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Rink just barely skating by

Due to decrease in use of skating arena in park, city officials think about axing roller hockey as a way to save money.

May 30, 2009|By Christopher Cadelago

Will and Shane Sweet were rink rats before there was a rink.

Throughout the ’90s, the brothers joined dozens of roller hockey enthusiasts who swarmed paved surfaces across Burbank, leading a group of parents to demand that the city provide a safe and legal facility for children to play the burgeoning sport.

“We lived it,” said Shane Sweet, 23, who remembers competing in a makeshift rink at the YMCA parking lot. “People were always looking for a place to play.”

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Parents in 1995 got their wish when the City Council approved $220,000 for a state-of-the-art facility at Ralph Foy Park, complete with bleachers, outdoor lighting and a smooth playing surface.

“As many as 30 youth teams all day long on Saturday and Sunday played here,” said Brad Schmidt, a volunteer hockey coach. “Families made days of it. People barbecued. The park bustled.”

But no longer does the sport, or the facility, incite the same enthusiasm, said Marisa Garcia, deputy director of recreation services for the city’s Park, Recreation and Community Services Department. The rink has not hosted league play in two years due to a lack of interest, and last year averaged just one youth and six adult visitors per day, according to city records.

Despite attempts to market the program through USA Hockey, the department is proposing to eliminate roller hockey as part of a 5% cut to its $18.2-million budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year. The department would save $8,500 in materials, supplies and services, Director Chris Dasté said.

“Obviously we try to please as many people as we can, knowing that some people wouldn’t be happy,” Garcia said. “We looked at areas that would have the least impact to the least number of people in the community.”

Still, likely removal of the program has come as a slap-shot to the face of longtime competitors, who say they city hasn’t done enough to nurture the sport and grow its influence.

“What we hear is, ‘Sorry, we don’t want it anymore,’” said Jonathan Bernath. “Or we just keep hearing excuses.”

Officials with the sports office for years have tried to kick start league play, which requires between 48 and 60 players to field six teams, each contributing between $1,000 and $1,200 in dues.

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