Derby Girls Whip It! - Fire On Skates; 21st Century Roller Derby

Roller Derby in 1950

Source

Filmed In Michigan

Sports that intrigue me besides the martial arts of the world are those with speed, accuracy, continued movement, and excitement. Many are featured in the Olympics and include speed skating, ice hockey, alpine skiing, halfpipe, luge and skeleton, bobsled, archery, and diving and swimming events. it is unlikely that another favorite will be added to the Summer Olymics in the future: Roller Derby.

Roller derby match: Manhattan Mayhem vs. New Jersey Dirty Dames
Roller derby match: Manhattan Mayhem vs. New Jersey Dirty Dames | Source

In the 20st Century, roller derby was practiced on a flat track, but by the 1950s-1970s, it was on a banked track. Today, skaters wear roller sakes or inline skates, whereas, only roller skates were available long ago. Another difference is that skates mid-20th Century often sported dyed hair with contrasting roots showing, today's derby girls and guys display tattoos and sometimes, neon hair colors.

On cooped up Saturday afternoons in high school. I remember watching roller derby matches on television. Enjoying the speed and interaction of the team members,men and women on the same team' however, I winced whenever one woman grabbed another by the hair and tossed her over the side of the railing around the banked track. It was a little like the old Big Time Wrestling. While not caring for pro wrestling very much, I would probably enjoy it somewhat, if the wrestlers were on roller skates. That's the attraction of hockey to me over football.

The 2009 film release of Whip It! was shot in several Michigan cities and served as Drew Barrymore's entrance into film directing. She and the movie added public interest to the sport and the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) began to expand rapidly as a result. In addition, Sports Events magazine (September 2009), reported that as of publication, at least 300 flat track teams are in existence and special recruiting and training programs are in place (pages 26 - 28).

The Form Of a Rollergirl

Rollergirls 2009 - Hammer City Explains It All

Invented During the Great Depression

The leading team of the 1950s - 1970s was the San Francisco Bay Area Bombers, today a professional team that competes on the traditional banked track. They were one of the first to add aggressive skating, "feuds", and physical attacks to the game in order to excite audiences back in the back-and-white TV days when roller derby and professional wrestling were both very popular. My parents watched both entertainment sports through the mid-1970s, on Saturdays. While roller derby did not travel to Central Ohio to compete, the area had its own wrestling show, broadcast from Veterans Memorial Auditorium in C Columbus, where part of the Arnold Fitness Weekend (and weight lifting/posing competitions) is held yearly. Today, Ohio Roller Girls are based in Columbus.

Roller derby caught fire and spread across Northern California in the mid-1900s, but the Los Angeles Thunderbirds also became famous, in Southern California. In fact, after the golden age of the sport ended in the early 1970s, it continued in Southern California on some local broadcast television and in a few local sports venues.

Who invented this sport? -- Newspaper clippings in museums dating back to the late 1880s, describing lengthy roller skating marathons. (Library of Congress archives). From this impetus, roller derby was invented as a more exciting marathon event in Chicago about 1935 by Mr. Leo Seltzer, and carried on his son. This was Seltzers' competition for popular marathon dancing in which unemployed dancers hoped to win money (watch the related film They Shoot Horses, Don't They?). Seltzer had the roller girls and guys speed around a track thousands of times, like a runner's marathon in an oval and on skates. The difference from marathon dancing is that skaters and staff were actually paid in this Depression-era job that provided a salary, food, and a place to stay.


Trailer: Whip It!

Whip It!

Roller derby teams carried portable tracks and traveled across the United States to entertain Depression-weary people with their marathons. In the late 1930s, the spectacle became a match between co-ed teams and the rules for men and women were the same. Aggressiveness and humor were added, as they are today, to spur excitement in the crowds of onlookers. From around 1946 - 1973, roller derby was widely broadcast on television, but after nearly 30 years, it suddenly lost popularity to other sports, particularly football and basketball, car racing, and others.

