ELYRIA — The good times just keep rolling along at the Roll Arena Family Skating Center.
This month marks its 65th year in business, said Fred Smith, who owns the rink with his wife, Karin.
When it opened on St. Patrick’s Day in 1948, admission cost only 25 cents — the same price as renting a set of skates. To celebrate its milestone, the Smiths threw a party March 23 — setting admission and rentals at original prices and playing popular songs from every year since 1948 to the present.
Music has always been a major draw to the pastime of roller skating, although it is now pumped in via huge speakers and hard drives, a far cry from the organ of its youth. The 1970s phenomenon of roller disco was probably its heyday, Fred Smith says, although roller skating will always have a place in American youth.
“Most people spend a few years of their lives at a roller rink because it’s a place they can go and listen to music and hang out and be away from their parents,” he said. “If you’re not old enough to drive, you go to the Roll Arena.”
The Smiths are the rink’s third owners. Fred Smith, a former national champion roller skater, was looking to buy a rink to operate once he retired as a U.S. foreign services officer. He contacted Albert Anselmi, a well-known business owner in roller skating circles whose home rink was in Michigan, and bought it in 1997.
Ironically, Smith had represented the Elyria rink in competition in 1969, when he was stationed in Cleveland with the U.S. Coast Guard and still pursuing the sport in his downtime. He remembers meeting Chuck Stang, who built the rink with his brother Bob, during those early years.
Fred’s wife, Karin, was also a champion roller skater in her native Chile and South America competitions. The two continue to coach the Buckeye Figure Skating Club at the rink.
Roller skating as a competitive sport has never really received the recognition of its twin, ice skating.
“Unfortunately, most people don’t even know this sport exists,” Smith said. “When I was a national champion when I was younger, people would look at me and say, ‘Aren’t you a little small to be pushing people over walls?’ thinking about roller derby.”
While speed skating and figure skating — on ice — are Olympic events, roller skating can be just as demanding and many of the ice sports were developed from roller skating roots, Smith said. Tara Lipinski, the American figure skater who won gold on the ice in the 1998 Olympics, started her career as a champion roller skater in the early 1990s.
“The only difference is that, on ice, to be really, really good — to compete nationally, say — I’m inclined to say you have to be wealthy. On roller skates, you can do this on a working man’s salary,” Smith said. “Many of the top competitors in speed skating on ice were former inline roller skaters. You build a lot more muscle pushing a big old roller blade across wood than on ice.”
The sport has had national championships since 1937, and it is part of the Pan American games and world competitions. Just like in ice skating, roller skaters perform the same jumps, spins and even dances as figure skaters, Smith explained, but on traditional, “quad” skates — two wheels in front, two in back.
The rink will host its second annual Ohio Cup Invitational Meet April 20 and 21 for regional skaters to come spin their wheels. The meet was created to give regional and local skaters a chance to perform against each other and before judges that they will meet later, at national championships if they are good enough. Each judge is a member of the national panel, Smith said.
Last year’s event drew 140 families from Minnesota to Maryland and rinks in-between.
But even though the Buckeye club numbers several champions in its ranks, and the Smith’s grown children — daughter Sunny, 23, and son Rex, 20 — have each won several titles in the sport, the rink is still geared mostly for simple family fun.
Organ music may be gone, but other features sprung up to keep current in a youth culture that offers far more diversions than in the past. The Roll Arena offers laser tag and rock climbing and special events to “branch out a little bit, give people that maybe don’t like to skate too much an excuse to come to the roller rink,” Smith said.
Although there is one tradition that is still around: the appearance of Rufus Rolleroo, a kangaroo costumed mascot who glides out on the rink to give special attention to kids having birthday parties.
“When they’re young, we just encourage them to get out there and go,” Smith said.
Bringing home the gold at championships
Skaters from the Elyria Roll Arena brought home five gold medals last summer from the United States Roller Skating Championships, held in Lincoln, Neb.
- Kylie Pratt, 19, of Elyria, won three: Sophomore Men’s Circle Figures, Loop Figures and Combined Figures
- Lillie Postlethwait, 9, of Wellington, won a gold medal for the Primary Girls Freestyle event for ages 8 and younger
- Eliza Postlethwait, 12, of Wellington, and Rex Smith, 20, of Elyria, won gold for Sophomore Pairs
Eliza Postlethwait also took second place in the Elementary Girls Freestyle, 11- and 12-year-olds category. Kaila Gallagher, 12, of Elyria finished fourth in Juvenile Girls Circle Figures and was a finalist in her Loop Figure event. Maggie Conley, 10, of Lorain qualified for the event and finished eighth in the Primary Girls Freestyle.
The Buckeye Figure Skating Club is coached by Fred and Karin Smith, Rebecca Smith, and Jim Harmer. It has more than 20 members, from ages 4 to 70.
For information about the club, the rink, or the Ohio Cup Invitational Meet, go to www.rollarena.biz.
Contact Rini Jeffers at 329-7155 or email@example.com.