Roller derby, Chicago's only native sport, turns 82

SUMMIT, Ill. (WLS) -- A retro roller derby doubleheader will be held Saturday in south suburban Summit to celebrate the sport's birthday.

Roller derby is the only sport invented in Chicago, 82 years ago this week. Skaters will play under 1970's rules and wear classic uniforms.

Leo Seltzer got the game rolling, and his son Jerry Seltzer turned it into a TV extravaganza. Original skaters came to the party, including Sammy Skobel of Mount Prospect. Mary Lou Palermo, also an original derby skater, was just 15 years old when she joined.

"I was just doing what I loved, and I had no idea how far it would go," Palermo said.

Chet Coppock called games over 45 years ago on TV.

"Back in the early 70's, there was a great emphasis on showmanship," said Coppock. "There was a great emphasis on personality. These kids today are playing a much more physical brand of roller derby."

There are over 2,000 roller derby leagues around the world. A team affiliated with the Olympics heads to China for a match next week.

"It showed me what I'm capable of," said Art Director Elizabeth Perez, a.k.a. Cuban Miss Elle. "It made me more humble as a person. Nothing like falling on your face a lot when you're first learning. It really brings you down a notch."

"I've been injured in all the parts of my body, pretty much, but I'm still standing," said Dakota Prosch, teacher and roller derby player.

Years ago, people would go to stadiums or sit in front of their TVs to watch the roller derby teams go after them. Now, the kids are on wheels in junior leagues.

"Roller Derby has taught me leadership skills, and now I'm captain of the junior team," said Sofia Hernandez, junior roller derby captain. "It's taught me a lot and it's very empowering."

"I just fell in love since my mom joined," said Anthony Filippo, junior roller derby player. "She has trouble keeping a lead against me."

Derby and Brown Paper Tickets have a Chicago blood drive this fall.

"We've got a lot of derby players involved donating their own time and blood," said Anica Enriquez of Brown Paper Tickets. "Oh my gosh, it's the most familial feeling possible any time I walk through a derby room."
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