When I was approached some months ago by the founders of Live Derby Girls, they told me they wanted me to write their Derby Cult section and it was pretty much up to me what I could write. I’ve done a few reviews, some fashion pieces and tried to encapsulate and chip away at all that is derby culture.
Derby, as most of us gals know, has very rich culture and very deep history. I was on my way to work this morning when I turned on NPR to get my dash of the morning news when I caught the tail end of a very moving roller derby feature.
Renowned sports writer Frank Deford narrated a very cool, three minute derbyrific piece mainly focusing on Joanie Weston. Probably important to note here is that Joanie Weston is my FAVORITE classic derby player.
Joanie was the Bay Bomber with class, beauty, style and above all else mad skills. Deford touches on this in his feature, but it is well know that Joanie was an amazing athlete. Back in her time it was hard enough for women wanting to be independent and have any career let alone a career in professional sports.
Women like Joanie and Ann Calvello skated as a way to make a living while staying out of the typing-pool. Could you imagine getting paid to play roller derby? Having it as your main career, not just something you did on nights and weekends? Heavy stuff, right? Women joined the derby as away to be independent and bring in money on their own effort, not relying on a man to support them.
Roller derby was different in those days. It was a traveling road show with owners, choreographed and scripted bouts and a new town every couple of days. Part of me likes to image myself with those ladies and gents, traveling around, playing a different kind of derby, but getting paid for it – would it be worth it? To sacrifice a “real life” and a family to play derby professionally?
I had the opportunity a couple years ago to talk with gentleman who was at that time coaching the Redding Rollergirls – Eric Darnell Anderson was his name and it turned out that years before he had skated professional men’s roller derby for some time. Back in the day he was a close acquaintance on Ann Calvello and spoke lovingly of the sport’s origin, it’s growth and it’s potential. I’d say he thought it was worth the sacrifice, but loved the way the sport was going now.
Back to Frank’s story and the origin of this little slice of derby history, there was this one tear jerking quote in his story that really tugged on my heart strings:
One night, somewhere out on the road — because the derby was always somewhere out on the road — Joanie held her little dog in her lap, and she sighed, and this is what she told me, wistfully: “All I want out of the roller derby is to make good money, get out of it in one piece, and years from now, when I say I was in the roller derby, I want people to still know what it is. I want that.”
It just paints a vivid picture. I think the reason I was touched by this is because not only has Joanie’s wishes come true, but I truly feel that in every derby girl’s heart we all wish the same thing. Roller derby is really taking off and who knows what the sport is going to be like in five years – We could very well be paid athletes. The sky is really the limit.
Frank ended his report by saying there are now over 500 women’s leagues in 16 countries, from North America, to Europe, to Australia, to Brazil, to Abu Dhabi. That alone blows my mind.
One day when we are all wrinkly old biddies and roller derby is a true professional sport, we can all tell our grand daughters that we were apart of not just the resurgence of the sport, but the birth of professional derby. Joanie would be proud.
Photo: Derby Memoirs