High-in-demand ice rink faces funding challenges
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — A crowd of local kids descended on the Flyers Skate Zone last Thursday night, suited up in pads and helmets, and headed out on the ice for an hour-long hockey lesson.
“I always wanted to do activities like this,” said Craig Bell, of Atlantic City, as he watched son Christopher Bell, 8, skate.
Christopher is in his second year with the Art Dorrington Foundation League for kids up to age 13, learning life skills as well as how to skate and play hockey.
The ice is in high demand, and the Dorrington league, which attracted about 25 Atlantic City kids, was sandwiched between an open stick session for all hockey players to practice on their own and a middle school league evaluation session that brought in a huge crowd.
But at a recent Casino Reinvestment Development Authority meeting, where the board voted to make a sublease more flexible to the Skate Zone rather than fund needed improvements to the building, some folks seemed to think the rink wasn’t used much — or by locals.
“I don’t think it’s worth it for CRDA to put funding into the building. It doesn’t generate funds for us,” said Executive Director Matt Doherty, saying the Skate Zone only pays for the expense of being there and covers all utilities like heat and electricity. “The Flyers use it for a practice facility, and other community groups use it, but ice skating doesn’t seem to be used all that often.”
No one from the corporate office of Flyers Skate Zone could be reached for comment. The company is part of Comcast Spectator, and it has other rinks in Voorhees, Pennsauken and Northeast Philadelphia.
Mayor Frank Gilliam said CRDA money should only be spent on something that benefits the community.
“Hockey is not a sport this urban area is fans of,” said Gilliam.
Stockton University student and hockey team member Daniel Donohoe, who lives at the Atlantic City campus, disagreed.
“We don’t have enough ice for how many people we have,” said Donohoe, who works part time at the Skate Zone. “It’s hard to build ice. We are jam-packed. We practice at 10:30 at night (because that’s when the ice is available).”
The rink is also heavily used by figure skaters, who have regular blocks of time several days a week, and for special events and public skates when anyone can come just for the fun of it, Donohoe said.
The Skate Zone was built in the late 1990s by a public/private partnership, said CRDA General Counsel Paul Weiss. It, along with the land under it, is part of Bader Field and owned by Atlantic City.
Dorrington, of Atlantic City, was the first professional black hockey player in the U.S. He moved to Atlantic City in 1950 to join the Eastern Hockey League’s Atlantic City Seagulls team, and started the foundation with wife Dorothie in 1998.
Coach John Loughney, of Egg Harbor Township, has been with the league since its inception and said it reflects Dorrington’s mantra: “On the Ice — Off the Streets.” His dad, Charles, played on the Seagulls with Dorrington, Loughney said.
Dorrington died Dec. 29, 2017, at 87.
Bell said the rink and its programs should, if anything, expand.
“They should do more in the politics of the city to bring awareness to the youth activities, help kids become more active,” he said.
Bell suggested shuttle buses to transport kids to the rink, and programs to raise awareness of what’s there and help more kids participate.
Both girls and boys are part of the Dorrington league.
“I like learning new things,” said Journey Owens, 8, as Nyzirah Gantz, 16, of Atlantic City, helped her tie her skates.
Journey is in her first year in the program, and Gantz graduated from it and now helps out as a volunteer, she said.
“When we skated it was only me and my two sisters,” Gantz said. Now, girls make up a sizable minority in the program.
She’d play hockey at Atlantic City High School if it had a team for her, Gantz said.
Nine-year-old Sean Ali, of Atlantic City, had never skated before but wanted to learn how to play hockey, he said.
“It’s not easy,” he said of learning to skate. But he did it, and “I don’t mind the cold.”
His mom, Amanda Lumpkins, of Atlantic City, said her son tried other sports but didn’t take to them like he took to hockey.
“I feel hockey keeps him going,” she said.
Another graduate sat in the bleachers watching his little brother skate.
“I did it in 2016 and 2017,” said Andres Hernandez, 14, of Atlantic City. “I enjoyed it. It taught us more than hockey — about how to stay in school, keep your grades up. They took us on trips and to Flyers games.”
Now he plays basketball in high school but still skates for fun, he said.
Information from: The Press of Atlantic City (N.J.), http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com