‘Couple skate!’: Sports World Skate Center still truckin’ after all these years

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A pair of kids’ size 7 skates from 1979 on display at Sports World Skate Center (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)

VINEMONT, Ala. – While there may be many differences between older and younger generations, one thing surely everyone can agree on is some of their greatest memories are times spent with friends at the skating rink. The music and fashion have changed, but walking into Sports World Skate Center is a bit like walking back in time. The disco balls are still hanging above the oval wooden floor, knowing how to “truck” is still an envied skill and, as always, “No Parking on the Dance Floor.”

Sports World Skate Center on U.S. Highway 31 North opened in 1979, carrying on the great traditions of its predecessors, Gay’s and Wamp’s skating rinks. Forty-one years later, kids are still packing the floor and making lifelong memories.

Rink manager Whitney Simmons sat down with The Tribune to talk about what’s changed, but mostly what is unchanged, about roller skating.

“We turned 40 last year, and the owners, John McGinley and Danielle Constant, they live in Mobile now,” she said. “They come by every month and check on everything.”

The skating rink is currently undergoing some renovations.

Simmons explained, “Right now, they are putting in a new sound system and then they are starting new lights. The old bulbs- they are the original from when it opened- they will be gone. They are going to have LEDs now where those are. We’ve got to finish the floor. We’ve done a lot- new carpet, the bathrooms have been redone and the sink area is going to be redone. We’ve been busy around here.”

Simmons said she knows the change in lighting is bittersweet, but said many of the lights no longer work, and repairing them is extremely difficult as the parts are not available.

The skating rink was able to reopen last Friday after being closed for two months because of COVID-19.

“We had almost 400 people here, which is not even our half capacity,” said Simmons. “We were watching it because I was starting to worry the floor would be too packed with all the COVID restrictions, but thankfully we were OK. I had some people here helping me keep an eye on everyone.”

Cullman Savings Bank also came out and gave free passes to the first 50 skaters.

Simmons said her aunt was the manager at the skate center when Simmons was growing up.

“I feel like I have been here forever,” she smiled. “We actually have a pretty classic rink. We still have truckers and we still have our backwards skaters. I even have a couple of kids that can waltz, still.”

She laughed, “My favorite thing, like hands down, no matter how old somebody is that’s been a skater before, I have older people and people my age and they all say, ‘The rink will never be better than it was in my day!’ Everybody’s ‘day’ was the best day. I hope when my kids grow up, they say, ‘The rink was never better than in my day!’ I kinda wanna keep that tradition going.”

As for the music, Simmons said, “We are really good about mixing in a lot of old skating rink songs. We have a lot of truckers so the kids are still constantly requesting, like, the Port City Jammers, TRUE tucking music. We still play (the games) paddle tag, wipeout and limbo on occasion. Those are still really popular.”

She said the kids’ favorite games are still the races, and the lucky winners get a free “pickle pop.”

Although the style of skates has changed, kids wanting their own skates has not. The hottest trends in skates now are VNLA Skates, Moxi and Sure Grips, according to Simmons. And, of course, rental skates are still available. You can even rent speed skates.

“They get so into their skates, and I love it,” she chuckled. “I was really scared they were going to quit buying skates, but we still have several that buy their skates from us.”

Simmons loves the kids who come to the rink and said they are very well-behaved. She is also very grateful that Cullman County Sheriff’s Office deputies stop by on the weekends and walk through the rink.

“It’s really sweet that they do that,” she said. “It’s such a community place, and I love that the community still embraces it.”

The skating rink these days mainly appeals to the younger kids, but adults also enjoy coming back.

Said Simmons, “I’ve had a 50-year-old celebrate their birthday here, and I have a sorority coming in in a week for a party. We have all sorts of private parties.”

The rink is available for both private parties and open session parties. The only big no-no for parties? Ice cream.

Simmons laughed, “We are anti-ice cream around here.”

Renovations to the rink should be completed in the next two or three weeks, but the rink is open.  Hours are Fridays from 7-11 p.m. and Saturdays from 2-5 p.m. and 7-11 p.m. In a few weeks, Sports World will resume Thursday $4 nights and Friday afternoons from 1-4.

For more information about special events and hours, check out the Sports World Skate Center Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CullmanSkating/ or visit http://sportsworldskate.com/.

Sports World Skate Center is located at 90 County Road 1223, Cullman, Alabama 35058.

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Christy Perry

christy@cullmantribune.com