What if Leo came to Rollercon?


Leo Seltzer

I have to admit I think about it.

Way back in the summer of ’35 he had the crazy idea of putting a marathon on roller skates.  A team was one man and one woman; the winning team that skated several thousand miles won I believe $500.  At that time it was the depth of the depression, and many applicants, skaters and non, showed up as they knew that for at least 30 days they would get food, a bed to sleep, and a chance to make some money.  It was a tremendous success, and just two years later my father and famed sportswriter and author Damon Runyon (“Guys and Dolls”) created the game that has lasted for almost 80 years (80 to be exact on August 13).

Roller Derby shut down in 1973.  In the mid seventies Leo was planning a trip to Montreal to train skaters (“they play hockey and are just what I am looking for”), but he was struck down with an aneurism in 1978 and never lived to see his dream of a competitive game come to pass.  For the whole story of the game through and until its demise, read Keith Coppage’s wonderful history and pictorial “From Roller Derby to Rollerjam”. It is on sale at Rollercon at the Roller Derby Books booth, next to the WFTDA booth.

So say he shows up at the Westgate, having no knowledge of what has happened to his game.  He meets up with several thousand men and women participants dressed in what looks like space gear, flying around the floor (“where is the banked track”, he asks), going through rigorous and specific physical and mental training programs;  listening to seminars (one by his son, Friday at 1:30 PM, telling many of the things he learned from his father).  And when his son shows him the newest device, ticketing on a mobile phone that is entirely paperless and available now for Roller Derby through Brown Paper Tickets, he can’t believe it.

He would be blown away.  The beautiful women and super-fit men, the who cares attitude,  booths selling clothes, books, weird garb, and Tony Muse selling skates from the company he and his brother started..  And the fact that these leagues are committed to community service.   And the players flock to him, virtually worshipping him for creating the game that has changed their lives.  

“There are 1853 leagues in 48 countries with 100,000 participants?  Impossible; at the most we had 200 skaters and had the benefit of great publicity and television” he would exclaim in wonder.

And then when the Vagine Regime invites him to the dance off/pants off party and he goes to the black and blue, well that is another story.  But when he sees the skating and hears about the sacrifices in time and money they all make and the Derby love, his eyes tear up.

I hope you all love and preserve the history of what came before.  Keep looking around the Westgate for Leo…..he will be sitting in a chair just shaking his head.