About the Site
My goal in creating and hosting this site is to pay tribute to the great skaters that gave their blood, sweat, and tears to Roller Games. There are so many misconceptions about this particular Roller Derby league (Roller Games) on the internet and elsewhere that I felt a need to author an accurate, concise history of Roller Games. I’m also cautiously hopeful that there might be a Roller Games revival and I feel this site could be a marketing showpiece for whoever leads that charge in the future.
Throughout the site, you’ll hear the terms “Roller Derby” and “Roller Games”. To clarify, Roller Derby is the generic name of the entire sport and also the name of its original league. Roller Games refers specifically to the rival league created in Los Angeles in 1960.
The Thunderbirds fan web page is dedicated to classic roller derby from the golden age of the sport. This is defined as professional (athletes are paid), banked track skating, featuring both women and men on quad roller skaters. The classic version of the Thunderbirds was active from 1960 to 1993, with the “golden age” being the period from 1961 to 1974.
This site was created for skaters and fans to enjoy and there is absolutely no monetary motivation in its creation. I have authored a full-length book covering the story of Roller Games from its inception until its untimely end in 1993, entitled “Rolling Thunder.” Any net profits from this book will be donated to charity.
I am extremely busy with both my musical group, Liquid Blue, and several other ventures including Ocean Blue International Properties and Planet Blue Publishing. My band has performed 100 to 200 shows per year for the past 25 years and traveled to 125 countries thus far. It was challenging to find the time to produce this tribute site and it had been on hold since 2007. It was finally completed four years later in 2011. Almost all of the photos you see on this site have been contributed by others (skaters; fans, etc.). The book, which was conceived of in the mid-1990s, was put on the shelf until 2018 due to my schedule.
The administrators and editors of this page do not claim ownership of any materials posted here, including images, videos, etc. We do not seek any monetary gain. We simply hope this page brings back memories and joy to those who loved Roller Games and the T-Birds. We felt it was essential to preserve this history.
The T-Birds Place in History
From a historical perspective, Roller Games and its flagship team, the Los Angeles Thunderbirds made a huge impact on the sport of Roller Derby, 2nd only to Leo and Jerry Seltzers original “Roller Derby”. There has been little written or documented about Roller Games and this site was created partly due to this lack of information on the web. There has been a much well-deserved focus on Roller Derby but unfortunately, there has been an effort to thwart any recognition for the rival T-Birds.
This site is not about the owners or the politics of the sport. It is for the skaters. Leo Seltzer deserves credit for the creation of this amazing sport which continues today. His son Jerry also deserves a multitude of thanks from all who have participated or enjoyed a Roller Derby match. But for those of us who grew up in or around Southern California, we must thank Bill Griffiths for bringing the sport into our homes in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
Many of us were inspired to learn to Roller Skate after watching the T-Bird in action either on TV or at the Olympic Auditorium. For the skaters who still harbor resentment towards this rival league and its more theatrical version of the sport; let it go; life is too short. There were mistakes made along the way by parties on both sides. And yes, this sport probably could have been as big as the NHL or even bigger and it wouldn’t surprise me it happens soon with one of the new leagues.
Don’t Walk; Roll!
To this day I still bring my skates to every city my band performs in (over 500) and I have rolled around in over 100 countries. I believe we should encourage skating as a method or option of transportation for short distances. And we should start children at a young age. I keep a pair of skates at my office and skate to lunch daily. Most restaurants allow me inside without a problem. In foreign countries, I’m almost never asked to take my skates off. Awesome! I’ve always believed quad skates are far superior to in-lines for both street and Derby skating. Their maneuverability is the main reason. Teach your kids to skate on quads; trust me.
The Great, Underappreciated, Ground-Breaking Sport
At its best Roller Derby was fast, exciting, hard-hitting, and truly one of the most spectacular sports the world has ever witnessed.
At its worst it was too theatrical (fake); slow and lethargic and sometimes highlighted physical beauty over pure talent. Pathetic (at times) would be an appropriate term.
If anything, Roller Derby truly stood apart from other sports for being inclusive of both men and women and treating them as equals, long before anyone else. It’s acceptance of all races and sexual orientations were also extraordinary. This was genuinely a sport of the people. All people of every social status. Please read the final section of the history page for more on this sentiment.
I want to thank my good friend and former coach, John Hall for helping me get the facts straight on in the history section. Special thanks to Phil Berrier of the Roller Derby Hall of Fame for his wonderful skater tributes. I also owe a debt of gratitude to the founder of Roller Games, Mr. Bill Griffiths who gave me the chance to be part this amazing show. And thank you to all the skaters who have personally contacted me and said “thanks”.
The New ERA
Finally, a few words directed at today’s up and coming leagues and skaters: The sport of Roller Derby can become whatever you make of it. Study both the highlights and mistakes of the past. Dig deep in your research and you’ll find both Roller Derby and Roller Games accomplished amazing things without major sponsors and today’s marketing machine.
The San Francisco Bay Bombers and Los Angeles Thunderbirds routinely drew crowds of 5000 to 20,000 across the country and did this consistently for many years. The skaters made their living in Roller Derby doing what they loved. Market your sport to the hip; the inner cities and those who find alternative and underground sports interesting. Train hard and keep it real but also don’t be afraid of spicing it up, just a bit, with some creative entertainment aspects. Just don’t go overboard and never solely rely on this to attract your fan base. Every major sport adds some spice to flavor their product but I also understand that you are struggling to overcome public perceptions at a time when these spices became grossly overused.
I believe you’ll be stronger if and when you also feature male squads and then once again you’ll be the only sport with both sexes on the same teams. This does not have to diminish the role of women and never did in the past. And while the flat-track game is more economical, eventually for the sport to get to previous or greater heights, a banked track will be necessary.
The two aforementioned leagues were probably within inches of taking it to the next level but didn’t get there for various reasons. But still to this day, no team or league has ever come close to the fan support that Roller Derby and Roller Games became accustomed to. I hope this fact will someday change and wish you all the best.
If you’re interested in connecting with the current Thunderbirds organization, visit https://www.facebook.com/golatbirdsgo/ for more information about possible upcoming games. This current version of the team is competing in exciting flat-track women’s roller derby and managed by former T-Bird star Stephanie Garcia.