B.A.D. Girls

Iva Vendetta, Miss Moxxxie, Ghoulina, and the other Bay Area Derby Girls are into piercings, tattoos, partying, sexual innuendo, and whatever they decide roller derby is going to be

The next year, however, Jerry Seltzer's league ran out of steam, undone, he and others insist, by high gas prices during the Arab oil embargo (skaters traveled mostly by car) and wage strife. After a particularly disappointing turnout in New York, Seltzer closed the league. A few of the game's stars, such as one-time Bombers Charlie O'Connell and the late Joan Weston, continued to skate with one or another of the imitator leagues that sprang up.

But the sport never revived.

L.A. entrepreneur William Griffiths, who dubbed his flavor of derby "Roller Games," tried to pick up the pieces, but alienated fans by introducing a style that was as much carnival sideshow as sport, replete with fat ladies, midgets, and pie-throwing. Another reincarnation, Rollerjam, introduced on the TNN cable network in 1998, had skaters (using inline skates as opposed to traditional quads) jumping over alligator pits and assuming roles as soap opera characters. It also bombed.

The San Francisco Bay Bombers and the Midwest 
Pioneers at a packed Madison Square Garden, 1970.
Courtesy of the Roller Derby Foundation
The San Francisco Bay Bombers and the Midwest Pioneers at a packed Madison Square Garden, 1970.

Yet, die-hard fans of original derby, including several promoters who've for years advanced "leagues" that are little more than occasional exhibitions, haven't given up on a roller derby comeback. Some appear not to know quite what to think about the new all-girl phenomenon. "In the end it will depend on just how much athleticism the women bring to the sport, besides their showmanship," says Will McCoy, 48, a self-described classic roller derby fanatic from the East Bay who works in marketing for World Wrestling Entertainment. "A lot of us who love roller derby hope they're on to something."

Gathered for a league meeting before a recent practice, the B.A.D. Girls are quickly taking inventory of what they need to talk about. Their fund-raiser, at a place called Studio Z, has been a success, but there's a downside. A furtive photographer has infiltrated the spanking booth, taking anally-retentive pictures that have turned up in a local smut rag, and some of the women are chagrined.

In all matters they are a do-it-yourself bunch. A few of the skaters are ready to report back what they've found out about setting up a limited liability corporation. There's also the matter of insurance to discuss. Two of the women are chosen to represent the league in July at a Chicago conference of all-girl leagues that, like the Derby Girls, skate on a flat track. The aim is to try to unify rules and eventually set up interleague play.

The women clearly want to find another place to practice, one that will allow them to train more often and at a more decent hour. Eleven Derby Girls have just come back from a weekend junket to Los Angeles as guests of the L.A. Derby Dolls, who -- like the Lone Star Rollergirls and another group in Phoenix -- have their own banked track. Among those who've made the trip, there's strong sentiment that, if and when they find another venue, "banked" is the way to go.

But that decision is for another time.

For now, the women are weighing a proposal from former skater-turned-roller derby promoter Pam Schwab, who has a banked track in storage and is looking for someone to split the rent for a place to set it up, so she can open a training school for her International Roller Skating Derby Inc.

Schwab's enterprise is among several commercial remnants of roller derby's past. Her former business partner, Dan Ferarri, has something called American Roller Skating Derby, an assemblage of mostly older skaters whose next exhibition is slated for the San Jose Civic Auditorium in July. And then there are the Bay City Bombers, a "league" owned by San Francisco software engineer Tim Patten. After years of occasional bouts in places as varied as the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium and the Solano County Fairgrounds, Patten has sold two of his three banked tracks -- one to the Rollergirls in Texas -- and says he intends to organize an all-girl troupe of his own.

These operations and two similar ones in the Los Angeles area avoid using the words "roller" and "derby" consecutively in their titles, lest they invite trademark difficulties. That's because the "Roller Derby" mark is claimed by the Roller Derby Skate Co. of Litchfield, Ill., a skate manufacturer whose chairman is Jerry Seltzer's cousin.

Such matters, however, are of little consequence to the Derby Girls, who do not appear to have a commercial bone in their bodies. As committed grass-roots do-it-yourselfers, the women -- like those of other all-girl leagues -- are into roller derby for fun, not profit. Schwab's overture is a bit too entrepreneurial for their taste. After discouraging the promoter from attending one of their practices, they suspect that a middle-aged male skater who subsequently showed up unannounced may have been a spy. "What we're doing is something altogether new and different," says Stewart (Stitches Stew), the group's best skater. "This isn't about making a lot of money; it's about skating fast and having fun."

On the rink, the women are whizzing from end to end at breakneck speed as part of an endurance drill Clay has them performing. The idea is to go from a dead stop at one end of the rink and skate in a straight line to the other end as fast as possible. A few minutes into the routine one of the girls goes down hard. Sarah Jean Jeromin, 25, aka Mad Maxine, somehow neither throws on the brakes nor gets her arms up in time and slams face first into the hard acrylic rink enclosure. In an instant, her fellow skaters are on the scene with first aid and water. A paralegal in a San Jose law firm, Jeromin appears momentarily stunned, but, considering that her front teeth resemble cracked floor tiles, she's amazingly collected.

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