Michael Paul Gammon was born, Michael Paul Milane, on November 2, 1942 in Saint Lukes Hospital at Milwaukee, Wisconsin to his proud parents Paul Milane and Gerry Murray Milane. Both Paul Milane and his wife Gerry Murray were athletes as professional Roller Derby skaters. Mike Gammon's mother allowed and encouraged her young and talented son to roller skate from a very early age. At the age of thirteen months, Mike got his first pair of roller skates that were hand made by a skater and machinist named Jack Wilson. These hand made pair of roller skates were made for Mike's baby shoes; his first pair of skates; as seen in this picture.
Mike had the skates on constantly, and in a very short time he could skate as well, if not better, than he could walk. By the age of three and one half years, Mike was doing warm-ups with his mother during the professional contests. At three and a half, Mike was also doing half-time entertainment by skating with Jack Walker and skating through his legs to please thousands of fans in the buildings. This half-time entertainment was so adored by the fans, that Leo Seltzer, the owner and creator of the Roller Derby, wanted the children of the other top skaters to have their children do something similar during the half-times of selected games. Thus, was born the Diaper Derby. The children of the professional skaters would have half-time speed races at selected games with the winner being awarded a silver dollar. Mike Gammon won a lot of silver dollars.
Mike's father Paul Milane and his mother Gerry Murray divorced when Mike was very young. Gerry Murray remained with the Roller Derby and became the top female skater in the league. She remarried to Gene Gammon another top male athlete and coach of the famous New York Chiefs. Gene took Mike in as his own son without any reservation or treatment of a step-child.
The family, the Gammons, with coach Gene Gammon and women's captain Gerry Murray traveled around the country with Roller Derby exhibitions as well as league competition that sold out Old Madison Square Garden for seven straight days to standing room only crowds for the 1949 Playoffs.
Mike's playground was the Roller Derby's banked track. Daily he would skate for hours. Before school and after school he would skate; it was all he wanted to do. Then he would watch the best skaters in the world skate in competition each night during the games. Fortunately for Mike, his trainers were the best in the world; his father Gene and mother Gerry. For Mike, practice was an entertainment and joy not a grudging ritual. As Mike aged, he would be allowed to skate with the teams in training. Now a young boy was able to get a real feel for banked track skating skills he had acquired. He was small, less than one hundred twenty-five pounds on a five foot six inch frame, but he was so fast he could keep up with adults while he was in his pre-teens. By the time Mike was in his teens, he was assisting his mother in the training school. Mike would skate all sessions in the afternoons with the teams, then trainees. On Saturdays and Sundays he would skate in each training session both men and women's and again with the professionals in late afternoon. Hours and hours of skating; he just never tired or wanted to stop skating.
At age fifteen (15), Mike turned professional with a Roller Derby team the Brooklyn Red Devils. He was picked up by coach Ken Monte while on the west coast for the summer season. The Red Devils were playing in competition against the Los Angeles Braves when the Red Devils came in need of a skater. Mike's mother and father allowed Mike to go skate under the supervision of Ken Monte coach of the Red Devils. In July of 1958 Mike Gammon, in his first two series was called Mike Paul because he was under age. Although Mike did get a special permit to skate because of his age, he was still called Mike Paul for his first two series. When the Red Devils finished the series against the Los Angeles Braves, the Red Devils traveled north to San Francisco, California to play the Bombers and finish out the summer season.
Mike Gammon was moved to the New York Chiefs for the opening of the regular winter season of 1958-59. He was a fan favorite and already known to the New York audience from his personal appearances with his mother and father in New York papers, national magazines, radio and television shows that he had appeared on. Additionally, at this point Mike was allowed to use his real name, so the Mike Paul was dropped, and Mike Gammon was used from that point forward. Mike Gammon had his name changed legally from Milane to Gammon. Now, the young good looking talented athlete was in great fan demand.
Mike Gammon was now a rookie and skating on the same team with his mother and father, Gene Gammon and Gerry Murray; the New York Chiefs.
At the end of the 1958-59 season, Mike Gammon was named men's rookie of the year. The following season, 1959-60, Mike Gammon was named the leagues Most Valuable Player in the men's field. Mike Gammon is the only skater in the history of the Roller Derby to achieve the rookie of the year title and the following year be named the MVP. In 1959, Mike Gammon fell in love with a beautiful and talented skater that was also on the New York Chiefs, Judy McGuire. In April of 1960, Mike and Judy were married. The following year, in June, Mike Gammon became the proud father of a baby girl named Shari. Mike and Judy named their daughter after the song by the name of Sherry recorded by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.
Mike and Judy remained with the original Roller Derby until its demise December 8, 1973. Although, from time to time, they did skate with other organizations. Both Mike and Judy sat out the entire 1961 season after Shari was born. The Gammons lived in Peekskill, New York and skated part-time with a local league that failed. Mike was at that time a full-time carpenter, and Judy a housewife taking care of their daughter that they both were so proud of.
