For The Love of Derby: Live Fast, Skate Faster. By Collision Corpse

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Well, put some skates on and be your own hero. — Maggie Mayhem
New York’s Gotham Girls Roller Derby All-Stars were the big winners at the 2011 Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) Championships at the 1st Bank Center this weekend, beating out West Region champs the Oly Rollers Cosa Nostra Donnas, 140-97. Gotham Girls also trounced the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls 5280 Fight Club — local favorites and defending champs — and Austin’s Texecutioners on the way to winning the coveted Hydra Trophy. Watching this bout last weekend was very exciting for me. As an actual derby girl, I can only hope to make it to championships. After watching the championships, I found myself searching for anything to do with derby. I spent hours watching ancient Roller Derby footage. Watching women punch, hit and skate fast, turn left. Roller Derby has changed a lot since it was conceived in the 1930s as a marathon race and later in the 1940s when it became popular with more than 5 million spectators. However in the ensuing decades it became more of a form of sports entertainment, with fake hits and staged fights.                                                                                             Even now the rules of derby are ever changing. Each year there are more rules or rule changes. It is always evolving as we try to make it better. At one point in Derby it was anything goes. There was tripping, punching and hair pulling. Nowadays if you attempted any of those tactics you would be thrown out.  Still there is always the danger of serious injury.                                                                                                       When you go to a derby bout today one thing you will notice is the hitting. Some people think these are staged, but I have the bruises to prove that they are indeed real. Roller girls spend hours upon hours learning how to hit effectively and correctly. One wrong hit can send you to the penalty box. Derby did not start out as an aggressive sport. Sports promoter, Leo Seltzer, looking for attractions to fill the Chicago Coliseum, created the Transcontinental Roller Derby, an endurance race featuring a team of one man and one woman, roller skating on a banked track in a legendary race. The game was modeled after dance marathons and bike races, popular in the thirty’s. Seltzer’s sport debuted at the Coliseum on August 13, 1935. Using women in his game was a double-edged sword for Seltzer since he knew the presence of women athletes would sell tickets, although the mainstream press would not consider his sport legitimate or worthy of their coverage. In the late thirty’s after seeing a match and realizing how exciting the massive collisions and crashes that occurred as skaters tried lap those ahead of them, a sportswriter encouraged Seltzer  to tweak the game to maximize physical contact between skaters.
Roller Derby has taken a turn as a professional sport with interest waning in the nineties after a series of syndicated Derby inspired television programs that show cased the sport with fake WWE like hits and dreadful plots. Players today are considered amateur but everything we do is real. We are not paid for playing; we buy our own equipment and spent our own money getting to bouts. But we are hoping to change that. We want Derby in the Olympics. In early derby skaters were paid to play and were shipped around on buses touring just like any other popular show. We still travel, but now it is in between work and family.  On an average week I spend at least 6 hours at practice and 12 hours skating outside of practice to the great disdain to my husband. Derby girls really do work hard and play harder.       Derby has come a long way since the early days. In 2000, women were recruited in Austin Texas to skate in what Daniel Eduard “Devil Dan” Policarpo envisioned would be a raucous, rockabilly circus-like roller derby spectacle. The version of roller derby that Devil Dan envisioned, as he described it in “Hell on Wheels,” a 2007 documentary released on DVD in September, would have involved “a crazy circus with these clowns unfortunately stabbing each other, these bears on fire on these unicycles.” Of course, those things did not come to pass. Even in Texas, a license to ignite bears can be hard to come by. And so, under disputed circumstances, the man known as Devil Dan eventually sneaked out of Austin, or was chased out, leaving his peculiar brainchild to the women he had recruited as team captains. Widely acknowledged, perhaps reluctantly, as the originator of the modern roller derby, Daniel Eduardo Policarpo, now 39, settled here in Tulsa to watch the sport spread across the country, though not exactly in the form he had envisioned. The women who built the first modern league on their own hard labor called their company Bad Girl Good Woman Productions. Their brand of roller derby found its audience by trading the unintentional kitsch of earlier incarnations for an appeal to the do-it-yourself generation. Modern skaters dress in costumes sometimes including fishnets and tutu skirts, adopting imaginative stage names, but they also deliver real hits, mind the business end of their leagues and disassemble their skate tracks by hand at the end of each competition. In the half-decade since the women from Austin started a nationwide rebirth of the sport, the online archive Derby Roster has counted hundreds upon hundreds of amateur leagues as far-flung as Fairbanks, Alaska; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Finland.  The newest transformation has included teams of men and even a children’s league. There is no denying it; Roller Derby is a fast growing sport. It is back with a vengeance and we aren’t going anywhere.
 

 
 
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2 Comments

  1. My first blog article. (-: CoCo


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