When I first heard about the revival of Roller Derby by women, I really didn’t pay any attention….Over the years there have been “outfits” popping up in Florida, Texas, California, all who thought they could emulate the original Derby with a crappy “game” with an excessive amount of wrestling moves…..and frankly I thought that’s what the modern Roller Derby was all about.

Then in 2005 I met Val Capone (my current Derby wife) and about a dozen other women from the Windy City Rollers, as I mentioned in a previous post about the 70th anniversary dinner in Chicago. And frankly when we went to the game at the Congress Theater the next night, I didn’t think this was much difference: Cross dressers for coaches, strange races when a skater was penalized, etc….But the crowd at the facility was on to something.  This was a neo-punk event, and they were really into it.

CafePress T-shirt design "Derby Evolution".

As we know, the game evolved, and grew, and then you realize that today many of the original players are still involved and the skill level just gets better and better.

I am hoping that a tier system comes into being soon, similar to English soccer, so the level of play equalizes.  Hopefully, that 86 point average disparity between the winning and losing teams that exists today will gradually shrink, allowing the teams to be more competitive with each other….and the ranking system will be changed so beating up on a weaker opponent is not a benefit for getting into the nationals.

It is a great game, it will continue to evolve, and I have little doubt – in spite of those who don’t want it to happen – it will become a major arena event in at least 2 dozen cities….

But that won’t affect the other leagues any more than major league baseball or NBA basketball affects the thousands of other leagues.

It’s not the worst thing that can happen to one of America’s original sports.

We are the Champions of the World

Photo by emsago from stock.xchng.com

This was the championships in Chicago two years ago……It was the best one I have seen out of the three to date…Chicago was old home week to me, the Palmer House was wonderful, the Windy City Rollers treated me wonderfully, and my friend Marsha Jordan at ABC was kind enough to do a wonderful feature on the event.

I will see my fourth championship this coming weekend in Atlanta, and I will be at the Roll Models booth (best uniforms going), giving away trinkets and having autographed Derby books as usual.  It will be great, but not the magic of Chicago where the game originated.  And I have the feeling this will be the last WFTDA tournament I will attend….Please drop by!

I had not been back to Chicago for a while.  I got off of the plane, got my suitcase and wheeled it for miles, it seems, as I wanted to take the train to the Loop.  For just $2.25 I was able to go just 18 stops till Monroe, get out and pull my 50-pound case up 50 or so stairs and walk a block and a half to the Palmer House.

It brought back memories of my high school days in Skokie and my college days at Northwestern…..we would come to the Palmer House for the big events at the Empire Room and  the after prom parties.  The lobby looked the same, the huge painted ceiling and the none cookie-cutter feeling of the Marriotts, Holiday Inn, Ramadas etc.  The room was tiny but cozy, with the marble bathroom floors I had remembered.

I had a phone call from Marsha Jordan, whom I had first met 38 years before after our sold-out game at White Sox Park (50,000 plus).  Marsha is an Emmy winning journalist and producer at ABC 7 in Chicago and she had thought it would be a good idea for WLS-TV to cover the event for the Windy City Rollers (When will other media catch on to what a huge event Roller Derby has become?).  So I rushed over to the UIC Pavilion where the last game of the first day was taking place.  Marsha interviewed people from the WCR and me (for old time’s sake) and I got to say hello to Val Capone and others and DNN put me on the air.

When I got back to the hotel there were many of the leagues who had come from everywhere for this 12-team tournament composed of the regional winners.  And most had not qualified for the final.  I sat down and had a nice glass of Coppola wine with three beautiful women from the Gainesville league.  The all worked in some scientific capacity in that University town and all had attended University of Florida.  Roller Derby had become so important in their lives;  two out of three were married, the third had her boyfriend there.  They were happy that Gainesville was surviving as at least 6 other leagues in Florida had not been able to sustain the tremendous effort to keep Roller Derby alive.  I know it is wrong to generalize, but these women typified what I had come to know about Derby girls, open, confident and supportive of their league and their community.

I talked to many others that night:  the women of Naptown (Indianapolis), Charm City (Baltimore), Nashville, Olympia, Rocky Mountain and on and on.  Olympia is the Green Bay of WFTDA:  all the other finalists were from major US Cities, but Olympia – the defending national champions of the WFTDA – is a town of 37,000, some 60 miles south of Seattle.  They have many speed skating champions on their team as well as a major training program.

Remember, all of these people have to raise the money to get to these tourneys; some of the teams stayed 5 to a room.  Many had driven from far locations.  An unbelievable story is two skaters on Oly (sisters) had babies just four weeks apart, just 8 weeks ago and four weeks ago, and both skated and their husbands were on hand taking care of the babies when necessary.  And because the airlines would not allow the four-week old baby to fly (!), they had driven the 35 hours from Olympia to Chicago……talk about sacrifices!

Everyone was so good to me and appreciative of my family’s contribution to the history of Roller Derby (the first game had occurred just two miles from the hotel 75 years ago at the Coliseum which had been torn down).  And from my facebook postings and these blogs and the games I have gone to, they were aware of how devoted I am to what they are doing.  I finally fell asleep at about 1 AM feeling very good.

There were games all day long on Saturday starting at 9:30 AM.  I couldn’t make that one (time difference and all) but was there for the 11:30 game on.  It is amazing how far along the skating has come since I started watching in 2005:  the teams were beginning to focus on pack play which is the real strategic part of the game:  how to help your jammer while getting the other blockers out of the way and then making the pack ready to block the opposing jammer trying to score and clearing the blockers so your jammer could score.  The two best at utilizing the concept: Rocky Mountain and Oly, although others including Gotham Girls, Philly, B.A. D.,Kansas City, Nashville, Windy City and the others were not far behind.  And the dozens (maybe a hundred) other leagues on hand watched and learned to take back to their cities.

I have to say a word about how this tourney was run; as a former promoter who rented more arenas than you can imagine, it was amazing to me how the volunteers from WFTDA and the Windy City Rollers ran the Nationals.  UIC Pavilion is a great facility with about 7500 seats available for the tourney.  Volunteers were everywhere and helpful. I spent some time with a nice man who was in charge of the building for this event.  He mentioned how wary they were when they first rented it to the WCR when they saw the tattoos etc, but he said these are the nicest tenants they deal with and the fans show the most respect for the arena……is everything about Roller Derby so great?

I got to see Misty Greer, Ms Dolan, so many others of my favorites that my head spins.  I was able to see the Gotham Girls for the first time and could understand why they epitomize to so many people what the modern Roller Derby is all about.  Bonnie Thunders set a championship record by scoring over 100 points in the third place game!  Suzy Hotrod seemed to be on every jam.

On Sunday was the most intensive skating I have seen in the modern-day sport as Oly and Rocky Mountain from the opening whistle to the end slugged it out like Mohammad Ali and Joe Frazier.  Skaters were hitting the floor and getting up immediately; jammers were flying around the track; blockers were working overtime.  When it finally ended Rocky Mountain had become the new National Champions by the slimmest margin: 147-146.  The winners went crazy, the losers crestfallen temporarily, but then in the spirit of Derby were smiling and warmly embracing the women from Denver.  No slow play or stopping, thank goodness.

And Leo was there, and Ann Calvello was there, and Toughie was there, and Ivy King was there, and Ma and Billy Bogash were there and Joan Weston was there, and all of Roller Derby was there and holding hands in a circle and saying thank you for Derby Love.

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