Jim Park is smiling warmly at one of the Derby Brats, the girls roller derby team that calls the Neville Roller Drome home.
“You’re allowed back tonight?” he asks. “You’re off punishment for being a smart aleck?”
She nods, bashful, shifting her weight from one skate to the other as they stand outside the glowing DJ booth at the far end of the rink.
“I heard, I heard. I’m glad to have you back tonight,” Park says. With that, she flashes him a smile and pushes off to join the whirl of skaters making loops around the wooden floor.
Show me what is taken away from a child when they are punished, and I’ll show you who they are, said someone, maybe.
“Punishment — no skating — that kills a skater, absolutely kills us. ‘Cause you gotta skate,” says Park, 53, of West View, who left behind years of working in IT to follow his dream of owning and operating the rink with his wife, Sophie, with the help of their son, Jon.
Park’s parents met and fell in love with roller skating and took Jim to the Neville Island rink when he was 6 so he could learn how to skate. Forty-seven years later, everyone who walks through the doors of the rink is moments away from becoming a part of the Parks’ self-described “skate family.”
The Parks know the backstory of every senior lacing up his or her skates along the shaggy orange and yellow walls for Thursday morning’s artistic skate. They are ready to trade dance moves with the blue-haired young man that travels an hour for the Thursday evening skate. Even their employees come in on their nights off to hang out under the rainbow rink lights that pinwheel across the ceiling.
“This place has become like her second home,” said Connie Feda, 52, of Robinson, whose daughter “Smother” Theresa, 13, plays on the Derby Brats team at the rink. Dubbed an honorary “rink rat,” Theresa, who is home-schooled, came into her own during her time at Neville Roller Drome, says Feda. “This is her social circle. It’s been ridiculously empowering.”
Talking to others at the rink, the sentiment is shared too many times to repeat. Seniors in khakis and collared shirts smile as they glide alongside families with young children clinging to the rink wall. Teens in crop tops with green- streaked hair weave in between, turning to one another and singing along when their favorite song comes on the sound system.
Like a family, when someone falls, there is someone there to help you up.
“Don’t make a big deal about it when they fall,” Park advises parents helping their children learn how to skate. “Failure is an option. We fall. OK, I messed a move up… OK. Whatever. We’re gonna do it again.
“We don’t let the failure hold us down.”