Roller Derby Revivin'

Texas Rollergirls Larry Stern

A sport from the past just keeps rolling along.

CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan reports that roller derby is back, as dizzy, and dizzying as ever.

There was a time, he notes, when roller derby ruled the rink, when fans stacked the stands, and cheered 'til their throats went raw.

Roller derby was, by anyone's account, an event.

There was "roller radio" back in the '40s.

And by the time TV had turned color, the increasingly rowdy roller derby was drawing near sellout crowds to arenas such as the Oakland Coliseum and Madison Square Garden.

It was even making the silver screen: Remember Raquel Welch in "Kansas City Bomber"?

The sport had found a following, or a following had found it, Cowan observes.

Either way, people were coming for more than just slams and jams. They were coming to see the stars, such as San Francisco's Ann Calvello, of the Southern Stars, who was known as "the meanest mama on skates."

Today, she's in her 70s, and as feisty as ever.

When Cowan asked whether she was getting hit in a particular play in the late '60s, Calvello responded, "Well, we're not playing tiddlywinks!"

Over the course of her seven decades of derby, Calvello suffered 12 broken noses, four broken elbows, a broken collar bone, broken tail bone, cracked ribs, and a host of things that, at age 75, she'd rather not think about.

But boy, was she good.

"I jumped," she tells Cowan, "from the floor at a dead standstill and landed on (an opponent)."

"You landed on her?" Cowan asked.

"Well," Calvello responded, "I knocked her down, and if she didn't get out the way, too bad. If it was me, I'd be under her! What do you think this is, marbles?"

But, as popular as she was, as popular as the sport was, roller derby was one of the casualties of the '70s, Cowan points out.

"I said then," Calvello recalls, " 'roller derby is over. It had its run, and no matter who tries to start up or any other leagues or anything, it's not going to be the same.' "

There were various roller reincarnations, Cowan says, like one in the late '90s, called Roller Jam. It was fast paced, flashy, even sexy. But it, like the others, went the way of the four-wheeled skate.

But, Cowan says, Derby fans are diehards and, where there's a rink, there's resolve.

Now, roller derby is being brought back with a twist: no men allowed, in all-women's roller derby in Austin, known as the Texas Rollergirls

It's a sport heavy on tattoos, and light on lingerie, uncensored and undignified, on purpose.
  • Brian Dakss

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