If you've never heard of a "Jetter" squeezing by "the pack" with a "double-whip," or saw a "red shirt" take out an opponent with "the screamer," then odds are you're probably not a fan of "old school" Roller Derby. In fact, I've encountered actual "Rollergirls" who weren't really familiar with "old school" Roller Derby... and it's really not their fault.
Roller-MemoriesAt the risk of showing my age, let me tell you how me and most of my school mates spent our Saturday Afternoons:
4:00 American Gladiators
5:00 The Wonderful World of Disney
The rest of the Saturday afternoon was a blur, and didn't really matter. My friends and I were in 3rd Grade talking about what "Skinnie Minnie" did to "Sweet Stephanie," "Mr. Mean" jumping over the "Wall of Death," and the alligators that had to come out to break a tie-game!!
Yeah... I said alligators.
This television show was so ahead of its time we (us kids from the hood) wanted to know so much more about it! Even more, we wanted to see the "TBirds" get their championship...
Then the networks left us hanging and pulled the rug right from under us! Over the next 2 years you were lucky to catch a glimpse of these shows on the network they called "Prime Ticket." The TV Guide listed "Rollergames" in a certain time slot, and then you tuned in to it... and the figure-8 track was replaced by the oval track. This was NOT Rollergames... it became "Roller Mania" from the 70s & 80s. The TBirds and Violators were now gone and replaced with the Bay Bombers and the Pioneers! No offense to Jo Jo Stafford and Joanie Weston, but that was a HUGE adjustment many kids just couldn't follow. It was tough to get into it... even the point values were considerably lower.
I wouldn't hear anymore about Rollergames until my 6th Grade year.
An advertisement... ON PPV!!!
I was thrilled!! I would've gladly spent a whole month's allowance just to pay for it. I looked for it to be advertised again to order and get the date...
(sigh)... some year?
Was I teased? Did I not hear "Rock and Rollergames" on TV? Was I fooling myself?
I was so disappointed... I finally gave up. My hopes of seeing anything Rollergames-related were put on the shelf for good. Taking Rollergames from me was like taking Linus' favorite blanket away. The hurt (sniff)... the sadness. (sniff sniff)
Heartbroken, I just wasn't ready or prepared for that divorce, but yet, it happened. And worst of all, there was nothing I could do about it. All I could do was hold on to the memories... and the 15 min. clip I still had on VHS.
Thirteen Years Later (2005)I was attending the Art Institute in Phoenix, and headed there for some weekend work. Upon walking through the DeVry parking lot to get to the Institute, I notice a huge track being constructed there. Not just any track... I recognized THIS track! This was a genuine 100% real Roller Derby track sitting right before my eyes!!!
Rollergirls were hanging around, and I approached one and asked "Is this YOUR track?" They replied, "Oh No! We rented it actually. It's that guy's over there." She pointed me to an older fellow wearing a baseball cap. "What's his name?" I asked. She shrugged. "I don't remember, but I think he created it or something."
Created IT...? NO WAY... Is it possible this guy is related to Jerry Seltzer?
"Sanchez! Lou Sanchez!" he introduced himself as.
Not a Seltzer, but WOW, just as historically important. I would later find out he was one of the greatest bad-guys to ever lace a pair of skates and was the arch-rival to Ralphie Valladares on several occasions... the leader of MY TBirds!
This monumental meeting between myself (who knew art and web-design), a newspaper journalist (who would later be known as the "Derby Dog") and Lou Sanchez soon became the amazing trio that successfully re-introduced the NRDL to the Roller Derby community, and eventually the nation in 2006.
We were NUMBER ONE when it came to anything Roller Derby worthy. When the legendary Ann Calvello died, the NRDL was the first website to report it and have an article for her. We even covered the first Dust Devil Rollergirl Tournament in a very detailed article read by thousands. We were truly part of something special.
The Original Website
"The Spotlight"The website itself, was incredible in terms of material. On occasion, the website would offer a player profile known as "The Spotlight" that had a detailed biography on a veteran skater.
