In 1952, Joan Kazmerski was 18-years-old when she made her professional debut with the Chicago Westerners in the National Roller Derby League. The Akron Beacon Journal recently told her story in an article called “Confessions of a roller derby queen.”
Remarkably, she had a pro career that last nearly two decades. Skaters earned between $7,500 and 25,000 a year – not a bad paycheck for the 1950s.
According to the Journal: “Kazmerski spent five years with the Chicago Westerners and two years with the Los Angeles Braves. In 1961, she joined the Texas Outlaws in the National Skating Derby Roller Games, a rival league. In 1965, she rejoined the roller derby as captain of the New York Chiefs, where she earned MVP and all-star honors.”
I have spent the last decade as a photographer for the Houston Roller Derby. It is a sport I have grown to love. Of course, roller derby was different than the modern day flat track bout. But, there are some similarities.
According to the Journal: “Skaters slammed into each other, wiped out on the track and crashed over railings. Referees whistled two-minute penalties for minor infractions such as holding, illegal blocking, stalling, tripping and illegal use of the hands. They issued five-minute penalties for major offenses such as fighting, intentional roughness, deliberate and excessive insubordination and gross unsportsmanlike conduct.”
Those who got caught had to go to the penalty box.
“I really don’t go out of my way to hurt anybody – except when tempers flare,” Kazmerski confessed. “I’ve pulled plenty of hair myself. I’ve also had a few black eyes, but I’ve given a few, too. I’ve lost some fights and I’ve won some.”
Great tribute to an old school roller derby girl. I loved reading her story. Joan Kazmerski died Dec. 5, 2016, at age 82.