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.

Al Davis, Roller Derby, and me


Al Davis died at the age of 82.

Maybe some of you don’t know who he was.  He was the enigmatic owner of the Oakland Raiders, and if you look up enigmatic in the dictionary, you will find his name.

Roller Derby and the Raiders were contemporaneous in the Bay Area.  When the American Football League started it was announced that Oakland would have its own team, the Senors.  Well, that wasn’t even grammatically correct in Spanish, and they changed the name to “Raiders” and played their first season in San Francisco.  The team was put together and financed by a group headed by Wayne Valley, a successful builder of homes who brought in a bunch of his East Bay friends.  They hired Al Davis as general manager and coach.

On a piece of land in Oakland they put up temporary grandstands, called it Frank Youell Field and hosted the games awaiting the completion of the new Oakland Coliseum sports complex in 1963.  Our very own Peggy Brown was friends with their ticket manager, and we handled the tickets and day of game sale for the team.  The box office looked like an outhouse, a single light bulb dangling inside, and Peggy was able to pack the unsold tickets and receipts in the trunk of her trusty old Cadillac.

Al hated the NFL and it was largely due to his efforts that Oakland was one of the most successful teams in the new league, as well as demanding equality when the leagues merged.  He was a god in Oakland.  One night I was at Mitch’s, a popular neighborhood restaurant in Oakland, when Al and his wife came in.  Now it was a Thursday, and Al usually came in on Friday, and a couple was sitting in “his” table.  The owner hurried over, grabbed the people’s place settings and moved them all to another table.  They were stunned, but Al took it matter of factly.

Eventually Al took over all management of the team, which pissed Wayne off; he had financed the team, he had brought in the others and hired Al, but that appeared to be forgotten.  It became all Al Davis and no mention of Wayne and the other locals, and Al was the general partner and had complete control.

When the Raiders moved to the Coliseum, Al went to the board and suggested that since this was an East Bay complex, it should be restricted to events by East Bay sports and others.  That would have meant, of course, that circuses, ice shows, rock shows, etc couldn’t play the buildings…..for some reason it was turned down.  His concern was that if any extra dollars were around, he wanted them to be spent on the Raiders.  We weren’t concerned; the Roller Derby headquarters were in Oakland.

Roller Derby was the 2nd event in the Arena portion of the complex, and we had over 10,000 people.  We usually played on Saturday nights, and often the Raiders were there also.  The Coliseum management reluctantly informed us that we would always have to start after the Raiders so they would get all the parking.  And we often ran into situations like that…..it was never anything personal between Al and me; he just felt the Raiders owned the city.

A young writer named Frank Deford was sent by Sports Illustrated to do a feature on the three (eccentric?) owners of teams in Oakland, Charlie Finley of the A’s, Franklin Miuli of the Warriors (who insisted on calling them the San Francisco Warriors) and of course, Al.

The sports editor of the Tribune asked Frank if he was aware of Roller Derby in Oakland, and he came to see me.  He did the story on the other teams, but also got permission to do a feature on Roller Derby which became the longest piece to date in SI….look it up and read it.  Frank expanded it into his book “Five Strides on the Banked Track” and has become the best sports-writer, commentator and novelist in America……I humbly point out my small role.

Eventually the Raiders moved to Los Angeles after becoming a mainstay in the NFL, and lo and behold I was there with Ticketmaster and was able to obtain their single game sales.  Now ticket companies think backwards: if a team is super successful they sell out with season tickets and there are not single game tickets to sell; if they are not successful they start to rebuild and there is demand for individual tickets is what we would sell.  The Raiders were a great example.  They played in the huge Coliseum, initially had not too many season tickets, and it was a great product for Ticketmaster.

Many people disliked Al, but he was good for Oakland and for football.  And because of him I had another opportunity.  Wayne Valley was fed up with “The Genius” as he called him, and when it was apparent that the NHL team in Oakland was failing and the league wanted to get a new operator, Wayne contacted me to head up a group of the former AFL owners (Lamar Hunt, Ralph Wilson, and 4 others) to present a package and then become the manager of the Oakland Hockey team.  That is another post, but somehow the league awarded it to Charlie Finley, and it crashed again within a couple of seasons.

Al built a great franchise, hired John Madden when Davis wasn’t coaching anymore,  and there were the wonderful Super Bowls, which many cities never experience.  But time passed him by, he wouldn’t let go of the reins, and the franchise started to fail.  It looks like it could be on its way up now.  He was one of the last remnants of the old days of controversial icons in sports.  I look around, and there aren’t many left.

Unfortunately, to my knowledge he never came to see the Bay Bombers skate, or even to watch when we had the 49ers skate the Raiders in Roller Derby.  However, I can assume that he, like so many others who denied it, watched our telecasts on Channel 2 on Sunday nights.