From the vault: Baltimore roller derby

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Roller derbies have been making a comeback in the U.S. and worldwide since the early 2000s. But few realize that the sport dates back to the 1930s, and that early iterations were a bit like WWE — as much about theatrics as they were about skating.

In Baltimore, roller derbies made a big splash in 1941, when the local league the Pawnees faced off against the Chicago Aztecs at the Coliseum. Back then, both men and women participated in the sport The Sun described as “a combination of ice hockey a 6-day bicycle race and roller skates.” And there was violence, too. “Spills are a part of the game and the contestants soon learn to protect themselves from broken bones or bad bruises.” At stake was a share in the $250 “pot of gold” cash prize and a portion of the gate daily receipts.

Roller derby again became popular in the 1970s. Reporting on a match, The Sun wrote, “Roller Derby has not changed all that much in 40 years. The game is still as phony as wrestling…” The paper profiled derby stars like Baby Rocco, “the arch villainess of the National Skating Derby” whose “skate-kicking and hair-pulling tactics earn her more than $30,000 annually.”

Today’s roller derby players prefer to keep the focus less on personalities and more on athletics, as Amy Callner, co-founder of the Charm City Roller Girls told The Sun’s Quinn Kelly last week. Though players still often sport glitter and silly sobriquets — the Charm City Roller Girls roster includes a Feral Kat and She Bear — there’s none of the old staged punching. “The showmanship is still fun,” Callner said. “But there’s a rush in pushing yourself physically and in the strategy of sports and gameplay.”