NATIONAL ROLLER DERBY HALL OF FAME
Celebrating Roller Derby's Greatest Stars
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 mythical race from one coast to the other. The game was modeled after dance marathons and bike races, popular in the 30s. 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.
The next race (after the premier in Chicago) was in Kansas City, starting Sept. 18, 1935. Major cities that hosted Transcontinental Roller Derby included Louisville, Cincinnati, Indianapolis & New York City (at the famous Hipprodrome). The biggest stars of the early game were IVY KING, JOHNNIE ROSASCO (Derby's first Hall of Famer - 1952), WES ARONSON, PEGGY O'NEAL, JOE NYGRA & GENE VIZENA (husband & wife and Derby's first 'villains'), plus mother/son team of JOSEPHINE 'Ma' BOGASH & BILLY BOGASH. 'Ma' Bogash was the first woman inducted into the HOF (1952) with Rosasco. Billy became one of the greatest stars in the history of the game, skating till the late 50s.
In Salem, Illinois, on a bus trip from St. Louis to the next race in Cincinnati, a bus crash claimed the lives of over forty Derby skaters and personnel, almost destroying the entire operation.
Roller Derby achieved popularity throughout the country. New York sports writer, DAMON RUNYON, saw the game in Miami in 1938 and suggested more contact and rules. Roller Derby eventually evolved into a game skated between teams of five men and five men, scoring points by lapping opponents. Seltzer's game continued throughout World War Two with two units.
Roller Derby was first televised from the Polo Grounds in NYC back in 1946, but when the game was broadcast from New York City's 69th Regiment Armory at the end of November, 1948, the sport finally captured the attention on the nation. Brooklyn vs. New York skated that series and the female stars of the teams, MIDGE 'Toughie' BRASUHN & GERRY MURRAY, captivated everyone. Six teams represented NEW YORK, BROOKLYN, NEW JERSEY, PHILADELPHIA, WASHINGTON & CHICAGO. Not till January, 1950 would fans pick the distinctive team nicknames - CHIEFS, RED DEVILS, JOLTERS, PANTHERS, JETS & WESTERNERS.
The first Roller Derby World Series was held at New York's Madison Square Garden in September, 1949. During Derby's first five World Series, either the NEW YORK CHIEFS or JERSEY JOLTERS would win the title. In addition to Billy Bogash, Brasuhn & Murray, other top stars of this era were KEN MONTE (Brasuhn's husband), GENE GAMMON (Murray's husband), brothers TOMMIE & BUDDY ATKINSON, BOBBIE JOHNSTONE (Buddy's wife), (husband & wife) CARL & MONTA JEAN PAYNE, (husband & wife) RUSS BAKER & ANNIS JENSEN, BERT WALL, ELMER ANDERSON, ANNABELLE 'Slugger' KEALEY, SID HARNESK, MARY LOU PALERMO & (legally blind skater) SAMMY SKOBEL.
The Roller Derby Hall of Fame is established in 1952 with first inductees JOHNNIE ROSASCO & 'Ma' JOSEPHINE BOGASH. In 1953, BILLY BOGASH, WES ARONSON, IVY KING, PEGGY O'NEAL were inducted. Until the original Derby league ended in 1973, twenty-one skaters would be inducted. The National Roller Derby Hall of Fame was reopened in September, 2004 in New York City.
Having become the first casualty of the new media called television thru overexposure, Roller Derby left the country and started a European tour skating in Paris, Madrid, Barcelona & London.
Roller Derby's base of operation was relocated from NYC's Madison Square Garden to Los Angeles with the establishment of the LOS ANGELES BRAVES & CALIFORNIA BOMBERS. The Braves with JULIE PATRICK, BILLY BOGASH, CHARLIE 'Spec' SAUNDERS, MARY YOUPELLE, BARBARA MATEER, BERT WALL, JEAN PORTER & REDD SMARTT become the focus on the Derby world.
Roller Derby opens engagements in Hawaii & Australia.
