Old School Derby

1935  Roller Derby is created by Leo Seltzer on a napkin at Johnny Ricketts restaurant in Chicago. He coined the term to describe a long-term endurance race, inspired by the popularity of roller skating combined with the idea of dance-a-thons that were fashionable at the time. Roller Derby is one of only 3 sports actually invented from scratch in the US (the other 2 are volleyball and basketball). 1935 First Trans continental Roller Derby is played in Chicago. Twenty- five 2- player pairs competed in the contest to roller skate 3,000 miles, equal to the distance between San Diego and New York City, around an oval track. Starting on August 13, the teams raced to cover as much distance as they could each day in 11 ½ hour shifts. On Sunday, September 22nd, Clarice Martin and Bernie McKay won the title, one of only nine teams to finish the 39 day event.

1937  After watching the crowd get excited over an accidental collision during thecompetition, sportswriter Damon Runyon suggests adding more physical contact  and roller derby begins its evolution.

1937  Leo Seltzer creates the International Roller Derby League (IRDL), known for the skaters’ pride in their skating and athletic ability. Surviving, now  retired skaters insist to this day that the games were competitive, but also that it was important to be showy to draw fans.

1937  Roller Games is started as a competing outfit to Seltzer’s IRDL. The Roller Games league is known for its antics, showmanship and disproportionate theatrical violence. A rivalry was born, that later culminated in a game played in the late 1960s.

1973  IRDL holds its last official game. Transportation costs during the gas crisis of the 70’s were blamed for low attendance and the ultimate death of this first incarnation of roller derby. Some claim televised derby bouts flooded the market and viewers’ interest dwindled.

Old School Roller Derby

Old School Roller Derby

1977  David Lipschultz forms the International Roller Skating League, made up of part—time skaters with day jobs, and folds in 1987. 1980s American Skating Association, another league of part- time skaters, is born in the mid- 80s. 1985 RollerMania, created by the International Roller skating League, brought derby back to national TV on ESPN. 1984 Roller Jam is created by Knoxville television producer, Stephen Land at Universal Studios in Orlando, FL. In an attempt to capitalize on pro wrestling’s popularity with TV viewers, the co ed game was  re- worked to include a figure 8 track, a pit of live alligators, and choreographed games performed by in line skaters. This era was considered to be the Dark Age of Roller Derby by most  but is also cited as an early source of inspiration for many of the current generation of skaters, who saw Roller Jam when they were impressionable young girls. Roller Jam lasted for 2 years on TNN, which is now Spike TV.

New Wave Roller Derby

Dec 2000  The revival of all female derby started in Austin, Texas with a once a year circus/punked out version of roller derby. The organizer disappeared with the money and the skaters continued on to form Bad Girl Good Woman Productions (BGGW).

2001  Austin, Texas. BGGW creates the first all- girl roller derby game of the new generation.

June 23, 2002  First all- women Flat Track Derby game was played for a crowd of friends and family.

July 2002  First public bout held for an audience of 600 enthusiasts.

April 2003  80% of the original BGGW members break off to form the Texas Rollergirls based on the concept of “by the skaters, for the skaters.” The BGGW league went on to skate banked -track roller derby known as the Texas Roller Derby Lonestar Rollergirls.

2003  Ivanna S. Pankin founds Arizona Roller Derby in July, and the league holds its first competitive, flat- track exhibition bout in Tempe, Arizona in November of 2003, with advice and support from the Texas Rollergirls and guest skaters from the BGGW Lonestar Rollergirls. More DIY all- female leagues are created by scrappy women in Los Angeles, New York, Tucson and North Carolina in the late summer / early fall of 2003, and the current generation of roller derby skaters start getting to know each other and sharing notes. The New Renaissance of Roller Derby is born and the gospel spreads like wildfire thanks to the internet and email.

2004  The United Leagues Coalition (ULC) is created as an online message board to help other flat- track leagues get started, and foster inter league games between established teams. Founders of leagues from Seattle to Philadelphia and everywhere in between compare notes and begin training.

Nov 2004 The first inter league games of the new generation: the Texas Rollergirls, Arizona Roller Derby, and Tucson Roller Derby. The legendary games are attended by a record -breaking number of fans, including skaters representing more than 15 DIY all- girl leagues from every corner of the country.

July 2005  United Leagues Coalition is formalized. ULC representatives from over 20 leagues finally meet in person in Chicago in a historic, face -to- face conference to determine the future of the organization as a governing body for all- women, flat- track roller derby. The girls collaborate on a plan to develop a cohesive sport with shared rules and requirements for game play. The meetings, led by members of founding leagues and rookies from newly- formed leagues, result in a democratic voting structure and a timeline for meeting specific goals to foster inter league bouting.

Aug 2005  RollerCon ’05, the first All- Girl Roller Derby convention, in Las Vegas. More than 400 skaters from over 50 flat and banked- track leagues are represented, including retired skaters from historic teams of the 1950s and 60s. Even descendants of Leo Seltzer attend the weekend long party, which includes dinners, live bands, and a now infamous two -hour, multi- league scrimmage in 107 degree heat outdoors on Saturday at noon.

Nov 2005  The ULC changes it’s name to the “Women‘s Flat Track Derby Association” Feb 2006 The Dust Devil Tucson International Tournament  the first tournament was held February 24th  26th, 2006 and hosted by Tucson Roller Derby in Tucson, Arizona. Twelve leagues participated in the tournament, the results: Texas Roller girls #1, Tuscan Rattletraps #2, Arizona Roller Derby #3.

July 2006   WFTDA holds its 2nd annual meeting to finalize the membership requirements and policies, rules, ranking, and tournaments.

Present day roller derby is still dominated by all female amateur teams. In the US alone there are currently 2046 amateur roller derby teams. World wide there are 3179. Roller derby was under consideration for the 2020 Olympics. There is also a growing number of male, co-ed, and junior roller derby teams.

Feature photo by via http://public-domain.pictures/

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