In 1962, Mike and Judy Gammon returned to skating full-time with the Roller Derby. Mike's mother and father, Gene Gammon and Gerry Murray retired from skating at the end of the 1960 summer season. Mike and Judy, both primarily jammers (the skaters that score points), were setting records. In August of 1967, the Roller Derby dropped the New York Chief team from its roster just before the Playoffs in September. Without notice, Mike Gammon, his wife Judy, Buddy Atkinson, Jr., and his wife also a skater Dru Scott were loaned to the competing league Roller Games. This occurred after the front office got wind of a rumor that the Mike Gammon, Buddy Atkinson, Jr., and George Copeland were putting together a competing league. George Copeland never skated again. On the other hand, Mike, Judy, Buddy, Jr., and Dru went to Hawaii in the summer of 1968 and lived on the beach in tents, at their own choosing, while they skated for the Hawaiians. Then off to Japan, and when they returned they were placed on the newly formed Philadelphia Warriors. Mike and Judy skated with the Warriors for almost a year, but after having several disagreements with management, quit.
Mike was again working as a carpenter in Peekskill, New York when in late July he received a phone call from Jerry Seltzer who owned the Roller Derby. Jerry asked if what he had heard was true; that Mike and Judy were no longer skating with Roller Games. When Jerry found out that the Gammons were no longer skating, he asked Mike and Judy to return to the Roller Derby on the newly formed Southern Mustangs. Mike and Judy returned to Roller Derby in 1969. The Mustangs did not make the Playoffs, but Mike and Judy were put on the San Francisco Bay Bombers for the 1969 Playoffs. The following year, Mike and Judy were placed on the Oakland Bay Bombers, one of two Bomber units, that made the winter national tour. When the season opened in April of 1970, Mike and Judy went to the Cardinals. Then for the 1971 national winter tour, Mike and Judy were put on the San Francisco Bay Bombers the other Bomber unit on national tour. This unit covered New York, and Mike Gammon was one of the reasons that in March of 1971 the all time indoor attendance record was set at the new Madison Square Garden with a crowd of 19, 507 fans. Part of this history can be seen on the opening film clip at the home page of this website.
The Roller Derby league expanded back to its fifties dual seasons at the end of the 1971 summer season. In October 1971, the winter season officially opened for the 1971-72 season running October through April. The New York Chiefs were a major part of that expansion. Charlie O'Connell returned to the Chiefs as coach, and of course, Mike Gammon, and his then wife Judy, were put on the team. Mike was men's captain of the New York Chiefs until the original Roller Derby closed on December 8, 1973 with its final game a the Commack Arena at Commack, Long Island, New York. After the close of the Roller Derby, Mike and Judy again skated for a short time with Roller Games. Mike then chose a new career and the Gammons went back to Hayward, California where they were living.
Mike became a truck driver while with the Roller Derby. The Derby carried its own skating surface, known as the track, with them from town to town in a 40 foot tractor trailer. Mike learned to drive the truck while on the road. So, when the Gammons quit skating, Mike bought a tractor trailer and went to work driving truck. This was the beginning of the end of his marriage. Judy did not like traveling in the truck and wanted Mike home each evening. She wanted him to go back to being a carpenter, but Mike had always traveled and loved the open road. Unfortunately, his trips were over night and turn around at least two times a week. That meant he was only home one full day a week. In 1975, while still driving, and building a home on the Gammon's Hayward, California property over looking the San Francisco Bay, a group of skaters, including Mike and Judy put a Roller Derby organization back together. They played three games. One game in Troy, New York, and two games at Madison Square Garden at New York City, New York. The cost of teams and travel broke the organization quickly. During the summer of 1976, an old timers benefit game was held at California State University at Hayward, California. It was a great success. Skaters came from as far away as New York to skate for free. It was a reunion of the greatest skaters in Roller Derby's history.
Following the success of the benefit game, Mike Gammon, Charlie O'Connell and Donald Drewry got together and put the Roller Derby back together in the San Francisco Bay Area, and they did it without any money. The first game was held indoors at California State University at Hayward, California. The attendance was approximately three thousand fans. A month later they returned for a second game. At the second game, a would be promoter, David Lipshultz, introduced himself to Donald Drewry and wanted to promote games. The following year in February 1977, the new league, called the International Roller Skating League (IRSL), skated in the San Jose area at another college. Following negotiations with Lipshultz, the Bombers opened the 1977 season at Kezar Pavilion at San Francisco in April. The building was jammed packed with fans into the balconies. It was like the early days of the Bay Bombers Roller Derby at Kezar.
By this time however, the marriage between Mike and Judy was just about over. Mike was seeing other women and Judy other men. Mike would drive his truck during the week, and then hall the track to the buildings for the games on the weekends. He and Judy remained skating partners, now both on the Bombers, but they were no longer living together, and within two years they were divorced. Judy remarried to Charlie O'Connell, and Mike lived with many other women including the former Mrs. O'Connell; Vicki.
