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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Brief History Of Roller Derby

Originally invented in the 1930's by Leo Saltzer the very first roller derby was seen in Chicago at the Coliseum in 1935 where roller skaters used a banked skating surface to simulate a cross country race watched by more than 20,000 spectators. At the time the craze was for marathon dance competitions which tested the endurance of the competitors over many, many hours of dancing. Marathon roller skating events at the time could last an unbelievable length of time, sometimes many months with full time staff and full time competitors.

The Early Years

From Chicago roller skating marathons spread out across the United States to many more cities with the track being dismantled and moved. The roller derby stayed in cities for many months before moving on. The roller derby evolved into a race between two teams with five members, one designated the 'jammer' who aimed to lap the opposing team members. Roller derby was ahead of it's time as women competed on the same terms as men, a first for any team sport. The track changed over time with the elevation being raised to forty five degrees and rails added for the safety of the competitors.

The first televised roller derby was broadcast in the 1940's and was instantly a hit. Over the next 20 years the game evolved into a sport with more body contact and similarities to American football. In the 60's the women competitors were seen as role models for independent women throughout the world. In order to accommodate the track in available basketball courts it was modified to be more portable. At this time the popularity of the sport was a t a high with hundreds of teams touring and competing all over the US.

The Decline in Roller Derby in the 1970's

From a high in the 1960's the popularity sharply declines and was dropped from national television in the 70's. High gas prices and transport costs took their toll. Many of the full time staff and competitors were laid off. Roller derby continued however with many part time leagues being formed who kept the sport very much alive. Several attempts to revive the sport were launched throughout the 70's with some TV revivals and the formation of the International Roller Skating League which lasted for ten years. TV only spectacles were also staged including the Roller Jam and the Roller Games.

Roller Games was created in the 1960's by a rival of Seltzer's Roller Derby league. It was a televised spectacle and an increasingly theatrical interpretation of roller derby. The flagship team was the Los Angeles T-birds (Thunderbirds) and lasted through the 70's 80's and 90's into the early years of the 21st century with many ups and downs in popularity.

Roller Jam was based on the original roller derby with skaters mainly using in line roller skates and was televised from 1999 - 2001. It evolves into a largely theatrical production which caused many skaters who felt that it should be focused on the original concept of a skating competition to boycott the show.

Roller Derby Today

The sport has increased in popularity today with many hundreds of largely all girl teams competing across the US. There are also some mixed teams and even some all male teams.

About 60 all girl teams are members of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) which sets the rules for competitions between leagues. Travel teams compete in regional matches.. the WFTDA organises championships and publishes rankings of it's members.

The Old school Derby Association was formed in May 2007 and promotes the sport among it's members. The rules are based on the early versions of Roller Derby but also incorporates newer rules to accommodate the fast moving defensive game that exists today.

The sport is now worldwide with leagues in the UK, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, Ireland, Canada and Germany.