The quad roller sport that is now known as roller derby has a short but interesting history. The term roller derby dates at least as far back as 1922. Derby activities started in the United States as a type of non-contact speed skating competitive activity back in the 1920s.
A film publicist named Leo Seltzer blended dance marathon elements with roller skating to create the first Transcontinental Roller Derby event in 1935. This competition stimulated cross-country roller skating with 25 two-person co-ed teams rolling around a track thousands of times to cover 3,000 miles. These roller skaters clocked as many as 11 hours each day. Teams were disqualified if both members were ere off the track during designated skating times.
After the first Transcontinental Roller Derby event, Seltzer decided to use a portable track and conduct similar races all around the United States. When skaters tried to lap those in front of them on this smaller portable track, the most exciting part was the collisions and crashes that occurred in the passing attempts. These accidental contacts quickly become a crowd pleaser, and a sportswriter named Damon Runyon suggested that Seltzer change the game format to include more physical contact between the lapping skaters. Leo agreed to try it - even though he was not sure if it was a good idea - and the fans embraced it. Over the course of time, roller derby has grown into a quad roller sport played by two teams of five skaters each with teams scoring points by lapping members of the opposing team.
Roller derby grew during the 1940s and 1950s and earned a reputation as a tough sport. Derby skaters developed into big unique personalities and rivalries also developed with them. The sport became more sensationalized into a unique mix of speed skating and WWF wrestling entertainment. In this era, roller derby was a professional or compensated sport for women and men.
By the 1970s derby started to decline due to a combination of a weak economy and high travel costs. Even televised bouts and the 1975 film Rollerball (a futuristic look at what roller derby could have become) was not able to revive spectator interest. As the viewing public lost interest in this type of roller derby, so did professional sponsors.
The original or classic style of roller derby did not go away completely. A few teams remained active after the sport's decline, and some leagues formed to keep the traditional co-ed format alive. But the sudden explosion in roller derby's popularity has centered on new leagues that have adopted the basic structure of the game for their teams with female skaters only.
The Bay City Bombers, an independent group of young women with a strong do-it-yourself work ethic - re-invented roller derby around 2001. They had a vision of a grass roots women's sport that would blend the visual drama of roller derby with its hard-core, competitive speed skating roots.
Use the information below to learn more about the history of roller derby, the types of derby tracks used, the equipment needs for participants, the rules and strategy behind the sport and why derby skaters love it so much.
- An Introduction to Roller Derby Skating Activities
- The History of Roller Derby
- What is a flat track in roller derby?
- What is a banked track in roller derby?
- Training for Roller Derby
- Derby Drills and Training Resources
- Learn About Derby Skates
- Safety Gear for Roller Derby
- Dressing Up or Down for Roller Derby
- How to Play Roller Derby
- The Strategy Behind Roller Derby
- Dressing Up or Down for Roller Derby
- The Roller Derby Name Game
- Roller Derby Today
- Competitions in Roller Derby
- Roller Derby Associations and Governing Bodies
If you want to try a quick and easy digital overview of today's derby sports, try Germaine Koh's Intro to Flat-Track Roller Derby iTunes app to get an introduction to the fast-moving sport of flat-track roller derby, including a video demonstration, explanations of the most common referee hand signals and a FAQ archive right on your iPhone.
For more information about the development of the roller skates used for your sport, review the history of quad skates and the history of inline skates.