On one occasion, Derby Dog pulled off an amazing biography that I'll never forget, involving the toughest manager ever, Miss Georgia Hase. Not a lot was known about her previously, and she even had a Rollergirl following. In my opinion, her biography was everything a biography was supposed to be.
SIDE NOTE: Georgia Hase's biography was so comprehensive and detailed, a long-lost relative of hers came across it online, wrote us and we actually connected the two of them! It was amazing how popular these stories became, and even competing leagues were copying our ideas! We delivered a lot of what the Roller Derby community wished to see, and had veteran skaters on edge hoping to be contacted by us for our next "Spotlight" article.
"Derby Dog"I'm a firm believer that you "give credit where credit is due," and Derby Dog deserved a lot of credit for bringing a lot of great ideas to the table and standing firm on the ideals of this sport.
A lot of people didn't know this, but a letter was written to Derby Dog by a Sacramento newspaper writer. It scolded Derby Dog for a report he wrote on a TBirds VS. Bay Bombers game. The writer, an admitted HUGE fan of Roller Derby, questioned Derby Dog as to why he would report the game in such a "positive" light, when he felt the game was "otherwise."
Derby Dog wrote back:
"The last thing I personally refuse to do as a 'reporter' is to discourage people
away by giving a pessimistic, detailed account on a 'dismal' performance, IF it
was the case. My job isn't to 'criticize' knowing I can't do any better.
I stand by what was written."
The writer, admittedly in fear of "sticking a foot in his mouth again," ended up thanking Derby Dog, and actually altered his future posts. It was clear in the world of Roller Sports, Derby Dog was the best advocate for this sport and one of the strongest voices as well.
Being a journalist, he supplied much-needed read-worthy content for all of our viewers. As its web-master, he really did a wonderful job in building the framework of how everything was going to work together, and created a perfect synergy between his ideas and my artwork.
3 Leagues Under The SeaThere were 3 leagues running at the same time: The NRDL; Los Angeles (TBirds Territory); and San Francisco (Bombers Territory). Each one lacked what some other one had. This is how it broke down…
--------"The Pros"---------------------------------------NRDL – Best Track, Best Ideas, Best Presentation
San Fran – Bay Bombers Franchise, Best Funded (Money)
L.A. – TBirds Franchise, Best Training Facility
--------"The Cons"---------------------------------------NRDL – No Money
San Fran – Used Recycled Ideas & Amateur Presentations
L.A. – Owned the TBirds name and did nothing with it.
Imagine what could've happened if everybody chose to work together!
There were several other factors that led to the "Coma of Roller Derby…"
The Amount of SkatersThe Skaters were thinning in numbers… especially in male participation.
With the lack of track-based Roller Derby programs being presented, there was no exposure to young kids or teenagers that may have wanted to participate.
Eventually, the only new skaters coming into the fold were family members or friends of the OLD skaters pushing the sport more into a "family business" rather than a franchise. This posed potential issues within certain leagues.
In one example, a "clan" of family members were allegedly notorious for demanding leverage in several leagues and threatened to quit in unison if their demands weren't met. The "clan" made up over half the roster. If you "crossed" one, you basically "crossed" them all.
AgeThe age of the skaters dedicated to this sport reached well into their 50s and higher (with a few exceptions)… but these were your veterans that made a living doing this from back in the days, especially the "big-names" who were skating since the 70s.
Expecting these folks to flip over the rail all the time as they did 20 years ago is highly unlikely, even though it's what we expect to see.
In contrast, the career-span of the modern day Rollergirl is only a few years. This means, the roster you see today will most likely be completely different in 5 years. It's not a long-lasting line of work, and there's no pension-plan for retirees.
Age not only contributes to the breakdown of bodies, but also the breakdown of relationships.
EgoThe saying is: "You can't teach an old dog, new tricks."
Thelma adds: "… and you can't teach a DUMB dog, nothing!!" (Good Times, 1975)
Unfortunately, in most cases, egos can really destroy an entire company. Take, for instance, the example of World Championship Wrestling (WCW).
