Derby Girls Whip It In Modern Roller Derby
Extreme Sports in the Olympics
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, half-pipe, luge and skeleton, bobsled, archery, and diving and swimming events.
Some fans hope that another favorite will be added to the Summer Olympics in the future: Roller Derby, a contact sport.
20th and 21st Century Skating
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 skates 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 Saturday afternoons in high school. I remember watching roller derby matches on television. Enjoying the speed and interaction of the team members, I saw 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).
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.
Rollergirls 2009 - Hammer City Explains It All
Ohio Roller Girls
Some of the team members in my state have had interesting names:
- Amy "Alli Catraz" Spears
- Bratislava Bruiser
- drrty grrl
- Foxy Force
- Kill Basa
- Kitty Liquorbottom
- Phoenix Bunz
- Pippi RipYourStockings
- Royal Pain
Visit Ohio Roller Girls on Facebook: www.facebook.com/OhioRollerGirls
Southern California Wheels Spread to Chicago
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 skating sport? Newspaper clippings in museums dating back to the late 1880s describe lengthy roller skating marathons according to Library of Congress archives.
From this impetus, roller derby was developed into a more exciting marathon event in Chicago about 1935 by Mr. Leo Seltzer, and carried on by his son. This was Seltzers' competition for the 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.
Best Teams in the Women's Flat Track
The Top 20 Scoring Teams out of over 300 U.S. roller derby clubs in Autumn 2016:
- Gotham Girls Roller Derby: NYC
- Victorian Roller Derby League: Australia
- Rose City Roller: Portland OR
- Angel City Derby Girls: Los Angeles
- London Rollergirls: UK
- Texas Rollergirls
- Denver Roller Derby
- Arch Rival Roller Derby: St. Louis
- Minnesota RollerGirls
- Jacksonville Rollergirls
- Rat City Roller Girls: Seattle WA
- Atlanta Rollergirls
- Crime City Rollers: Malmo, Sweden
- Dallas Derby Devils
- Team United Women's Roller Derby
- Philly Roller Derby
- Tampa Roller Derby
- Terminal City Rollergirls: Vancouver BC
- Montreal Roller Derby
- Bay Area Derby
A few professional teams, however - mostly women - make a good living at the sport.
Traveling on Skates
Early 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 in the 2010s, whereas they had previously made up the largest part of the spectators.
Skates on Television
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.
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.
The following music video from Devo (from Ohio) features one of their signature songs Whip It! Ohio teams sometimes use it as an anthem.
- Banked Track Memories -- Remembering the Roller Derby and Roller Games photo galleries and informational text. Accessed December 9, 2018.
- Detroit Roller Derby -- Michigan's premier roller derby league; begun as Detroit Derby Girls in 2005. Accessed December 10, 2018.
- The Hammer City Roller Girls - Hamilton, Ontario since 2006 Accessed December 10, 2018.
Ohio Roller Derby - Ohio's First and Finest Flat Track Roller Derby. Accessed December 10, 2018.
- The Roller Derby Hall of Fame Accessed December 8, 2018.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2010 Patty Inglish MS