Roller Derby can trace its roots as far back as 1884 to competitive multi-day endurance races that were popular entertainment events. Roller skating endurance races remained popular throughout the early twentieth century, having events at popular venues like Madison Square Garden and Chicago’s Broadway Armory.
In the 1930’s Transcontinental Roller Derby was born. The event simulated a cross country roller skating race where teams raced to skate the 3,000 miles between Los Angeles and New York lasted over a month long. The event was a success and it was taken on the road to different cities, drawing in huge crowds averaging 10,000 per day. Due to the wild response from the crowd when the inevitable crash occurred, contact between skaters became encouraged around 1940. Teams were created to compete against each other in shorter races that vaguely resembled the roller derby you see today.
Roller Derby continued to be popular sports entertainment first airing across the country on the radio on 1939 and then making its way to television in 1949. In the late 60’s and early 70’s Roller Derby reached it’s height of popularity with many cities creating home teams for competition. Fans may remember derby watching heroes of the past like Joanie weston and Ann Cavello with their families on TV. A record for event attendees was made in the early 70’s with the Bay Area Bombers drawing over 28 thousand fans to the Oakland Coliseum as they battled it out with the North East Braves.
Roller derby events petered out in the mid 70’s due to rising overhead costs. Many attempts were made to revive roller derby from the mid 70’s to the 90’s with several different roller derby type sports being televised for short runs. Efforts to increase and maintain popularity led promoters to use theatrical tactics to try to engage fans. Despite the skill and hard work of the athletes, roller sports began to look like the WWF and lost much of its legitimacy as a sport.
Modern Roller DerbyIn 2001 a group of women came together to form the first modern all women’s flat track derby team, the Texas Roller Girls. Their events were successful and in a short time, leagues were popping throughout the country built up in a grassroots, DIY movement. Most leagues operate as nonprofit public benefit entities with skaters doing almost all the organization and management of the leagues.
Roller Derby attracts a variety of participants and fans from all walks of life. Initially a raucous, rebellious atmosphere surrounded the sport. In addition to wild player names, fishnets and revealing uniforms prevailed – but as the sport grew in popularity and seriousness, the athletes traded their fishnets for athletic pants. Athletes typically train an average of 10+ hours per week with their teams and many more hours off skates as they work to keep their bodies fit to prevent injuries and gain the skills needed to succeed in the sport.
The sport has grown exponentially with over 150 leagues formed in the US by 2006 to over 1500 known roller derby leagues worldwide in 2014. Adult and youth women’s leagues as well as men’s and coed leagues sprinkle the country and every continent in the world. Roller derby is now played throughout North and South America, Europe, Australia and even Japan, South Africa, United Arab Emirates – and the list goes on.