Every single girl who plays roller derby has heard it. “Oh, I used to watch that on TV in the 70′s”. Perhaps some of you skaters even remember the glory days of disco era derby yourselves (I don’t). My dad grew up in Oakland and talked from time to time about the Bay City Bombers and Joan Weston. In fact, every single person I know who knew anything about derby in the 70′s reminisces on Joanie Weston “The Blonde Bomber”, “The Golden Girl”, “The Roller Derby Queen”.
Several months ago when my home team The Cog Blockers played Death Rattle Rollers I had an awesome run of jams, scoring a hell of a lot more points than I have ever scored before (103). I have to give a huge shout out to my pivots and blockers, because I am not as good they made me look. Even though I know I had a world of help from my teammates, and our opponent was a little less skilled, it felt really damn good to look at the stat sheet and see that number by my name. So I sent a text to my dad exclaiming how awesome I looked on paper. He responded with “Wow. Joan Weston never scored that many points”. Weather or not that is true I don’t know. I’ve tried looking up her stats on multiple websites and archives but haven’t really found anything. While digging around for a statistic history she really piqued my interest. One hell of a broad, I must say.
The most fascinating and inspiring tidbit I found is that she was the highest paid female athlete of the 60′s and 70′s. I know “back then” there weren’t many avenues for women to pursue a professional sports career, but still. She ruled two decades! A natural athlete, she excelled at college softball and pretty much every physical feat she attempted. The surfer in me is pretty jazzed that she was great at that too (and was known to paddle out sans wet suit – my hero). She started skating for the Los Angeles Braves but didn’t really make a name for herself until becoming captain of the Bay City Bombers in ’65. During her career she skated for 19 different all star teams and maintains a reputation as one of the most beloved ladies to ever lace up. The 1972 flick Kansas City Bomber was said to be inspired by (not based on) Joan Weston. This piqued my interest even further.
Kansas City Bomber. I’ve never heard of it. I’m surprised that in my two years of skating I missed a derby movie. So I rented it. Raquel Welch plays K.C. Carr, a skater with a pretty face fighting her way to the top despite constantly being traded! Holy crap, people. I realize I’m way behind the curve here, but if you haven’t seen this go get it now. I’m accustomed to seeing Raquel Welch as a big haired, doe eyed, busty damsel in distress type. In Kansas City Bomber she is a divorced mother of two who unloads her kids on her disapproving mother to make a name for herself in the great wide world of derby. I hear a lot of girls say that they found their “voice” through roller derby, felt empowered, or even in control for the first time. Derby has not done any of those things for me (because I’ve always been the sassy pain in the ass I am today), but in her character I can really see what everyone means by that. She has a rough go of it, but as a talented skater she gets the fulfillment she is looking for and finds the strength to follow her heart. Cat Scrap Fever gives it two thumbs up! Or, is that two elbows to the face?
Kansas City Bomber is a far cry from the game we play today. And Joan Weston passed away in 1997. Roller derby captivated millions of Americans in the past – and its revival is alive and kicking. Looking back makes me so excited for the future! Weston said “All I want out of the Derby, is to make good money, get out in one piece and, years from now, when I say I was in the Roller Derby, I want people still to know what it is. I want that.” She certainly succeeded, I imagine, beyond her hopes. We all work very hard to sustain our sport. Who hasn’t wished we had a professional circuit to actually make some cash in? I find it comforting to know that for twenty years, the lady sports hero with the biggest paycheck was earning her keep playing roller derby.