Like a blast from the past, roller derby jammed its way into the Salt Palace last night for its first Utah appearance in 15 years. Fad sports (to use the term loosely) might fade away, but not forever. Just when you start to reminisce about the good old days when people on roller skates would start off in a race and end up in a brawl along comes a revival, in this case a two-night tournament between the Los Angeles T-Birds and the Detroit Devils, both from the International Roller Derby League.
Two decades ago, roller derby was a good way for a working man to relax and realize that somebody else had it worse than him namely the poor slob who big mama just bodyslammed over the rail, or at least allegedly bodyslammed over the rail. The crowds were made up mainly of blue-collar workers who, if they weren't watching roller derby, would be watching a war movie or the Friday Night Fights.Meanwhile, because the derby was occasionally televised usually late night or Saturday afternoon any number of impressionable youngsters across the
nation became mesmerized by what appeared to be the roughest game on wheels.
Which brings us back to Friday night, and tonight, and the number of yuppie-type vehicles in the Salt Palace parking lot.
The youngsters of 15 and 20 years ago are stepping right up and coming back to take another look, like for a Chuck Berry concert or maybe the Beach Boys.
"These are intelligent human beings watching us," remarked Darlene Langlois de la Chappele, the lead jammer for the T-Birds. "There are a lot of people wearing Topsiders and no socks and oxford cloth shirts. It's very different from what you might have seen at a roller derby 15 or 20 years ago."
Darlene has no personal experience upon which to base her comparisons. She's only 21 years old herself and had never watched roller derby on TV, or learned much at all about the sport until she was recruited off a Hollywood set recently to become the new sweetheart of the banked track.
"I went to Sunday School as a girl and all that," she says.
So of course she didn't watch roller derby.
She never watched professional wrestling, either.
Now, roller derby's yuppie-ized image is leaner and cleaner which accounts for Ms. Langlois de la Chappele's elegant emergence. Two decades ago derby recruiters tended to look for women who drove trucks or laid cement.
Not that the derby has become something so yuppie-ish as, say, Porsche rallies. The thrill is still the spill. "It's a good thing they teach us how to fall," says Darlene, "or it could be tough making it through the night."
"I'd be lying if I said one of the first things on my mind before every game is whether I'll walk away on my own," says Darlene. "This is a contact sport."
Still, it's a living, and, if you cut through the new makeup, not that different from the version of the '60s. Roller derby has always been long on brawn well, controlled brawn . . . nobody ever pulled a punch without premeditation and lean on rules, and has existed primarily to appeal to man's primal and gullible instincts. That and make a buck.
"I love the crowd," says Darlene. "They tend to come together as a group. Before it's over it's like they all become friends."
She says she especially likes to watch the young kids, who their parents have brought along to show them the strange sport that they also watched as kids a sport they never quite figured out but they enjoyed the slamming and jamming nonetheless.
"The kids just love it," she says.
And the roller derby loves the kids. In another 15 or 20 years the derby'll be back, for another revival.