Sunday, February 22, 2009

There's Roller Derby and then There's Roller Derby

When it looked like the Seattle Sonics would be the leaving the northwest for the filthy lucre of Oklahoma City it was suggested on various websites and in chatrooms that one ideal tenant for the Key Arena would be the Rat City Rollergirls, the city's all-female Roller Derby league. This year, those skating affecianados get their wish - the league will be skating all of its bouts (as they're currently called) at Key.
I attended the Roller Derby tournament at Key Arena a couple of years ago, featuring teams from all over the country, as part of the Bumbershoot Festival. It was a good way to spend the day but when it comes to Roller Derby I'm a traditionalist. Some would say a conservative.
To me, Roller Derby will always be the game I watched on TV as a child - the San Francisco Bay Area Bombers led by Charlie O'Connell and Joan Weston. The women would skate the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th periods and the men would skate the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 8th. The Bombers would take on teams like the Northwest Cardinals, Northeast Braves, New York Chiefs, Midwest Pioneers and Southern Jolters at the Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco. In later years, the Chiefs and Pioneers would start playing home games and I saw the Chiefs several times at the Providence Civic Center.
Of course, there was a certain degree of showmanship and the dirty little secret was that the star pivot skaters like O'Connell, Bill Groll and Ronnie Robinson (son of Sugar Ray) knew how to control the game and keep the score close.
The current game features leagues all over the country that skate under basically the same rules. The game's are ``on the level'' which means that team's can theoretically beat their opponents, 120-1. The new league gets its' share of criticism as well. The women wear low-cut tops, shorts, and fishnet stockings. The Westons and Ann Calvello's of my childhood have been replaced by skaters using names like Atilla the Nun and Lucille Brawl.
When I attended the ``bouts'' at Key Arena the guy sitting in front of me turned and asked, ``what are the rules of this game besides cheering when a girl on the visiting team gets knocked on her ass''? At times I wasn't sure myself of some of these new-fangled Roller Derby rules.
However, I did find a YouTube clip explaining the rules in Bay Bomber-style Roller Derby. It's not the greatest clip in the world, but it shows the final period of the 1968 championship game between the Bombers (with O'Connell and Cliff Butler) and the Northwest Cardinals (led by Ken Monte and ``Wild Man'' Bobby Seever) at the Oakland Coliseum Arena.

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