  I gave him some stuff and photos but Keith (the OFFICIAL Roller Derby historian) did all the research and writing.  (Oh, the book is Bay Area Roller Derby, part of the America series by Arcadia Publishing which has done a great job on bringing America’s stories to us….check out their site, www.arcadiapublishing.com.  You will probably find a book about your town, county, or state).  Please click on to the link above as his school where he has taught for 25 years is honoring his cultural contribution to the school, the children and the community.

And the book is available at http://www.amazon.com.

Is the book just about the Bay Area?  not really.  Because Bay Area Roller Derby became nation wide in the 60s and 70s when our videotapes appeared on over 120 stations (in the US and Canada), and the original Bay Bombers became America’s team.  Superstar Charlie O’Connell was from New York, “Golden Girl” Joan Weston from LA, and the one and only Ann Calvello, an honest to god San Franciscan.  Tony Roman originally from back east, Francine Cochu from Montreal.  And they were loved and played to sold out Arenas and stadia everywhere.

I had the pleasure of taking Keith to his first modern Derby game at Craneway in Richmond, CA, and he understood the excitement.  Keith had become a fan at 9 years of age when his father took him to a game at the Antioch Fairgrounds, really a terrible place to see your first game….outdoors, the track over dirt.  windy and cool, and not well skated.  But Keith was hooked.  He convinced his family to take him to the Cow Palace and other venues (many miles from where they lived).

I would love to say that Keith ran off and joined the Roller Derby; instead (and this is so sad), he went to Cal Berkeley, became an outstanding English and writing teacher at a high school in Concord California and is the man (see Glee) who brings great Broadway productions on no money to an area that is long on immigrants from all nations.

So how did I meet Keith?  Hal Silen and Peggy Brown and I started BASS  Tickets, the first independent computerized service in the Bay Area in 1974.  When I would wander in the phone room (bad ADD), I would run into someone who was definitely different from our other operators – older, and didn’t look like he needed the job as much as others.

Then strange things started to happen: I would find cryptic messages on my desk:  “on this date in 1965 the first Founder’s Cup (our way of honoring Leo) was played at the Cow Palace.  The Pioneers defeated the Bombers 38  to 31.”  I knew Hal and Peggy weren’t doing it.  Eventually Keith and I started talking.  He had taken the job after school hours to be near the Legend!

Of course we became friends.  I found out that Keith had attended Joan Weston’s training school she had operated after we had shut down the Derby.  He had info on everybody (no, not like TMZ, just good stuff).  And he had writings and photos from over the years, so when Baron Wolman (the first chief photographer for Rolling Stone) and I decided to publish “Roller Derby to Rollerjam” we commissioned Keith to write it.  Baron edited it and added the wonderful photos he had taken at Kezar Pavilion in the sixties and everyone was happy with the results, except Rollerjam had folded shortly after it was published.

So now Keith had to find new material for the new book, and what is in it amazes me…..photos and stories I didn’t know existed, and pictures he took of the BAD girls and others from leagues that were submitted.

August 8th was  the official day of publication, just 5 days away from the 77th anniversary of  the very first game in Chicago (no, I wasn’t there…..damn it, it was my father).  You can now find it at any book store, or at www.arcadiapublishing.com, or at certainly at Green Apple Books to get those rare dedications from Keith and me.  You really want the dual set; the few remaining copies of “Roller Derby to Rollerjam” are available at www.rollerderbycommish.com.

If every league in the world (1299) orders 4 copies, I bet we get on the NY Times best sellers list.

Keith needs your help, fast!


Roller Derby’s Boswell, Keith Coppage, is finishing his book on Northern Califronia Roller Derby from the 50’s to today.

He could use some additional photos of modern day Roller Derby, must be 2400 pixels wide, with some caption info, and permission to publish.  Any leagues from Monterey north to Eureka, and west to Chico and Fresno can be included…..send at once (deadllne, Friday, February 3, to derby4ever@aol.com.

Immortalize yourself and your league by the author who wrote “fRoller Derby to Rollerjam” (www.rollerderbycommish.com).   Hurry up, do it now!

My very own Boswell


A number of years ago when I was operating BASS Tickets in the San Francisco Bay Area (a regional computerized ticketing company), I wandered into our phone center and was introduced to a new phone operator, Keith Coppage.

Most of our agents were young: a first job or a transition to what they really wanted to do.  Keith was definitely not in that category, and I felt I had met him before.

As time went by I occasionally saw Keith in our main office, which was not unusual.  He was an excellent agent, although the hours he could work were limited.

Then I started receiving notes at various times  (“September 7th is the anniversary of the first championship playoffs in 1959 at the Cow Palace, when the Bombers lost in the finals to the Chicago Westerners”, etc).  Needless to say, it piqued my interest, so I got to know Keith a little better.

Keith’s father took him to see a Bay Bomber game when he was just 9 years old at the Antioch (Ca) Fairgrounds, certainly not the best venue we ever played; outdoors by a grandstand over dirt, but it grabbed Keith and he forced his family to take him to games at the Cow Palace, Coliseum and watched every Sunday night on television when Roller Derby was on.

Now Keith is no trekkie, he went to college and became a teacher at a high school in Concord, CA; not the classiest high school in town, but the one servicing the needs of the newest and poorest residents of the area (I am generalizing again).  I guess he teaches English and is also in charge of drama and his students – past and present – adore him.

But he never let go of the obsession.  He kept up with Roller Derby and has one of the great collections in America.  He is friends with hundreds of other Derbyites.  He attended Joan Weston’s training school so he could learn the game better and be near one of his idols.

And he took the odd hours job at BASS to observe me.

Now Samuel Johnson was a man of letters in England, whom a lawyer named Boswell shadowed quite closely and wrote the definitive 2-volume biography of him.  I guess there was no Roller Derby at that time because the book never mentions it.  But maybe to Keith, I was the Johnson of the 70’s.

I got to know Keith better and realized what a complete person he is; and his writing was amazing.  When Rollerjam started, the famous Rolling Stone Photographer Baron Wolman, who had taken some wonderful artistic photos of Roller Derby in the 60s and 70s and I decided to create a book (Baron operates Squarebooks publishing, go to it and see his stuff on rock and roll and the world).  So who better to write it than Keith.

And all who read this book (Roller Derby to Rollerjam, the authorized story of an unauthorized sport), realize how the great and humorous story of the game is captured by Keith.  see for yourself at http://www.rollerderbycommish.com.  Frank Deford among others has given it a glowing review, and you feel Keith on every page.

So yesterday I read a post on facebook by Keith how someone broke into the high school the night before and stole the piano.  This district has no money for a new piano; Keith mounts his productions on a shoestring and gets glowing reviews.  And to his surprise, so many people responded that Keith posted the following (my summary) “your response is overwhelming, I had no idea how many chums, alums cared……it is so important to me at this time of my life”.

The piano was electric, and he is hoping to get another one donated, or he is really unable to mount the shows…..if you know of any available pianos please friend him on facebook and let him know.  Keith, like so many teachers, is not rich, but his love for teaching has been his life’s work.

Keith has just completed a new book on the history of Roller Derby in the San Francisco Bay Area, from 1937 to modern day.  It should be out in Spring for Arcadia Press.   And he emailed me today, that if he gets any money out of it he would like to donate to the children of the Derby woman from the South Bay Rollers who was brutally killed by her husband last Saturday night.

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 stock.xchng.com.

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 www.rollerderbycommish.com.  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