Friday, July 25, 2008

Ask Vance: The Beginning of Roller Derby

Posted By on Fri, Jul 25, 2008 at 4:00 AM

When Roller Derby came to Memphis in 2006 — organized into teams with such catchy names as the Legion of Zoom and the PrissKilla Prezleys — lots of fans thought it was a reincarnation of the matches they watched on television back in the 1960s.

But it turns out the sport is actually much older than that, and the Lauderdale Library has recently acquired a souvenir program for a 1939 event with the long-winded title of Leo A. Seltzer’s Trans-Continental ROLLER DERBY or Coast-to-Coast Roller Skating Race.

Now I have no idea how this race could take place "coast-to-coast" since the participants, then as now, raced around in a circle. But that’s how they promoted it, anyway. And this entertainment spectacular took place here in Memphis every night from 7 to 11 p.m. for two entire months — January and February 1939 — at the Municipal — better known to Memphians as Ellis — Auditorium.

The program is interesting because it lists the members of the two competing teams. Forget names like "Legion of Zoom." These teams were simply called the Reds and the Whites, and though most of the racers came from all across America, one of them was a Memphian: a woman named Honey Thomas. As you can see, she raced on the White team. What also distinguishes the 1939 version of roller derby from today’s matches is that the 10-member teams also included men, which must have made for some especially bruising matches. In fact, the program itself proclaims, "We use Norwich products exclusively — makers of Unguentine," which (for those youngsters out there) was a popular rub-on pain reliever.

Then as now, nobody can make sense of roller derby rules. But here, I’ll let you decide for yourself. Here’s how the old program tries to explain the game:

To read more, visit Vance's blog.

Or, if you're interested in seeing the rules (and skaters) in action for yourself, Memphis Roller Derby's Hustlin' Rollers take on the River Valley Roller Girls this Saturday, July 26th, at the Mid-South Fairgrounds.

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