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Skating through the years

LORENA BENIQUEZ/West Branch Life Above: Here skaters enjoy the last surviving roller skating rink in the area, Trout Pond Park in Muncy.

It was 1997 and Linda Rakoskie was at Sunset Park roller skating rink in Williamsport with her friend. The middle aged women spotted a man whom they both thought was quite handsome. So, they made an agreement. They would wait to see if he asked either of them to join him in a couple’s skate. That gentleman was Dennis Dailey and he walked over to Rakoskie and requested her to accompany him. “I asked Linda first. And I’ve stuck with her for 23 years,” said Dailey.

The two have also stuck with skating, although there are less places to do it now in the Williamsport area. Currently, Trout Pond Park in Muncy is the only skating rink left in Lycoming County. Throughout the years, rinks included Great Skate in Montoursville, Skateland USA in Cogan Station, Jet Rollercade in Linden and Falls Hall in Hughesville (it was later called Country Skateland in the 1980’s). In Williamsport, there was Sunset Park, Park Roller Rink and Skating Plus.

“When I first met Linda, we skated 5 nights a week. We went to Sunset on Monday, Tuesday in Wilkes-Barre, Wednesday in Herndon, Wilkes-Barre again on Thursday and on Sunday we would go out to Fantasy in Reading,” said Dailey.

It is days into the COVID-19 outbreak nationally but that isn’t stopping the 50 or so skaters at Trout Pond Park. It is Thursday night which is designated as an adult skate. “Some of those people are around 80 years old. Most of them have never stopped skating. Once you start, you never stop,” said Frank Pidocoe who owns the skating rink.

Pidcoe caught the skating bug as a child and continues to enjoy the sport when he isn’t running his business. He bought Trout Pond Park in 1999 after working for Disney World for twelve years.

“It’s something that I enjoy and have always loved doing it. My heart doctors told me to quit but I won’t,” said Dale Clayton who dons a t-shirt that says “If I can’t wear my roller skates, then I’m not going.”  He has spent the night gliding over Trout Pond’s wooden floor and chatting with friends when he takes a break.

Clayton muses over the changes that have occurred in the skating universe since he strapped on his first pair of rollerskates 67 years ago when he was three years old. “All the rinks used to have organ music. That’s when we had clamp-on skates,” said Clayton. Sometimes the music was played live by an organist. “The live organ music is just fantastic because of the beat,” added Rakoskie. 

Organ music was a staple in roller rinks in the 1930’s when it cost around $.15 for admission. One advertisement for Sunset Park’s Halloween party stated, “Hammond electric organ for pleasing music.” 

Dailey hasn’t forgotten the allure of the organ. He said, “This modern music is just not conducive for roller skating. It’s just too fast or too slow but good organ music will keep you stepping.”

By the 1970’s, the organ succumbed to the pulsing beat of disco. “It was awesome and I am still hooked on it,” said Justine Yordy from Dewart. Yordy started skating in the seventies which saw the birth of roller discos locally and nationally. “During the 70’s and 80’s, you had all the new rinks pop up in the area,” said Pidcoe.

For Yordy, roller skating offered even more than just good music. Two times a week, she would head to Magic River Skateland in Montandon on a bus that operated exclusively for roller skaters. “I went with all of my neighborhood friends. We would take the bus on Friday and Saturday.  There was the excitement of riding the bus and meeting people from other towns. We just loved being together with friends and new friends,” she recalled.

The social aspect of skating is certainly a draw even to this day.  Dailey said, “The camaraderie with skaters is something you can’t believe. Just about everyone we run with met at skating rinks. It is the most couples-friendly thing. Once you get a good couple for skating, you can’t let them go.”

Skating has always been a great activity for family, as well. Clayton said, “All of my family skated and worked over here at Trout Park.” 

Pidcoe said that to this day the roller rink is filled with families every Sunday. In addition, the roller rink hosts birthday parties.

One of the biggest draws of roller skating has always been its health benefits. “It’s great exercise,” said Clayton. Jordy added, “I love it because it is awesome exercise. I wear a fitbit. I get [to the rink] with 10,000 steps but by the time I leave I have 20,000.” For Rakoskie, it helps with the arthritis in her knee. She said “It makes me feel good.”

Feeling good is certainly at the core of roller skating and Clayton laments why more youth are not embracing the sport for that reason. “Skating is dying because kids are more interested in being on their phones,” he said.

While crowds may not be as large as they once were, Trout Pond Park still attracts skaters.  “Saturday nights are crazy. It’s everyone from teenagers to parents with kids. We have around 200 people on Saturdays,” said Pidcoe.

While some of those skaters may be reliving old memories from their skating past, certainly all of them are creating new memories.

Dailey and Rakoskie are effortlessly gliding around the rink at Trout Pond Park. Their years of practice is evident in the way they move in synchronicity. Dailey’s hand rests on Rakoskie’s waist as he rolls backwards. “We skate to the music just like dancing,” said Dailey who can not foresee ever skating a last skate. He said, “You would have to break my leg because I won’t quit.”

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