Roller Derby Literary League Image by iOna Switchblade

Published on January 26th, 2015 | by Harm's Way


Image by iOna Switchblade

Book Review: Roller Derby Classics…And More!


by Jim Fitzpatrick

Pub Date: October 26, 2005

Publisher: Trafford Publishing

Page count: 217pp

ISBN: 9781412066785

Rating: Four Stars

Magnificent. Akin to a roller derby museum in book form, this is is essentially 200 pages of photographs and some memorabilia from the author’s personal collection, well captioned and chockfull of minor insights into roller derby from the post-Seltzer era just up to the time of RollerJam. If one is reading Keith Coppage’s Roller Derby to RollerJam: The Authorized Story of an Unauthorized Sport, one might take a break right before his RollerJam chapters to soak in the wonder of Roller Derby Classics…And More!.

Not that this book isn’t without flaws—flaws that would not have existed if Fitzpatrick had had the opportunity to work with a publishing house. “Unrefined” is a kind word to describe the production value; with poorly scanned, low-resolution images, cheap paper, and print-quality just a step up from photocopy. However, make no mistake, the overall effect is incredible. Filled—but not crowded—with photographs (some from Ann Calvelo’s personal life, a lump from 1972-73, and then most from the author’s skating career, roughly 1979 through the mid-1980’s and beyond); even people unfamiliar with the sport will stare slack-jawed at the mayhem of historic banked-track roller derby. In addition to the standard on-the-track fare, there are also mind-blowing peeks at the strangest of roller derby ephemera:Rollergirls the 1978 tv sitcom, anyone? 1985’s Roller Derby: The Musical? Mind. Blown.

Fitzpatrick’s Introduction suffers from a curmudgeonly “the good ol’ days were better” tone, and slides into a vomit of key details—sorely lacking dates or context—that is somewhat redeemed by the fact that no other published histories are talking about these things. Between the Intro and the book itself, we clearly see that roller derby didn’t die completely and forever when Jerry Seltzer closed the doors on his family-owned operation in the early seventies. Roller derby’s dark years were not so completely dormant after all. Missing from the commonly-repeated history of the sport, we see that Joan Weston and Ann Calvelo and Charlie O’Connell continued on exactly as before, and for a good many years after.

But, wait, what? What are these other things? International Roller Speedway? International Roller Skating League (and it’s “opposition league in Los Angeles”), “six other attempts to revive the sport”, 1993’s Roller Game World Cup in Tokyo? The “original” Roller Jam vs. the “new” Roller Jam (perhaps that is just a typo)? Roller Bowler! Roller Superball! What were all these things!? When were all these things!? Fan Letters to the Queen of the Derby by Timothy Patten? Did that ebook ever actually exist?

So many Yeti in these woods.

The captions for the most part are excellent, and serve to educate the reader—along with the photos—better than some other books that try to introduce a history of the sport. But there are mysteries here as well: A 1985 “minor league team” opening for the Bombers? (Not to mention, what were the Bombers really in 1985?) Rollermatch? The Royal Rollers? Thankfully, though, Jim Fitzpatrick has called all these strange things out his book; and The Complete-and-Authoritative-History-Of-Roller-Derby-That-Is-Yet-To-Come, at least, will include all such fantastical creatures that were ultimately born of Leo Seltzer’s original creation.

If I could rate this a 3.5 I would, but I am rounding up for the pure, rosy glow it gives me to sift through this fun collection of images culled by a man who might just love roller derby even more than I do. Despite its terrible cover, and rough presentation, this is a must-own for the derby enthusiast. One might dream that it might be reissued someday by an established house that can properly reproduce the images, and provide editorial and design input. But for now, this is worth seeking out and acquiring.

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Harm's Way

Reviews Editor at DerbyLife
Harm's Way has skated for the New York Shock Exchange since January, 2011. In his civilian life he works as a children's book publisher in New York City.

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About the Author

Harm's Way has skated for the New York Shock Exchange since January, 2011. In his civilian life he works as a children's book publisher in New York City.

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