Delaware roller skating centers continue to offer community during COVID-19 pandemic
These locals will tell you that roller skating is in their blood.
After years – for some, decades – of lacing up skates and flying around the rink, they feel at home when surrounded by their skating family.
Beth Short started skating at the Dover Skating Center when she was three years old and, more than 50 years later, she hasn’t stopped since.
“It’s just part of who I am,” she said.
Similarly, Bill Lloyd has skated for about 40 years and carries on the family tradition of working at the Christiana Skating Center, where his mother also worked for 17 years until the day she died.
Others started skating, either competitively or with friends, in their early teens and found themselves drawn back to the place that filled their weekends to now work with younger skaters.
With the Dover Skating Center celebrating its 40th anniversary last year, and its sister rink in Christiana only slightly older, it’s clear that the rinks owned by siblings Cort Wahlig and Beth Nolan are the source of many memories and friendships.
Even with a pandemic shutting the centers down last spring, the frequent skaters and employees are confident that the traditions and community will continue.
“I don’t think that will ever die,” Lloyd said.
In the early months of 2020, the pair of Delaware skating centers saw a big turnout in roller skaters, matching a nationwide trend, Wahlig said.
“Before COVID, the roller skating industry as a whole had been seeing an uptick in business,” he said. “Most of our rinks had been doing better than we’d ever done.”
Between January and mid-March, he said the centers’ business was up 19% compared to the year before. Wahlig attributed some of the increased popularity to social media platforms like TikTok featuring roller skaters, and he said families seemed to have more expendable income in the beginning of the year.
Then, the coronavirus arrived in Delaware.
The centers shut down for about three months and reopened in June, following the state’s restrictions and health guidelines.
While closed, Wahlig said they received many phone calls from community members.
“They love to skate, they love being here at the rink and it was very hard for us not being open and not being able to connect with those people,” he said.
Now, life at the rink looks different.
The governor’s restrictions allow indoor sports facilities like roller skating rinks to open at 30% capacity, but Wahlig said they have limited it to 10% at one building and 14% at the other.
All tickets are sold online to help control crowd sizes and prevent people from gathering at the centers.
Following recent changes regarding exercising indoors, skaters must wear masks at all times. When eating, only four people are allowed at a table and they must be from the same household. Surfaces are wiped down every hour, Wahlig said.
“We’re enforcing every rule that the governor gives us so we can remain open, but it’s been a challenge,” he said.
Recently elected as the president of the Roller Skating Association International, a group of 750 rinks across the country, Wahlig is familiar with coordinating COVID-19 plans with state governments.
He has been working with his leadership team at the association to develop a 12-step recovery plan for members, but since every state has different restrictions, he said the task is “daunting.”
Still, he said he is proud to be president and looking forward to giving back to an industry that has been part of his and his family’s lives for so long.
“I want to be that guy that is going to lead our association out of this and I believe make our organization [stronger],” he said.
Why they skate
Many people were itching to get back to the rinks once they opened, saying that roller skating helps them take care of their physical and mental well-being.
For one, it’s a great source of exercise, said Taylor Prouse, who has skated and worked at the Dover Skating Center since she was 14.
“It gets the heart racing, you’re sweating the whole time. [It’s] just a lot fun,” she said.
As another Dover Skating Center skater, Short agreed, but she also said that roller skating gives skaters of all ages an opportunity to socialize.
Especially now, when kids are not interacting with their peers in school, she said she has noticed that going to the skating rink has made a big difference for her grandchildren.
“It’s been almost a lifesaver for them to be able to go and be around some kids,” she said.
For others, skating is an escape, something they view as a necessity when the news and happenings in the world often seem tumultuous.
“We truly are essential to our communities,” Wahlig said. “We provide a place for our families and groups to go for respite.”
Skater Dave Rappa said it takes him away from his stressors and worries at work, too.
When he gets to the rink to practice with his team, CW Speed, his mind is only focused on skating, and he doesn't start thinking about his to-do lists or deadlines until he sits back at his desk.
“It’s that kind of distraction," he said. "It takes you away from it."
That joy from skating is apparent to employees like Prouse who often work with kids. While she said she misses seeing the big parties and groups coming out to the rink, she is looking forward to seeing more young faces illuminated with smiles soon.
She said her favorite part of being part of the Dover Skating Center community has been the opportunity "to make people happy and their children happy and make them want to come back."
Wahlig shares her optimism for his rinks and the hundreds he works with in the association.
"We truly believe we’re going to be able to come out of this better than ever," he said.