For 27 years and two generations, Northland Rolladium Skate Center has hosted an endless string of family fun nights, strapping guests into their classic four-wheel skates for a spin around their colorfully-lighted roller rink. They teach skate lessons on the weekends to help kids master their first set of wheels, the skates included in the cost of the class. They also throw venue-assisted birthday parties, supplying the guests with bottomless pitchers of Pepsi products and reserved table space. The special boy or girl gets space on the birthday wall of fame to leave their handprint, a mark that never goes away, unlike coloring on the walls at home or slapping oneself in the face.
"You can't be common, the common man goes nowhere; you have to be uncommon." So said renowned hockey coach Herb Brooks, and so says the group of business, hockey, and civic professionals who founded KCIce. Their mission is to create an "uncommon community" where local companies can show their support for youth organizations and charities and young hockey players and figure skaters can pay it forward by volunteering their time and talent. The president of the company is four-time Stanley Cup champion and New York Islanders Hall of Famer Ken Morrow, who recently demonstrated what it means to give back. In January 2013, the rink hosted an event in which people could pose for photos with Morrow and his old friend Lord Stanley—the infamous cup. The gathering not only supported their own charitable efforts but also reaped three large barrels of canned goods for Harvesters: the Community Food Network.
As part of their community-mindedness, KCIce brings families and friends together with activities such as outdoor skating, pickup pond hockey, and sand-based volleyball in warmer months. Ice skaters can sit on the ledge of a stone fire pit on chilly evenings, keeping warm with hot chocolate, s’mores, and chilidogs. Strings of orb-like lights help illuminate the rink at night, making the freshly laid skate marks and the droplets of sweat on the hardworking zamboni glisten.
Landmark 2 Skate Center evokes memories of a bygone American era when you could take your best gal out to the roller rink, buy her a shake at the soda fountain, and text her goodnight on the wooden cell phone you whittled yourself. The skating facility exudes an old-school, family-friendly charm, especially with its shimmering disco balls, collection of stand-up arcade games, and plastic booths that are Coke-label red. Skaters of all ages can glide across the sprawling rink, practicing turns with sleek blades and making lazy figure-eights with classic skates. Meanwhile, staffers bustle about behind the snack bar, doling out snacks and soda pops. Come Saturday night, a live DJ ramps things up a notch, filling the air with upbeat tunes and pop hits. Four times a year, the large skate center offers skating classes for both beginner and intermediate students.
Since the age of 7, Skip Clinton has been hypnotized by the whirl of roller skates; among his fondest memories are those of boogying on wheels among hundreds of fellow skaters packed into one rink. Translating his love of the sport into a competitive drive, Skip won the 1986 Roller Figure Skating World Championship in Bogotà, Colombia, cementing his spot in the Roller Skating Hall of Fame. Still, none of that success could fully satisfy his dream of polishing skates in his very own rink.
In 1996, Skip connected with the new owners of River Roll Skate Center and helped restore the long-neglected rink to its modern glory, installing new floors, a jamming sound system, and computer-controlled lights. Three years later, decades of hard work paid off as he and his wife—also a competitive skater—took over River Roll Skate Center's operations full-time.
"There's never a day I don't want to go to work," says Skip with a glee normally reserved for children who get to eat pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dessert. He relishes duties such as keeping the floor immaculate—indeed, the polished arena reflects the ceiling's colored lights like a kaleidoscope—which, in his experience, is crucial to the success of any skate center. While Skip acknowledges that roller skating hasn't changed much over the years, skaters' expectations have. To that end, 35,000 songs populate the rink's computer, from '70s and '80s pop music to family-friendly hip-hop, rock, and country-western hits. Throughout the facility, video screens flash names of birthday celebrants, popular music videos such as Michael Jackson's "Thriller," and classic movies such as Footloose.
Elsewhere, the scent of fresh-baked pizza wafts from the concession stand, where rollers refuel with traditional snacks such as hot dogs or nachos, and an arcade dispenses entertainment and prizes with a variety of video games. Once a month, the Dead Girl Derby takes over River Roll Skate Center, captivating audiences with breakneck speed and no-holds-barred competition akin to the days when the ancient Romans strapped chariots to the Titans' ankles.
The ice in Kansas City Ice Center's newly renovated rink accumulates blade scratches from skaters of all stripes, including hockey players and two of the most revered figure-skating clubs in the U.S. Throughout the year, the facility acts as a practice arena for those clubs as well as a classroom for nonprofessional skaters. Both children and adults master techniques during Learn to Skate programs, and aspiring slap shooters strengthen their grasp on competitive fundamentals during Learn To Play Hockey programs. In addition to lessons, the center also hosts special events, such as birthday parties and on-ice reenactments of The Great Banana Peel Spill of 1908.
Skate World offers a family-friendly venue for active adults and equally restless kids to spend a day swiftly circling a smooth, polished rink. Speedy swivelers can strap on their choice of regular, speed, or inline skates, and take the floor with siblings, friends, or first dates, wondering whether or not to quote Xanadu. Post-skate, tired gliders can rest weary feet and refuel internal engines with a barrage of buttered popcorn. A healthy form of exercise for all ages, roller-skating can help languid loafers get back on their feet and remind them what it feels like to wear shoes again.