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Buddy Junior, as he is always called, is the son of skaters—Buddy Senior and Bobbie Johnstone—two placid, warm people who met, fell in love, married and raised a family around the banked track. They are still involved, running the Derby's training school in Alameda, Calif. Buddy Junior has been on skates since he was 3. He turned pro at 17 and, like Buddy Senior, married a skater. "Don't be fooled by the skating, the roughness," Buddy Junior says. "These people are most all introverts. They are shy people who ran across skating and loved it. It became like their release."
Larry Smith is 24 and one of the few skaters to go beyond high school. He attended Kansas State for a year. Larry is a carpenter by trade and had run a little cross-country, but then he found skating and a bride in the Derby, too, and he wants it to be his life. Sensitive, straightforward, polite, with a touch of a stutter, Larry courted Francine after he broke an ankle and was sent to Montreal to help out at that city's training school.
"Most skaters were not grade-A students in high school, and they never had the chance to be good athletes or go on to college," Larry says. "Then they discovered the Derby and fell in love with it. The fact that it's rough—that doesn't change us. Most of us are actually schizophrenic, very different people on and off the track. We're never what people think we must be."
The resident male villains on the All Stars were Bob Hein and Ronnie Robinson. Hein is 33, with tattoos, a shaved head and a nasty, sneak scissors kick. He likes to stand at the bend of the track, where the penalty box is conveniently located, and slug the Bombers, boys or girls, as they skate by. Robinson's specialty is holding a Bomber's face under one arm and pummeling it with the other—until he tires of the exercise and scatters the body over the rail. Robinson, who is Sugar Ray's son, is devoted to music and fashion. All his clothes are color-coordinated. His favorite tour outfit is all pink, head to toe. He and Hein often play cribbage between halves. Hein has a 14-year-old son, and he wants to be a florist when he leaves the game. His hobbies are coin collecting and chemistry.
Here they are arriving before the game. Robinson is in his all-pink, and his roommate, Thumper Woodberry, is in his all-green. There is a certain resemblance to lollipops. "Hey, you two together look like the Mexican flag," Julian Silva says.
"You ought to know, wetback," Ronnie replies genially, without breaking stride. The spectators gawk as the skaters, showing no allegiance to training rules, stop to enjoy a large Coke or two and a hot dog and peanuts as well. They all smoke another cigarette. Don Gist's programs and pictures are moving well. Ken Kunzelman moves to the P. A. mike. Ken travels with the tour, too. The Derby is a full sensory performance, and Kunzelman, who happens to be an exceptionally good announcer, comes along to provide a complete account of the action so that nothing is left to the imagination.
Before the game Ken shills a bit for Don Gist's wares. He also reminds everyone about the local television and suggests that they all sign up to get on the Derby mailing list. Hurry, hurry, hurry! The mailing list now includes 250,000 names from all across the country. (Several of those names, however, are Donovan's, as he invariably adds his on a list whenever he runs across one on the way to the locker room.) If the tour is coming back in the area again before its completion Kunzelman pushes tickets for that also. "Remember, this will be your final opportunity to see Bomber Great Charlie O'Connell in uniform, as he will retire at the conclusion of this special national tour to become infield coach of the Bay Bombers."
The girls in their white shoes skate first and in all the odd periods. Women have always been included in the Roller Derby, since the idea for the game was derived from the old dance marathon. For that matter, it is the women who continue to give the game its tawdry, sideshow image. There is also no doubt that it is the girls who bring people into the arenas—even if they come to enjoy more the faster, harder men's play.
It is difficult to find good female skaters, however, for neither the occupation nor the Derby image is particularly appealing to girls. And the irony is that the fixed public conception of the skaters is false. The typical Roller Derby girl is shy and withdrawn, neat and fastidiously feminine. She is as likely to be pretty as not. She is not tough, not promiscuous or foulmouthed, not a drinker and, like the men, was probably not even an athlete until she came to the Derby. There are exceptions, of course. Earlene Brown, the Olympic shotput bronze-medal winner, is with "another outfit." Ann Calvello, who would be a-typical in any company, is with the All Stars.
In the event that her piercing yells, her histrionics and her pastel hair do not call sufficient attention to her presence, Calvello wears contrasting blue and red shoestrings, gloves, elbow pads and long dangling earrings. Her helmet is tilted rakishly on the back of her head, scarves attached and flowing. "They'll never get the girls out of the Roller Derby, but I know it's hard to attract new girl skaters," Calvello says. "Now I've never been what you would call shy or anything. I'm different from most of the girls, with natural color and showmanship. That's from Leo. I'm a Leo, a natural leader, but I always end up with Taurus men, and we fight. But, anyway, I've been wearing the two-color clothes and everything since I came in. And I picked up the colored hair and stuff like that. I mean I've had green hair for St. Paddy's Day.