David Lipshultz was indebted to the O'Connell, Gammon and Drewry organization for a substantial sum of money totaling in the thousands of dollars for the games that he bought from the organization as a promoter at Kezar Pavilion. At the suggestion of Donald Drewry, Lipshultz was made a partner in the organization. After a television station change in 1978, and dwindling crowds, arguments occurred between the partners. A dissolution of the company was in progress. David Lipshultz bought uniforms and a track from Charlie O'Connell, while Gammon and Drewry retained an attorney to resolve their interest in the company which had not been acknowledged by Lipshultz. Mike went back to driving truck full-time. Over many years, Mike increased his business and added another truck to it. Mike was so successful in getting accounts, at one point, a company hired him on to drive and get accounts. He accumulated accounts so fast that the company went broke because it could not keep up with the payroll of all the acquired drivers needed for service to the new accounts that Mike had acquired for them. Several years later, Vicki OConnell, now living full-time with Mike Gammon, wanted to skate again. Vicki had skated briefly with the Roller Derby while married to Charlie O'Connell, but broke her leg during a game, and the Derby closed before she could return. It was because of her desire to skate that Mike put aside his differences with David Lipshultz.
Mike called David Lipshultz, and an arrangement was made for him to skate. Mike returned to skating for the Bombers. Although no one could know at the time, this was about to become the most tragic time in the life of Mike Gammon. Driving a few thousand miles each week and returning to skate on the weekends was taking its toll on Mike. Mike was in his forties at this point. Although he still had great natural energy, he was becoming more exhausted as the weeks went on. To make things worse, the caliber of skater had dropped to a level that they would not make a good fan let alone athlete. This, of course was not all of the skaters, but still there were many who were not qualified as strong rookies. And, it was not all their fault. They had the heart, but not the training. In the fifties and early sixties, a minimum pace was 45 minutes, and a skater had to train at least four times a week. At the time that Mike returned to skating, most professional skaters could not stay in a 15 minute pace; they simply did not have regular training. So, the rules were relaxed by David Lipshultz because of his inexperience in the game itself and lack of new talent. Even the veterans were aging making them prone to injury; especially without regular training. To fill the gap of skating with some type of action, rules were relaxed, when in fact what was needed, was a regular training program to get everyone and keep them in condition for the live game. One evening, in San Jose, California at the San Jose Civic Auditorium, Mike Gammon was injured. It is a day that Mike Gammon will remember for the rest of his life. It was on his birthday of November 2. The injury was severe, and the trauma caused meningitis to Mike. The drugs that the doctors gave Mike took away his balance, and from time to time would make him collapse. One afternoon, while at home recuperating, and while under the influence of the medication given him for the pain he was suffering, he lost his equilibrium and consciousness which lead to a fall from the second story of this home and ended on the ground below. During the fall from his balcony on the second floor to the ground, Mike awoke. He tried to roll over while in mid-air the way he had done when being knocked over a rail, and he was able to do just that. The problem was that he was not on skates to roll foward and the roll acted like a whip increasing the speed and power of the impact with the ground. The impact was so great that Mike broke both of his feet and both ankles. It took several years, seven operations, two that had no effect and additional five more operations, including operations where bone was taken from Mike's hips to remake his ankles, for Mike to be able to walk naturally again.
During the recovery period, the truck driver that Mike had hired to drive his second truck, had an accident and destroyed the truck. Mike was unable to work, and Mike was now having financial problems just making ends meet. His worker's compensation claim had been denied by the skating organization as a non-work injury. That fact was put to rest after the video tape of the game and injury were subpoenaed, but they had to be subpoenaed for Mike to qualify for the disability insurance. To make matters worse, the insurance company wanted to pay Mike less than the amount that he was entitled to because the skating organization had Mike listed for less money than he was being paid. That too came to an end when Mike produced a check showing what he earned. But this all took a long time, and all of this caused Mike to go into a great depression. Unable to walk, let alone work, he lost his second truck and his first truck, and at times had absolutely no money to live on.
After the seven operations, and several more years of physical therapy, Mike Gammon was able to walk again without a limp. However, the pain remained for years to come. More physical therapy, and more pain pills from the doctors was always the treatment administered. It has been almost twenty years for Mike in his recovery from this tragedy, and he is just now getting back to the Mike Gammon of a younger day. Today Mike is in the process of starting his life all over again. He has a book coming out in mid 2005 called Mike Gammon A Piece of Americana. (Watch for its release at this website, and sign up for the mailing list to be notified) Additionally, Mike Gammon is in the process of manufacturing a game, and he has been approached by several interested parties to rebuild the old Roller Derby.
Mike Gammon a child skating athlete and star in the forties, teen idol in the fifties, athletic star in the sixties, seventies and eighties is once again doing fine in 2005.