History of Roller Derby

Roller Derby was invented in 1935 by Leo Seltzer as an endurance exhibition where skaters circled on a track traveling the equivalent distance of skating from coast to coast. While this version of derby did prove to be popular, Seltzer quickly noticed that the spectators really enjoyed when the skaters made contact with each other and the crashes that ensued. In 1937, Leo Seltzer re-launched Roller Derby as a full contact sport, played on a banked track with teams competing against each other for points.

The original Roller Derby had it’s heyday in the 1950s and 60′s. The sport was a common fixture on TV and was played in venues that would pack in tens of thousands of fans. By the early 1970′s, Roller Derby had run its course. Poor management, high travel costs, and an emphasis on staged theatrics, helped finish off the formerly proud sport. In 1973, League owner Jerry Seltzer shut down operations. The original Roller Derby was finished.

Several attempts were made over the years to revive the sport. Matches featuring the aging original stars of Derby’s latter day history took place sporadically. The late 90′s saw a re-envisioning of Roller Derby in “Rollerjam”, which fused Roller Derby with professional wrestling style theatrics. Rollerjam never achieved wide spread popularity, and by 2001, Roller Derby again fell by the wayside.

Right about this time, a group of women banded together in Austin, Texas to reinvent Roller Derby. This new version of the sport was played on a flat surface by teams consisting entirely of women. Flat track derby contests (known as “bouts”) were physically grueling and were not scripted and did not have predetermined outcomes. This was the vision of Roller Derby that finally clicked with the masses as new players and fans flocked to the sport. Over the next few years, Flat Track Women’s Roller Derby would see massive growth. In 2004, a group of the earliest revival leagues banded together and formed the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). The sport continues to grow each year and has become an international phenomenon. Women’s flat track derby is now played on every continent except Antarctica!

How the Game is Played

This awesome video was created by WFTDA to show the basics of roller derby.