after 75 what?

I have taken a break from writing for a while.

Saturday night was amazing.  The National Roller Derby Association had a 75th anniversary function at the Clarion Hotel at the SF Airport to honor all the wonderful skaters and personnel from the start until today.


Photo by East Bay Roller Derby


It was the first dinner that I had attended that had both the original skaters and today’s participants. Because the Bay Area Derby Girls were skating in San Diego they couldn’t attend, and the Silicon Valley Roller Girls were also competing.  On hand were representatives from Chico, from East Bay Roller Derby and from Sugartown (Oxnard CA) Roller Derby.  Interestingly enough, all the Roller Girls (who were dressed up and gorgeous) sat on the left side of the room, and on the right side (also dressed up and gorgeous) were the skaters, fans, and family from the first 40 years.

Representing the players from the ’30s was Mary Youpelle, who skated as “Pocahontas” Youpelle – there was no worry about politically correct in those days.  Mary is part native American.  She took the microphone and chided today’s skaters for using toe stops.  “They are for dancing, not for Roller Derby.”  She also gave instructions on wheels, suspensions and bearings.  Once a Roller Derby Star, always one.

Carole “Peanuts” Meyer had recently had knee surgery, but she was there with Mark and the rest of her family.  Bomber women’s captain Margie Laszlo came up from Las Vegas with the irrepressible  Loretta “little Iodine” Behrens.  All the greats who lived nearby including Eddie Krebs, Jan Vallow and more attended, as well as Pete Boyd from New York and many more.  I am doing a disservice by not naming all.    And of course Cliff Avery (Butler), who along with Karlos Ray, “Blades” Gallagher, Georgia Haase and Bob put together the whole awards program and music.


Photo by Coach Kutthroat Chico


So what was the purpose?  The NRDA is preparing for the next step: training skaters on the banked (and flat) track for a professional career, even though none is available now for a fully legitimate game.  The Sugartown Derby Girls raised over $25,000 and are building their banked track in Oxnard.  Soon a number of leagues will be following.  And I understand that Judy Sowinski is doing the same in Philadelphia.

The ultimate purpose is to provide a professional outlet for those who want it, and hopefully help support the amateur leagues in existence.  It is apparent that funding is required for all of the leagues and although some can make it on their own now because of the ability to draw sufficient crowds in their facilities to bear some of the league costs, but they represent a miniscule amount of the total leagues.  And there is a catch 22 here:  to move the large arenas and to promote the matches sufficient to get a large crowd requires a large amount of money.

This fact is why I feel some major promoters who see the future of this game will step up when they realize how successful this game can be given the proper exposure.

The evening ended with Anti Social bringing her team across the room as well as Sugartown and the other Roller girls on hand to meet and mix with the prior generations of skaters.  And they all agreed that Roller Derby was the greatest thing in their life.  Today’s Roller Derby may be very different than my father envisioned, but it is wonderful as are the people in it and the hundreds of thousands who follow it world wide and on the Derby News Network and all the other media outlets and social networks.

It is doubtful if I will be around for the 100th anniversary, but most of you will, and you can look back and say I was a part of it or I helped support it so it could continue to prosper and grow.


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So the big birthday is upon us.

By:Angela Kane

75 years ago my father had no idea that what was a  variation  on a marathon would become one of the amazing sports stories of the 21st century.

I don’t have to go through the history of the last 75 years;  it is in Wikipedia, videos, books, etc, as well as the oral histories of so many skaters who delight in telling the tales of what for many was the best times of their lives.

But there are many things to note about the current state of the game.

First of all, this time there is the best chance for the long-term survival because it has come from the bottom up, rather than from having been seen on television and others wanting to duplicate it.  There is a strong natural foundation from the 570 plus leagues and many tens of thousands of participants around the world who don’t just see this as a game to play, but as a cultural event that crosses borders and ethnicities and creates a sisterhood (and now brotherhood also) of people who didn’t even know each other, and the common thread is Roller Derby in their lives.

These are not perfect people in a utopian place:  there are many different organizations, and rules, and break-off leagues in the same cities (I believe 6 is the maximum), but the love of the game is there, regardless if it is flat track, banked track or whatever.  And with the growth of the junior Roller Derby (I will always capitalize it as long as I live), so much is being done for the empowerment and the teaching of community for young people.

And this is not a career choice.   Everybody has something else they are doing in their life from working at a profession to raising children.  Right now there are no paid leagues that I know of.

As someone who has lived all of the 75 years (and a bit more), you can imagine the changes in the world I have seen and experienced.  The one I am perhaps most proud of (outside of family, of course) is what Roller Derby now represents:  a contact sport primarily performed by women that embodies my father’s ideal of his game being a completely legitimate sport that hundreds of thousands of fans are enjoying from New Zealand to Berlin, and undoubtedly will be in the Olympics eventually.

What do I see in the future:  several thousand leagues in virtually every country, the continuation of the amateur game owned and operated by the leagues and a fully professional game with full-time paid athletes who will never lose their obligation to the leagues that brought them to that point.

Did Leo Seltzer have any concept of how the game would be on its diamond anniversary in 2010, that there would be over 50 leagues in California alone?  Of course not.

On this 75th date of the first appearance of Roller Derby, with its groundbreaking use of women as participants, please honor August 13th whether as a moment of tribute or something more grandiose.  The leagues in Brisbane, Nottingham, Chicago, New Zealand, Belgium, Brazil, Berlin, Scotland,  and others have all notified that they will.

Be proud of the history of the game.  Be even more proud that you have created the fastest growing sport of the 21st century.  I love you all, the skaters from my era and those of today and all those who are helping to make the game what it has become.

Leo and I and Ken Gurian and Loretta and all others salute you.

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