Local Roller Derby Tradition Rolls On

Haiming Jin / The Pioneer

Kevin Vera

The year was 1935, the Great Depression was a continuing struggle and a promoter by the name of Leo Seltzer emerged from a weak economy to create a  new sport.

It was a cross-country marathon on roller skates, The Transcontinental Roller Derby, which later came to be recognized as the sport of roller derby.

The game was seldom considered a sport until 1937, when sportswriter Damon Runyon decided to implement physical interaction among players. This allowed the popularity of the game to spike, as well as  Seltzers’ envisioned plan for the game to be accomplished.

Leo’s son, Jerry Seltzer, took over in 1958 with newly established headquarters on the West Coast. The Bay area’s team, the Bay City Bombers, was known as ‘America’s favorite team,’ and one of the greatest roller derby players of all time, Joan Weston, was the game’s golden girl establishing herself as one of the best in the world of roller derby. The Bay City Bombers the game’s future was promising and its growth seemed inevitable.

Joan Weston was a California native and Hayward resident. Her athleticism and dedication to the sport inspired a generation of female.  Her dominance on the track exemplified her characteristics as a leader and made the organization proud to have her as the face of a nationwide roller derby movement.  Weston dominated the 60s and continued several years later before retiring, but by 1997 the former star and world-renowned roller derby queen Joan Weston died at age 62 of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in her home in Hayward, California.

Although roller derby lost a legend, the game continues its comeback to mainstream television and its venture to be recognized as a professional sport by the media. Since then the National Roller Derby Association’s (NRDA) creation in 2007 in order to garner national recognition of the game.

Roller derby has been slowly rising in popularity as a result of the NRDA and is due to teams, its  local newcomers ‘East Bay Roller Derby,’ a currently recruiting and a relatively new team, which carry on the mission to spread the game’s popularity and to assimilate themselves to the rankings of longtime pros like the Bay City Bombers in hopes of potentially building a legacy of their own and leaving their mark in the roller derby history books.

President Lauren “Auntie Social” Kallio is the leader of East Bay Roller Derby and her mission is simple.

“I want to build a team that will one day be nationally recognized and is able to compete at a high level,” Kallio said.

Kallio’s roller derby nickname ‘Auntie Social’ is a common tradition of the game that’s had a variety of names such as Kallio’s ‘Auntie Social’ and Weston’s ‘Blonde Bomber’.

New teams like ‘East Bay Roller Derby’ have begun to form everywhere from Santa Maria to Concord even in places like Brentwood, roller derby is slowly making its way back to society’s ring of entertainment.

Cal State East Bay student Apryl Pascua, an East Bay Roller Derby player, is currently juggling a job, working on teaching credentials and four days of roller derby a week.

“I practice with the girls here at east bay Mondays and Thursdays, my Tuesdays and Sundays are devoted to some extra practice in the south bay,” Pascua said.

Players like Pascua show the abundance of different backgrounds these players are coming from, the oldest player on the team is 50. The current roster ranges from ages 18 and up so there’s no true age limit in order to enjoy the game all it takes is will and dedication.

East Bay Roller Derby has tabled earlier in the year and recruited a handful of girls ranging from inexperienced to clueless yet the doors are wide open welcoming those with the slightest interest in playing a unique sport.

“We have a list of girls that I’m going to call soon, Apryl was actually recruiting at the beginning of the year, so I definitely look forward to getting in touch with them,’ Kallio said.

Although the all girls team just got started a couple months back, they have immersed into practice and are working up to the beginning of 2011 when they will officially begin playing competitively against local groups like the Santa Maria Ruff Rollerz.

Kallio represents the flame in the passion for the game still burning to this day, her leadership and struggle to take her team to the top is what Seltzer envisioned would popularize the sport back in 1935 and although roller derby isn’t a mainstream event competing with the popularity of major League baseball it’s leaders like Kallio that keep the game alive and ready to continue growing.

Kallio’s blog shares her exact goal in the game of roller derby.

“My ultimate goal is to establish a nationally recognized roller derby team that showcases talent, skill and athleticism.”

With a goal such as this, roller derby can look forward to making its way back to broadcasts, the heart of passionate skater and most importantly, back to the national stage that has long forgotten the lost sport of roller derby.