What is roller derby?

The term ‘roller derby’ dates back as far as the 1920s and was originally used to refer to roller skating races in the USA. During the 1930s promoter Leo Seltzer and sportswriter Damon Runyon adapted the endurance based competitions introducing an element of spectacle into the sport, emphasising physical contact between skaters. This became the foundation of the modern roller derby that exists today; two teams of 5 skaters who score points by passing members of the opposing team. From its beginning both men and women competed in roller derby.

During the late 1940s professional roller derby teams started travelling across the country providing a popular form of sports entertainment that was broadcast initially on radio and later on television. Once televised Seltzer’s roller derby events grew increasingly popular and attracted large audiences. The early 1960s saw the appearance of completing roller derby franchises, some which focused less on the sport and more on the theatrics. And it was in 1973, as popularity decreased that Jerry Seltzer, son of Leo Seltzer, shut down the Roller Derby organisation.

During the 1980s and 1990s there were a few short-lived attempts to revive roller derby, such as RollerGames, which featured a steeply banked figure eight track and stunts like an alligator pit. However, some of these versions of the old sport included staged actions and storylines, similar to professional wrestling.

In the early 2000s a group of women in Austin, Texas revived the sport of Roller Derby and formed the Bad Girl Good Woman Productions (BGGW). The first public game was held in Austin mid 2002 and was only to be a one night deal, but due to popular demand the BGGW started their first season later that year. It was not soon after that the league split over business plans and formed two new leagues TXRD Lonestar Roller Girls (banked track and still operate under the name BGGW) and The Texas Rollergirls (flat track). Subsequently banked and flat track leagues have begun to spring up all over the world and by 2011 there will be nearly 500 flat track roller derby leagues worldwide.

Contemporary roller derby leagues are often formed with a grassroots do-it-yourself ethic, owned and operated by the players. Inclusive and supportive, leagues provide a strong, fun sense of community to skaters and supporters. Roller derby is gaining popularity as a serious sport where members must have a high level of endurance, skill, agility and courage which demands confident strategic skating, all with an edge of derby drama.