In Los Angeles, roller derby continued in small ways on local television for some years and several teams continued to train. They were organized by businessmen to meet after the players' "day jobs" to train and participate in matches and were paid a part-time income. That is the state of the larger game today, except that the our players are usually not paid. A few professional teams, however - mostly women - make a good living at the sport. and men are beginning to participate in larger numbers, whereas they had previously made up the largest part of the spectators.


Roller derby went through decline and the development of a few small leagues during the 1980s, but the short-lived TV series Roller Games and RollerJam on television caught viewers' eyes in 1990 and 1999 with inline skating and new personalities. I remember watching RollerJam and wondering if the old sport of the Bay Area Bombers would ever return...

The renewal of the sport arrived in the early 2000s as a group of Texas women researched roller derby and decided that it could be played at a roller rink on a flat track. Thus, the Women's Flat Track Derby Association mentioned above came to life with dozens of teams across the nation. However, teams using the banked track are also very active, in the American Roller Derby League (ARDL) out of Northern California. Some of these teams offer boot camp style training to members and the public.

What is Roller Derby?

Ohio Roller Girls

Some of our team members have some interesting names:

  • Amy "Alli Catraz" Spears
  • Bratislava Bruiser
  • Chewblocka
  • drrty grrl
  • Foxy Force
  • HellionBOI
  • Kill Basa
  • Kitty Liquorbottom
  • Phoenix Bunz
  • Pippi RipYourStockings
  • Royal Pain
  • Triptease

Visit Ohio Roller Girls on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/OhioRollerGirls

Outrageous Video

The following music video from Devo (from Ohio) features one of their signature songs Whip It! It is not about the jammer whipping around the pack in roller derby, but it does seem to have some Texas women in it.

Devo and Whip It!

Texas Rollergirls
Texas Rollergirls

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Comments 17 comments

dusanotes profile image

dusanotes 6 years ago from Windermere, FL

Awesom Hub! very nice with those skaters and all. Don


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

I'm going to attend some bouts - tickets are just $10 here.


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

I have never heard of it and thoroughly enjoyed reading about it. Thank you.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

nice article. I liked all the picture. thanks for showing me about that.


JBeadle profile image

JBeadle 6 years ago from Midwest

Love the videos with this hub! When I was a kid you could watch Roller Derby. It was like wrestling then. We weren't quite sure it wasn't real yet but we suspected. Although, I think roller derby was less rigged than wrestling. Won't see this movie until it comes out on DVD but wouldn't mind seeing one of those old roller derby shows again. Wonder if there is a DVD out there of that?


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

Whip It! is already out on DVD and you can see it in a picture/amazon link above or go to your local DVD mo movie store. Should be a reasonable price by now.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

Great hub. I hadn't thought about roller derby for years. I used to love watching it. Thanks for bring back a nice memory. Videos were great.


Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 6 years ago from Great Britain

You constantly amaze me, Patty. You must be one heck of a character. Your interests are so, so varied.!!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

It DOES surprise people that I like roller derby and hockey, Dim :) But it's fun!


Mortgagestar1 profile image

Mortgagestar1 6 years ago from Weirton,West Virginia

I recall Requel Welsh as Diane "K. C." Carr, Kansas City Bomber, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1972

She actually broke her arm filming this flick. Few women could match the pure erotism of Ms. Welsh on skates!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

Amazing, Mortgagestar1! - I never heard of this one. I'm looking for "fireball" with Marilyn Monroe and Mickey Rooney in roller derby. It's an old one. Thanks for commenting.


sabrebIade profile image

sabrebIade 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

I used to love Roller Derby! It's like fighting and skating...LOL

I think Roller Jam came on right after GLOW here.

But I remember Roller Derby from way before that.

Yes they had roller skates back then!


RGraf profile image

RGraf 6 years ago from Wisconsin

I haven't seen roller derby in years!


centralskimboards 6 years ago

Cool!


Summer 5 years ago

Im actually the President of the Texarkana Roller Derby and team captain of Vicious Vixens. I'm super excited the Roller derby has spread and it will continue to grow. We are here to stay :)


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America Author

Fantastic! Best success to your group. I love roller derby.


bensen32 profile image

bensen32 2 years ago from Round Lake Park

interesting and informative thanks

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