Confessions of a rink rat

This was published today in the Dayton Daily News, responding to an earlier article where Kettering Council is deciding the fate of the Kettering Ice Arena. They’ve hired a consultant, to help decide whether to invest more money in the rink- or possibly change it’s use and eliminate the ice.

After school and Friday nights, Sunday afternoons, I spent on skates going round and round the ice rink.

There were pretty girls in figure skates twirling around in the center, and the hockey jocks showing off their wheels before the guards cautioned them to slow down. We all disliked Frank, the rink manager, who insisted on playing waltzes during public sessions off the big reel-to-reel tapes, complete with announcements of reverse skate, couples skate, and ladies choice.

It was at the rink that I made many of the longest lasting friendships. Some of them surviving 40-plus years and hundreds of miles. I watch on Facebook as little Wendy Grace had her own sons playing hockey at the very same rink. Thurmond, who was a rink guard and the driver of the green AMC Hornet that we had so many adventures in, had his son live with me for a while as a UD sophomore.

And then there was hockey, the sport that I’m still playing at 52 in an over-30 league called “Huff-n-Puff” at the Kettering Rec Center. It’s no checking, but not without contact. We’ve got Charlie who flies all over the world for his work with UD, still playing at close to 70. His wife comes to watch every game in his raggedy Toyota with the NY Rangers bumper stickers. For a long time Bob P. was playing. He stopped at 73 to focus more on riding his bicycle. Some of the guys who were in their forties had called him coach when they were 15. There’s Bob M., who’s the skipper of the Dayton Dragons — we’ve let his kid play with us, despite Mike being way too fast for any of us to catch and being well under the age limit — starting at about 16 — so father and son could play together. This year a full-bird Colonel joined us — with her pony-tail, M.D., and a license to fly an A-10- but don’t call her ma’am on the ice.

If you realize that guys drive in to play at 10 p.m. on Thursday nights from as far away as Springfield, Troy, Springboro — and most of these guys have been playing in the league for years — you understand what a special place the Kettering Ice Arena is.

Now we hear that there is discussion about its future. The options: to repurpose the space for something else, to reinvest in the current rink, and even possibly double down by adding a second rink with seating enough to hold minor league hockey games.

A “consultant” has been hired to provide the options so the powers that be can decide the fate of this community amenity.

Arguments that less than 15 percent of Kettering’s residents use the rink ring hollow to me. The same could be said about libraries, public schools, swimming pools, skateboard parks, BMX tracks, soccer fields and the Fraze Pavilion, give or take a few percentage points. The fact that Kettering makes an effort to provide such a wide variety of things to bring people together is what makes it what I consider the best run, most forward thinking community in the county. I’ve often said if Kettering was in the center and the largest community in the county, regionalism would have happened long ago.

As to the rink losing money and being poorly run, what price do you put on keeping kids off the streets in a safe and healthy environment? And, even though I didn’t like the way old Frank ran my rink growing up — there was a lot to be said for reverse skate, and couples skates — he knew more than I gave him credit, even if his taste in music sucked.

That KRC is the only publicly owned rink in Montgomery County makes Kettering a place people want live in and to visit. Wonder what happens when a city loses that ability — look at Dayton where I live.

More than likely the consultant will come back with either shut it down, or double down. For Kettering’s sake, and for the sake of a bunch of old Huffing-and-Puffing hockey players, and for kids who may one day become Olympians — I hope that Kettering realizes what a gem they have.

David Esrati is a middle aged rink rat and mediocre hockey player.
Source: Confessions of a rink rat | www.mydaytondailynews.com

Note- there is another publicly owned rink in Montgomery County- the bastard Riverscape rink, that’s 3/4 size and useless for anything but curling, broomball and a very few public session skaters. That they didn’t build a full-size rink (after already upgrading from a half-size) was stupid. They don’t make 3/4 size Zamboni’s either.

I’ve gotten quite a few notes from people on this piece. The reality is, when the consultant comes back to advise Kettering, we’re going to have to look closely at the recommendations, and then mobilize forces if the answer isn’t to keep it.

There is only one person in the area that would benefit from closing it down- and that would be Randy Gunlock of Austin Landing fame. He has wanted to build a rink in the complex- and bring a minor league team to the region- but, he’s competing with KRC and South Metro Ice rink- right near his location. South Metro doesn’t hold a candle to KRC- and if KRC shut down, there would be a whole bunch of people looking for ice time somewhere in the area.

Hara Arena would also lose if KRC built a second sheet with 1000+ seats- as the Dayton Demonz would probably move. No one should think the Federal Hockey League is a very good investment, but, if the Demonz leave Hara, there wouldn’t be much left to justify keeping the ice going there. It’s really hard for private rinks to compete with publicly funded ones.

There had been plans to build an ice rink on the original Wright State master plan, but it never happened. The Bombers had to spend a ridiculous amount of money to get the ice into the Nutter Center- something that could have been taken care of for a lot less, had the original man behind the Nutter Center, Tom Oddy, listened to a freshman who visited his office on his second day on campus. I made a pitch to put ice in, or at least set it up for ice- for the future. Oddy said he’d just bring in portable ice- and that took the retrofit price from a few hundred thousand to a few million.

The best location for a new rink for Dayton would be at the Fairgrounds- or on UD land along Stewart. With a ton of college kids from the East Coast who already know how to skate- we could see more family friendly reasons to come eat on Brown St and then take in a game or go skating. Throw in a small Cineplex and Dayton might start to see a nexus of accessible family fun. Toss in an indoor skatepark and bike track, and lookout.

There is one other thing to consider- Dayton spent $23 million to build the stadium for the Dragons in the name of “Economic Development”- and very few Dayton kids have every played a game on that field of dreams. Ice rinks aren’t like that. When the pro’s aren’t playing, anyone else can go skate on the very same ice. If Kettering understood how many people came to Kettering- and got a positive feeling about their community just because of that facility- it’s all money well spent.

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