WCW was a company on top of the world, and eventually, the "inmates" so to speak, began running "the asylum," and completely drove the company into the ground.
In Roller Derby's case, the "inmates" never made it to the asylum because they were too busy destroying the bus taking them there!
Online, it was common to see the older veterans arguing with each other over matters that occurred in the 60s. They went back and forth, back and forth, and never got anywhere! It was the equivalent of Congress, but it was Roller Derby!! If you asked any one of them why Roller Derby is dying, they could tell you 1, 2, 300 different stories... but the blame NEVER fell back on them.
In a nut-shell: "They simply refused to work together."
Truthfully, these same veterans placed "Roller Derby" in a bubble. They all longed for these "good ol' days" again, and wanted to bring pieces of nostalgia back, and yes, it seemed wonderful in theory... but realistically those days were long over. Many of their ideas were dated, and unfortunately, wouldn't work in today's world of entertainment. The world had changed, but in THEIR bubble, it was still the glory-days of 1963.
It was heartbreaking to watch these LEGENDS of the track reduce their legacies to pointless arguments, 40 year-old feuds, and small nuggets of acknowledgement from ANY league just to experience that taste of importance just once more!
They inadvertently held Roller Derby hostage by "protecting it" so bitterly, that they took the experience away from those who needed it the most... the NEXT GENERATION.
Personal Note: When I'm 60-years-old, I shouldn't be waiting for MY invitation to come back into "the locker room." I should be led there by MY protégé!!!
Where is the maturity here??
Can we hang up the egos long enough to accomplish what's really important??
The True LegacyAllow me to change the focus from Derby, back to pro-wrestling, for a minute...
When I, like many other beginning wrestlers, first started training in this sport it was about ME, and how far I was going to make it to the top.
Then I got wise.
When I wrestled, it wasn't about being a legend anymore.
I wanted the fans to enjoy themselves so much, that regardless of what I did, I left a mark in their minds forever.
Think about it! A year from then, they may not remember who the champion was that night, but they WILL remember when Black Venom spat black mist in some guy's face. That's the stuff you'll tell your kids! And who knows, perhaps, there was some child who watched that night, thought Black Venom was the coolest wrestler he ever saw, and eventually becomes a professional wrestler himself.
Sounds Far fetched?
Not to the 8-year-old kid who watched "Mr. Mean" Harold Jackson in 1989, mimicked his mannerisms, took it to the ring and became "Black Venom" ten years later.
It happened to me!
I was influenced by somebody I KNEW was amazing! I had to experience "Mr. Mean", in action, for myself! I made a "life altering decision" based on my exposure to this man.
It should come as no surprise, that I would be so angry with these people depriving such a wonderful sporting experience from children. If we left it up to some of these Veterans, the Rollergames I grew up with and loved never would've happened. They considered it trash. And yes, let's face it, the Rollergirls aren't meant for children... but the sport of Roller Derby itself, has a universal appeal that could be enjoyed by everyone.
Personal Note: When I first met Harold Jackson in 2005 (b), I never in my wildest dreams imagined that a day like that could ever happen. I sat beside him on a bleacher he initially had to himself, and told him how much I admired his work from years back. I told him I was a pro-wrestler now, and that every time I "sold" a move, I learned it from watching him. I don't know how often he heard that, or even if he heard anything like that before... but I think he was shocked to hear it then.
Ironically, I later learned that he walks with a cane now due to injuries sustained by the same jump over the "Wall of Death" that amazed me back in 1989.
I think it comforted him a little, knowing his condition now, that sacrificing his body all those years actually impressed and influenced a complete stranger to want to be just like him. I think that's one of the greatest things an entertainer ever wants to hear: an appreciation for their work.
Spiritual Note: It's experiences like this and many others that further proves to me the existence of God, and how he knows your deepest desires, and can fulfill them for you when you least suspect it!
(a) "L.A. Stars" Concept Jersey
"It's like I died and went to Heaven! All of these stars I