Feature Article - January/February 2002
Find a printable version here

Rolling Ahead

New skate parks and inline facilities learn from past mistakes

By Stacy St. Clair


Two-Court Conversion

OK, take a look around your community. How many empty tennis courts are there?

Six, ten, a dozen? Don't be ashamed to admit.

After enjoying wildly popularity in 1970s, tennis isn't attracting as many casual players as it once did. As such, the public courts that were jammed 30 years ago are as outdated as Bjorn Borg's hair these days.

Luckily, all is not lost. Many communities are converting their unused courts into inline hockey rinks. The conversion has proven successful because, let's face it, skaters were using them as makeshift rinks anyway.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF ATHLETICA

In 1998, the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks converted two old courts at Alpha Ridge Park into an inline hockey rink. Officials posted a notice warning tennis players of the impending change and giving them a chance to object. The department didn't receive one complaint.

But, boy, did they meet a need.

Skaters who had once been confined to parking-lot games descended upon the new rink. It wasn't regulation size—roughly three tennis courts equal a full-size rink—but it didn't matter.

An inline hockey league thrived at the new site, even if it was so small they played with a reduced number of players on each side. The rink always seemed to have someone rolling around it.

"The tennis courts weren't being used," says Raul Delerme, a planner with the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks. "That's why we stepped up to the inline hockey rink. Now we're overwhelmed with participants."

The site became so popular, Alpha Ridge's 600 skaters soon began lobbying for a regulation rink. County officials agreed and opened a $300,000 rink in September 2001 (see pictures on pages 17 and 18).

Planners converted the rink from an old basketball court. Perhaps surprisingly, there was no outcry from hoopsters over losing their court. The community's positive reaction to the facility has convinced officials to consider other inline sites.

Plans are already in motion to build a regulation-size rink at a regional park. A pavilion will cover the rink to make it available for year-round play. Officials are also considering opening an indoor facility in the future.

And it's all because two converted tennis courts showed the county how popular inline hockey can be.

"We're turning people away we're growing so much," Delerme says.