Leo Seltzer's son Jerry takes over day-to-day operation of the sport, moving its base of operation to Northern California, making the SAN FRANCISCO BAY BOMBERS, Derby's premier franchise. Derby returned to New York City (1958) where the Chiefs with GERRY MURRAY, GENE GAMMON & son, MIKE GAMMON, plus BUDDY ATKINSON SR. & JR. continue to thrill fans thru 1960. Other stars of this period are ANN CALVELLO, HAL JANOWITZ, MARY GARDNER, BILL REYNOLDS & Derby's first African-American stars, GEORGE COPELAND & DARLENE ANDERSON. The Chicago Westerners stun the hometown favorite Bay Bombers in 1959's World Series Championship game at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, the first time the Finals had been skated on the West Coast.
Jerry Seltzer makes the BAY BOMBERS 'America's home team' focusing the Derby world on 'Mr. Roller Derby,' superstar coach, CHARLIE O'CONNELL and women's captain, ANNIS 'Big Red' JENSEN. Jensen is replaced as captain by 'Golden Girl,' JOAN WESTON in 1965. The Bay Area season operates from April thru September, with games being videotaped for broadcast over a network of stations to promote 'live' games throughout the country. The national road tour is where all the money is made as the constant promotion for live games sells out arenas everywhere. Derby also operates in the Northwest & Mexico during the early 60s and returns to New York City in 1965 during its national tour.
Many of the skaters who been with Derby in L.A. during the 50s (REDD SMARTT, ROGER SCHROEDER, HELEN LISKA, TERRI LYNCH, TONI TAGG, SHIRLEY HARDMAN, JOHN HALL, RALPH VALLADARES) become the centerpiece of a rival league, the National Skating Derby, called ROLLER GAMES, which is promoted by Public Relations excecutive WILLIAM GRIFFITHS. 'National' as it was called by skaters would be focused on the LOS ANGELES T-BIRDS (Thunderbirds) with LYNCH & VALLADARES. Roller Games over the next decade would establish teams in Hawaii, Australia, Canada, Mexico & Japan. In 1967, the Hawaiian team, the WARRIORS, would move to the East Coast, establishing a successful franchise in Philadelphia with former Derby stars, BUDDY ATKINSON, JR., JUDY ARNOLD, (husband & wife) MIKE GAMMON & JUDI McGUIRE. More 'home' teams would be created in Florida, Cleveland, Baltimore-Washington while Roller Games' leagues would skate seasons in Japan & Australia. NSD skaters perform in the major motion picture, KANSAS CITY BOMBER (1972), starring Raquel Welch. Other major stars of Roller Games include JUDY SOWINSKI, RONNIE RAINS, JIM TROTTER, (former Olympian) EARLEAN BROWN, DANNY REILLY, SALLY VEGA, LESTER QUARLES, JULIE PATRICK, JOHN PARKER, LEROY GONZALES, ADELINE HOCKER, NORMA ROSSNER, LOU SANCHEZ, DIANE SYVERSON, LARRY LEWIS & RICHARD BROWN. When the original Derby league folded in December, 1973, the INTERNATIONAL SKATING CONFERENCE was created with major stars of both leagues skating against each other.
Roller Derby's prominence under Jerry Seltzer continues to grow following major magazine pieces in 'Sports Illustrated,' 'Time' & 'Life' and the release of the critically-acclaimed documentary, DERBY, in 1971. O'CONNELL & WESTON continue to lead the Bay Bombers, while two stars from Derby's golden era, KEN MONTE & ANN CALVELLO, provide major competition. The national road tour continues to grow and grow, so much in fact, that the Bay Bombers are split into two units, San Francisco & Oakland. Derby sells out Madison Square Garden (19,500+) and draws 28,000+ (July 4, 1970) & 34,000+ (July 4, 1971) at Oakland's Coliseum Stadium for outdoor games. Stars during this period include MIKE GAMMON & JUDI McGUIRE, (boxer Sugar Ray's son) RONNIE ROBINSON, JAN VALLOW, BOB WOODBERRY, SANDY DUNN, BOB 'Bald Eagle' HEIN, TONY ROMAN, CAROL MEYER, CLIFF BUTLER, MARGIE LASZLO, LYDIA CLAY & BILL GROLL.
