Chalk up another retro diversion to go along with creature feature movies and angora cardigan sweaters: Roller derby is back.
Not that it ever went away. In the years since the ’60s-’70s heyday of the rough-and-tumble “sport,” many permutations of the original game have tried to recapture the sizzle. Roller Games, Rollermania, and Roller Jam were just a few of the successors to the rowdy action of the “old days,” when Charlie O’Connell and Big Joanie Weston of the San Francisco Bay Bombers tangled with Ann Calvello of the Midwest Pioneers — but none of the later versions ever really caught on.
That doesn’t faze Dan Ferrari, league president of American Roller Skating Derby. Saturday night (7:30 p.m.) at Richmond Auditorium, he’s pitting the California Bombers against the “infamous” Brooklyn Red Devils. The ARSD, one of two roller derby leagues in the Bay Area, abides by the original rules — which no one outside the sport has ever truly figured out. Nevertheless, it means no alligators in pits, wrestlers in makeup, or rollerblade in-line skates, just two teams — a men’s and a women’s — wearing traditional skates trying to whip one another past an opposing team of bruisers until one side wins and they call off the jam.
Who goes to roller derby, anyway? “It’s such a wide demographic,” says Ferrari. “A lot of children. The majority of the audience is women.” How about TV? Isn’t that the key to success? “We’ve been on Road Rules and Real World on MTV, and Ann Calvello, who’s still skating, was on Comedy Central.” Meanwhile, for the Maverick Man, Pam Schwab, “Tricky” Vicki McEwen, Jammin’ Joe Cardella, and Icebox (the humongous general manager of the Bombers), the game is a weekend thing. “None of ’em does it full-time,” admits Ferrari. “In the ’60s and ’70s there were five games a week. Now it’s more of an occasion. They skate for love of the game.” Tickets are $10 in advance ($5 kids) from the Richmond Parks and Recreation Dept. (510-620-6788); $15 ($7.50 kids) at the door. Look out, Richmond.