25 Confessions of a Roller Derby Girl: We were avid fans of Roller Derby when I was a kid in the 70’s and 80’s growing up in Brooklyn, New York. My life revolved around television when I was young (still does) and my family and I used to watch the Derby bouts late night on KTVU, and our local UHF channel, featuring teams like the New York City Chiefs, The Brooklyn Red Devils, and the San Francisco Bay Bombers. We saw their East Coast vs. West Coast, and New York vs. Brooklyn rivalry matches at the Nassau Coliseum, and Madison Square Garden. From the beginning, Derby was one of the few sports that has always been racially and sexually integrated. Both black and white, male and female players duked it out on the same teams.
My cousins, aunt and I were also big into WWWF wrestling, we loved watching Bruno Sammartino fight, Superstar Billy Graham, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Andre The Giant, and most especially Chief Jay Strongbow when he was tag team wrestling with his American Indian partner, Billy White Wolf. Those were the good old days of over the top theatrical violence, and blatant pomp and circumstance.
Roller Derby had a similar rap, and has come a long way from its televised fights of the 70’s and 80’s. The history of Roller Derby is mired by accidents and death dating back to the late 1800’s when organized endurance races lasted 6 days long. Throughout the course of Derby history racers have died during games, after games, and on the way to games. Speed and endurance races evolved into a contact sport in the 1930’s, and continued to be held on flat and banked tracks. Bouts were broadcast on the radio and on local television stations, competing organizations popped up across the country, and the sport underwent several revivals in the late 1970’s – 1990’s.
When I was little, I distinctly recall seeing the movie Kansas City Bomber, starring Racquel Welch as Roller Derby skater K.C. Carr, she was billed as “the hottest thing on wheels.” From that point my love of ladies on skates was born. I’m not alone. Contemporary Roller Derby began a modern rebirth in the early 2000’s as an all female amateur sport. Some leagues introduced all-male teams, and co-ed games as well. There was a new renaissance of Roller Derby. Leagues outside of the US began forming and International competitions soon followed. Currently there are over 1,200 amateur leagues worldwide.