Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

On Duty at Skate Station: It's 'The Ultimate Rink Rat'

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

On Duty at Skate Station: It's 'The Ultimate Rink Rat'

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Maraghy, Clay County Line staff writer

Bobby Ballschneider's home smells of rental roller skates and wood sealer used to treat the roller rink floor.

Ballschneider lives at the Orange Park Skate Station, where he has been assistant manager for the past two years.

There are drawbacks. Kids bang on the walls of his studio apartment over the pro shop. He must eat his meals in the snack bar. And women aren't always impressed.

But he has no commute and it feels right to him, after spending most of his 37 years in rinks.

Ballschneider inhaled while taking inventory of about 800 pairs of skates.

"It smells like home," he said, smiling.

His parents were competitive skaters who worked as skating instructors and later operated rinks in New Jersey.

"As soon as I could walk, they put skates on me," he said.

While his parents worked, Ballschneider skated or played with his stash of rink-side toys or he napped on a cot in a back room. As he grew, he learned the business and became a competitive speed and figure skater.

His parents divorced when he was 12 and he and his mother moved to Florida. She worked at a rink in Tampa and then the Skate Station in Mandarin. She's retired now.

His first job, at age 14, was scrubbing garbage cans at a rink in Tampa to make money to pay his speed skating team dues.

Today, he's a floor guard, disc jockey, pizza maker and baby sitter. He fixes, sweeps, scrubs and seals the rink floor. He runs the snack bar. He repairs video games. And he's never seen a broken skate he couldn't fix.

He also helps coach the First Coast Speed Team, a traveling competitive team, and competes himself now and then.

"He is the ultimate rink rat," said Skate Station Manager Chris Griffith.

Many of the 2,400 rinks around the country have apartments in them because the business is seven days a week and a staff person is needed around the clock, said Dale Johnson of Roller-skating Association International in Indianapolis.

"The roller-rink business is like no other. You are completely at the mercy of the public," Johnson said, referring to the long hours of operation to accommodate day-care centers that want morning sessions, adults who want to skate in the evening and school kids during afternoons, weekends and school holidays. …

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