Roller Derby is a game on skates

This week I am scheduled for an interview on a CBS TV network program called “Through the Decades”.  It will be part of the whole program which will be seen on CBS stations throughout the country around the 13th of August, the date of the very first Roller Derby in Chicago in 1935.

History has been a problematic topic in current roller derby, all amateur composed of 2000 women and men and junior leagues throughout the world.  Some (and boy have I run into them!) believe derby is modern, created by women around a table in Texas in about 2002; Others glory in the history, even though in most cases it is a far different game.

Now the reason this TV program came about is because a wonderful group in the Chicago area got most of the leagues together last year for World Roller Derby Week, a celebration based on the history of the game in Chicago; there was a public display and skating at the Coliseum Park, what is remaining of the original arena, and a contest skated with juniors and then adults at a skating rink.  And Barb Morgen of Brown Paper Tickets PR working with Jane and Cheryl and the others got almost Super Bowl coverage in Chicago and throughout the US on TV, Radio and on line media, and the result was a blood drive with the Red Cross that set a record of our 30 drives with Roller Derby leagues of almost 200 lives saved.

And that is why Decades is interested this year.  The history is an asset.

So yes Virginia, there was a Roller Derby in 1935 and up until 1973 and it was skated on skates, originally with maple wheels on a banked track.

As the game evolved Leo and Oscar Seltzer wanted to make certain the players had skates designed for the games; they founded the Roller Derby Skate Company and even after I took over the stewardship of the enterprise in 1959, that is all we used.  Then Oscar developed a urethane wheel and that changed the game.  The skates were costly; if the skaters had to replace a pair and break in a new one (they hated that worse than anything), we had to pay $27 for a new pair.

After we shut down Roller Derby in 1973. the skate company continued to grow; it was now run by Oscar’s son, Ed Seltzer, who was a physicist graduate of Cal Tech.  They developed the first outdoor shoe skate for kids (the Street King; I actually sold the first pairs to a retailer in Southern California) and produced skate boards, hockey and in line skates, ice skates and more, and are in retailers throughout the world under various brand names.

But what did Ed miss?  The re-emergence of Roller Derby.  I called him immediately after the first Rollercon, but they were doing so well and others in the company saw no need to enter the field, that they missed out for the first years.

But then they found Tony Muse, who some (me) consider the best speed and derby skater in the world.  Now what many don’t know is that the Roller Derby Skate Company has patents and they are the only one that can have Roller Derby Skates as the title; also, they have the exclusive rights for the name on merchandise but Ed chose never to enforce that (good move!).

So some of the upcoming women’s World Cup leagues will be using the Roller Derby Elites, and about half of the USA Men’s Cup team will be wearing them….I have examined the skates, and against the competition, they are a great value.  And I have nothing to do with or no interest in the company…..

So I guess this is an endorsement of my friend Tony and his co workers; and I love to see Roller Derby Skates as a part of the sport as a further tribute to Leo and Oscar.

And if the history bothers you, what a shame.


Roller Derby is 82; join the party on August 13 at Coliseum Park

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

Long Live the (Roller Derby) Queen –

Long Live the (Roller Derby) Queen – Gapers Block Tailgate | Chicago.

(click on link above)

Almost all of you know Ann Calvello, who in the 50s through the 70s was the Suzy Hotrod of her day (or is it the other way around?)

Well, Ivy King was the first Derby superstar.  She skated in the very first Roller Derby in Chicago and for the next 15 years.

She was tiny, wore glasses, looked sweet as Shirley Temple, but was a real pisser.  A terror on the track, and funny, foul-mouthed and a great woman into her 90’s.

The perfect connection between original Derby and modern Derby, and that is why the Windy City Rollers named their championship cup after her.  Please read the great piece from Chicago.

Two loves of my life:  Ivy King and Val Capone…….I am definitely trans Derby.