I skate around and around, soaking it all in. This is my last skate at Roller World. I try to skate away from the fact, but I keep going in circles. I inhale deeply, smelling the unique aroma of Roller World that I love: sweat, a hint of cigarette smoke and 30 years of history.
I’m going to miss this place so much. My heart feels heavy as I look around. I know every inch of this place. When you go somewhere for more than two years, every week, and glide around the edge of it over and over and over again, you know everything about it. You know every mark on the wall, every chunk missing from the floor, and you are perhaps a little too familiar with the appearance and placement of the barbecue sauce stain on the ceiling in the snack bar. You know the person who made it.
I go sit in the middle of the rink under a pulsating circle of lights. I watch all the people I have grown to know sail around me. They are fooling around and doing things I would have thought impossible to do on eight wheels. Some of the boys have legs that appear to be made out of noodles when they skate. Many of them have been coming here since they were toddlers.
It is the only place I have felt I really fit in — but it’s not because I am like the others. I fit in because I don’t fit in. We are all so different here, and we get along great. Our ages range from kids to people in their late 60s and early 70s. Our personalities are all over the spectrum, from totally outgoing people to very quiet introverts who like to just listen to people. I’m the second type.
When Norm, the DJ/manager of Roller World, says that this is the last song, my heart falls. This is it. Weirdly, I don’t feel the need to fight off tears. Probably because I used up my supply of tears today. I have run my eyes dry.
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As of this writing, Seacoast United Soccer Club plans to buy Howard Sports Roller World. The closing date has been pushed out several times, and the new date has not been revealed. What they will do with the facilty is unknown. It seems unlikely that they will keep it open, due to the condition of the building and the monstrous heating bill.
Roller World had its last skate on Dec. 18.
To many people, Roller World was a second home.
“I like skating because I don’t have to worry about what anyone says because we’re all there for the same thing,” said Chad Dall of Bowdoin. “It is somewhere I’ve been going to for almost my entire life, so it’s kind of like a second home for me and some of the other people that go. It’s been fun to be there and get to see everyone as they grow and improve.”
Dall’s parents met at Roller World when they were ‘tweens, more than 20 years ago, and Dall has been skating for about 17 of his 21 years.
As far as “the regulars” go, everyone seems to agree that the thing they will miss most about Roller World is the people. I am confident in saying that we have all met someone awesome because we went there.
Sam Cook of Topsham was my waitress at Scarlet Begonia’s for five years, and then we met each other at Roller World and became really close friends.
Roller World was an affordable place for teens to go have fun, dance, exercise, and sometimes just escape from life for a little while, all in a safe environment. Unlike sports teams which have tryouts, Roller World is for everyone.
“Skating offers a fitness option for the individual,” said Beth Mitchell of Portland. “Soccer requires an organized team and time for the event ... doesn’t offer itself to the masses. Skating allows individuals of all ages to get fit and stay fit!”
Now that Roller World is closed, there are only three rinks in the state that are open year-round: Happy Wheels in Portland, Rollodrome in Auburn and another in Bangor. None of them are as large as Roller World, and they don’t have the same community.
As Cook says, “We are kind of like a big... twisted... family.”
I couldn’t have said it better.
The names of most of the people in our “big twisted family” are on a giant piece of wood in the snack bar, known as The Board. There is a handwritten sign above it that reads, “Please do not write on the board — thank you!” Hundreds of people have written on the board in Sharpie, glow-in-the-dark pen or even carved their names into this piece of Roller World history. Some have dates next to them, the earliest being in the early 1980s when the rink first opened. There are also names from this year, and those are all pretty small due to the now-limited space on The Board.
Many people have suggested keeping it as a rink but also renting it out to people as a dance studio, yoga studio, indoor playground, contra dance floor or drum circle gathering space.
I have started a Facebook page called “Save Roller World in Topsham,” and I would really appreciate it if you “liked” it and shared your memories on it. Perhaps if the new owners of Roller World see how many people care about this special place they will consider keeping it open.
Here are some excerpts of posts from the Facebook page:
Mae Billington: “It was the place to be when I was a kid and I made sure to be there every weekend! Now my teenager goes and has been for about 6 years. It is a great place for kids to get together to socialize, skate, dance and stay out of trouble...”
Kris Perkins: “Closing a rink NOW is just silly. Skating has survived the down-swing and now roller derby is making it REALLY popular again.”
Katie Black: “There were years of my life that I didn’t miss a single week at Roller World. My great aunt and uncle owned it at one point, and I spent so much time there. From skating, to dances, to birthday parties. My little brother still goes skating every Monday!...”
Meagan Smith: “I’ve been skating at this rink since I was 3 years old, I’m now 23. I would really hate to see this place of many memories go!!”
Allison Hackett: “I pretty much lived there every Friday night with all of my friends. So many fun memories for myself, I hope Roller World can live on for more generations to come, allowing for many more fond memories to be made.”
Scott Sullivan: “... To all the girls I kissed there, thank you ha ha...”
Cindy Boren Flavin: “My parents managed this rink in the ’80s. My father was very well known and to this day is remembered for his skating. He has passed on but he would be saddened to see that the rink ended up closing. I worked many summers here and truly enjoyed every minute. I am now in a wheelchair and just so upset that the rink will not carry the same memories for my children as it did for me. Actually I take that back. My son attends the skate dances and it is one of the few places that kids can go where the workers are friends and we can trust them with our children’s lives. Please reconsider closing its doors.”
Matthew Laprade: “I love that my wife and I can put on glitter, wear some glow sticks, and get lost in music and lights ... forget about life for a minute or two, and get exercise. All this while my daughter has an out of school social experience … supervised. … We have been going as a family ... sometimes father and daughter ... for 3 years this month. It does make me tear up when I really think of it closing. These people who are there week after week are my community. We watch after one another, allow each other to be ourselves ... to wave our freak flag, and we also welcome new skaters ... with smiles and thumbs up!...”
Leslie McCready puts it simply in a Facebook comment: “Good, clean, family fun!”