Fall of '71, Seltzer sells the San Francisco Bay Bombers to a Texas group and reactivates the NEW YORK CHIEFS (with Charlie O'Connell & Mike Gammon) as Madison Square Garden becomes once again actively involved with the sport. Joan Weston & Ronnie Robinson lead the hometown MIDWEST (Chicago) PIONEERS while Ann Calvello & Cliff Butler lead the OHIO (Cincinnati) JOLTERS. By the summer of '72, O'Connell is back with the Bay Bombers and the team is back in the Derby fold. A skaters' strike hobbles the Derby family and rising costs makes the business suffer. In September, 1972, over 52,000+ fans attend an interleague game between the PIONEERS & L.A. T-BIRDS in Chicago's Comiskey Park. Gas shortages and increased costs cripple Seltzer's family-run 'Mom & Pop' operation and the original Roller Derby league skates its last game on December 8, 1973 at the Long Island Arena in Commack, New York. Seltzer sells everything to the National Skating Derby.
The International Skating Conference is created as the greatest stars of Roller Derby & Roller Games come together in one league. Only the New York CHIEFS from the original Derby league continue. The new enterprise is short-lived when Derby stars refuse to skate the more theatrical style of Roller Games and fans stay home. The L.A. T-BIRDS & Eastern WARRIORS are the premier teams in the ISC along with TEAM CANADA, TOKYO BOMBERS & LATIN LIBERTADORES. The San Francisco BAY BOMBERS come back at the end of '74. Roller Games' superstar, JUDY ARNOLD, retires in August, 1975 and soon the entire league disappears. After the ISC ends, operations continue separately in Philadelphia & Los Angeles, but Roller Games East is soon gone. In Los Angeles, the T-BIRDS continue, but the 'new' Roller Games is focused around beautiful women who have little skating talent and the entire operation becomes more and more 'soap opera.' Roller Games eventually tours Mexico, Canada and the East Coast, thanks to broadcasts on ESPN, but by the late 80s, few games are skated.
Roller Derby returns to the Bay Area in 1975, but the upstart league is short-lived. In 1976, after a game at Cal State, the IRSL (International Roller Skating League) is formed by MIKE GAMMON & (former Derby announcer) DON DREWRY. Somewhat bittersweetly, many great stars of the original Derby return to skate a season of games reminiscent of the original league. Gammon & Drewry leave in 1978 and the operation is run by rock promoter DAVID LIPSCHULTZ. Games are once again seen on TV in the Bay Area, plus around the nation on ESPN. The league even returns to skate in New York City & Chicago.
Rock 'N Roller Games, a syndicated TV program featuring the T-Birds (with legendary skating star, RALPH VALLADARES) debuts. Instead of a banked track oval, skaters compete on a figure eight track with a 'Wall of Death' plus an alligator pit, along with rock bands. The series is cancelled after a short run.
May 10, 1997
Legendary skating star, JOAN WESTON, died of Jacob-Kruetzfeld disease in California, but her sudden death inspires a renewed interest in the game.
January 15, 1999
TNN's program, ROLLER JAM , debuts featuring the World Skating League where most of the young skaters use inline skates rather than quad skates. Former Roller Games' star, 'Little Richard' BROWN was one of a handful of veteran skaters on the track. ROLLER JAM emphasized the 'soap opera' elements of the the program rather than the game. It would last two years.
September 24, 2004
After receiving the blessing of Jerry Seltzer and family, Gary Powers reopens the National Roller Derby Hall of Fame & Museum in Brooklyn, New York. At the first induction ceremonies, five women and five men, phenomenal legends of the banked track, were inducted into the Hall of Fame, being the first skaters named to the Hall of Fame since 1968. Attending the reopening ceremonies in Brooklyn were greats of the banked track like GERRY MURRAY, MIKE GAMMON, JULIE PATRICK, JOHNNIE & KAY KARP, JUDY SOWINSKI, BOB WOODBERRY, JIMMY CIOTA, PETE BOYD, VINNIE GANDOLFO and fans from all over the country.