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Roller Derby

Roller Derby was born in Chicago during the Depression but didn’t achieve national prominence until the advent of television in the late 1940s. In 1949, the National Roller Derby League was formed, and the playoffs for that season sold out New York’s Madison Square Gardens for the entire week.

In the 1960’s the sport needed a facelift and most of the original old timer skaters began to leave as new skaters found their way to the game. Charlie O’Connell and Joanie Weston were America’s sweethearts and became the foundation of the next generational onslaught of the derby.

This roller derby was young with skaters ages starting at 15 years old and peaking at just 26. The average age was 21.

Roller Derby thrived in Northern California in the 1960s and 70s. The Bay Bombers, formed in 1954, became the team of choice, and the rest is history. Under Seltzer, the Roller Derby survived until its last official game in 1973.


During the last two years of the Seltzer-owned Derby, the sport went nationwide with games being skated all over the country and teams adopting various cities as their “home” base. The Pioneers skated in the Chicago area, the Jolters in Cincinnati, the Chiefs in New York, and, of course, the Bombers in Northern California.

For a brief period, the Bombers were replaced by the California Golden State Bay Area Chiefs (with Charlie O’Connell at the helm), but the ever-loyal Bomber fans didn’t stand for this very long, and soon the Bombers (and O’Connell) returned to their familiar brown and orange uniforms.

An unexpected enemy put an end to the Derby by 1973. Driving everywhere, Roller Derby soon succumbed to rising fuel prices and transportation costs. Fans, at least for awhile, had to live with only their memories of the game.

Some skaters scattered to other skating organisations, but disgruntled with the style of play, none lasted very long with these groups. Seltzer, meanwhile, founded the successful BASS ticket service, while his uncle Oscar continued running the Roller Derby Skate Company.

In 1977 David Lipschultz revived the Derby, bringing it back to some of its former glory in Northern California. Lipschultz had got involved in the Derby after skaters Charlie O’Connell, Mike Gammon and announcer Don Drewry made an attempt to bring the game back in 1976.

A television producer at Channel 20 in the Bay Area, Lipschultz was interested in putting the Derby back on TV. On April 24, 1977, the first television game of the new International Roller Skating League was taped at Kezar Pavilion.

Lipschultz eventually took complete control of the league and under the IRSL banner, signed many of the old Derby stars. Roller Derby was finally back in business.

The new organisation lasted until 12 December 1987, when the last game was skated at Madison Square Garden in New York. Financial problems and involvement with partners who suddenly backed out, spelled an end to this version of the Derby.

Left with no place to go, the skaters again tried other organisations, most notably the Southern California-based Roller Games. But many skaters opted for retirement rather than continuing on.

Other promoters have tried to revive the Derby over the years in one form or another, but none have succeeded.


  • A team is composed of five men and five women.
  • Only five members of each team can be on the track at one time.
  • A game consists of two halves, each with four alternating twelve minute periods for women and men.
  • All skating must be in a counter-clockwise direction.

The game starts when the referee signals by blowing his whistle that the two teams are equally in position. This group is called the pack. In this pack are two Blockers (who wear white helmets) and two Jammers (who wear striped helmets) and a Pivot Man (who wears a black helmet).


A Jam (scoring play) occurs when one or more jammers have pulled away from the pack. The jammers have 60 seconds to score. The blocker cannot score. The pivot man can jam as long as he isn’t the first jammer out of the pack.

A jam can start:

  • When the referee has signalled that both teams are in the pack.
  • When the pivot man of each team is evenly together at the front of the pack.
  • When all jammers are at the rear of the pack.
  • When a pivot man from each team is on the track.

The pivot skater cannot be more than 20 feet in front of the pack before the jam starts. The clock and the jam actually start when one of the jammers has been able to pass the leading opposing blockers in the pack.

Helmets must be worn by the jammers to score, unless through some involuntary action the helmet is knocked off, then the referee has the right to decide on this point.

A jammer receives one point for every member of the opposing team he or she passes, every time he or she laps the field within 60 seconds.

Any jam starting on the 4th or 8th period with less than 60 seconds remaining will run until 60 seconds have elapsed or until called off.


There can be no tied games in Roller Derby. If at the end of the eighth period the score is tied, the game will go into overtime in the following manner: The women and men will alternate five-minute skating periods until a point is scored. The team scoring first point will be declared the winner. The “last jam” rule does not apply in overtime periods.

Points are scored as follows:

  • A jammer receives one point for every member of the opposing team he or she passes, every time he or she laps the field within 60 seconds.
  • If a blocker commits a foul on a jam skater, the jam skater will be awarded the point that he or she is attempting to score.
  • If, in the opinion of an official, there is a deliberate penalty against a jamming skater to prevent that skater from scoring, and this jam would determine the game’s outcome, the official may award up to five points on the jam. The determining factor would be the score differential at the time of the jam. The injured team’s score could not be raised higher than the fouling opponent.
  • A skater forced into the infield may not better the position he was in when he left the track.
  • A skater receiving a penalty becomes ineligible to either score or be scored on.
  • A fouled skater cannot be passed for a point unless he or she has had sufficient time to recover from the foul.
  • No jam can be considered a legal jam with more than five skaters on the track from each team.
  • A skater with skate trouble cannot be passed for a point.

A player may block an opponent with any part of his or her body with the following exceptions:

  • It is illegal to use any part of the arm below the elbow.
  • It is illegal for a skater to block with his feet or trip an opponent.
  • In using arms for blocking purposes, the arm must be bent, not extended full length.
  • It is illegal to block from the rear .

Elbows may be used in blocking, but not in the following manner:

  • A skater is not permitted to use an elbow block above the shoulders.
  • A skater is not permitted to use an elbow with an upward or downward motion.
  • In setting up a double block, it is illegal for the defensive skaters to grip hands or lock arms. Both blockers may receive a penalty at the discretion of the officials.

No defensive skater will be permitted to drop back more than a distance of twenty feet behind the pack to block a jammer. A one-minute (minor) penalty may be called by the official.


There are Major Penalties (two minutes) and Minor Penalties (one minute) which force a team to skate shorthanded when awarded. The referee may call a minor penalty for holding, illegal blocking, stalling, tripping, illegal use of the hands, and other minor fouls.

A major penalty can be called for fighting and intentional roughness, deliberate and excessive insubordination, gross unsportsmanlike conduct, and railing.

In addition, if a player is ejected from the game, his or her team receives a two-minute penalty. If a penalised skater does not leave the track immediately – or interferes with the remainder of the field – he or she will receive an additional one minute penalty. If the skater’s penalty time overlaps into the following period, ANY member of the opposite sex taking the track must serve out the balance of the penalty time.

No more than two players on any team can be in the penalty box at one time. If a third player or more is penalised, the player or players committing the penalty must leave the track and be replaced by a substitute. The penalised skater will begin serving his penalty time when one of the skaters in the penalty box returns to the track. At such time the substitute will return to the bench.

If any player accumulates a total of eight minutes in penalties during one game he or she is automatically ruled out of the game and his or her substitute will spend the time of the last penalty in the penalty box.