I won't be at Albany's Washington Avenue Armory Saturday night when the Skateomasochists take on the Department of Public Hurts in the opening bout of the all-new Albany All Stars Roller Derby League; it's my oldest son's birthday and we'll be celebrating at the always-satisfying Carmine's Restaurant. But my longtime infatuation with the banked track and its heroes -- the men and the women -- is strong and intact.
My weekends growing up often -- maybe too often -- meant sitting with my nose inches from the 19-inch television screen watching the San Francisco Bay Bombers -- almost always the "good guys" -- take on the designated bad guys, whether they be the Southern Red Devils, Northeast Braves, Midwest Pioneers. Charlie O'Connell, Joan Weston, Ronnie Robinson, the "fiery" Ann Calvallo ... these were the people with whom I looked forward to spending my Saturday nights and Sunday mornings.
Later on, in the early 1970s, my team was the New York Chiefs -- led by "Rugged" Bill Groll and Sandy Dunn. The Derby was riding high for a few years, despite the critics who labeled it "professional wrestling on wheels." The Chiefs filled Madison Square Garden more than once and I was in the front row at the Utica Memorial Auditorium whenever they were in town.
The gasoline crisis and other financial problems eventually derailed the Derby. Weston and some veteran skaters tried to resurrect the sport, hoping the growing number of programming-starved cable television networks would help them find an audience.
But nothing seemed to work. Nothing, at least, until women -- mostly young women -- took over. They jettisoned the circus atmosphere, added legitimate competition and sexxed up the sport just enough to begin an unexpected resurgence of the sport I loved as a kid. The result is many dozens of women's Roller Derby leagues -- leagues like the Albany All Stars -- sprouting up across the United States. The venues are smaller and there are more beer tables than television cameras these days. But the audiences -- mostly young, hip and vocal -- are eating it up.
So, good luck to both home teams tomorrow night. You have one fan -- albeit not a typical fan -- rooting you on. For more information, go to http://albanyallstars.com/. Then go buy a ticket. Charlie O would appreciate it.