BATAVIA – Skaters are all smiles as they circle the roller rink to the sound of popular music under glittering lights at Batavia’s Funway Entertainment Center.
For parents, roller skating is an opportunity to enjoy an inexpensive family outing and share their love of the activity with their children.
“It’s like riding a bike. Once you learn, you can do it forever,” said Nicole Kaminsky of Oswego, who brought her daughter and son to the rink.
“It’s a great workout and brings back good memories.” Kaminsky said.
Roller skating may be viewed by some as a pastime from another era, but the popularity of Funway’s family skate sessions clearly suggest otherwise.
“I feel skating is having a resurgence,” said Tonya Inman of Batavia, who with her husband, Allen, was enjoying an afternoon with their son Zac, 5.
“It’s his favorite thing,” Tonya said of Zac. “He loves his skates. He wants to sleep in them.”
That’s music to the ears of Funway owner Bob Hansen.
“Nothing’s old to a young child. That’s the key,” Hansen said. “We keep it fresh, clean, safe and fun.”
Roller skating is good exercise and a very social activity.
“People tell us they met their wife or husband while roller skating,” Hansen said. “We hear that a lot.”
Funway’s rink opened in October 1978 at the height of the disco craze that had renewed roller skating’s popularity after a decline from what was regarded as the activity’s golden age in the 1930s through 1950s.
The concrete skate floor, measuring 180 feet by 80 feet, is painted every year.
“Experienced skaters like the grip they get,” Hansen said. “The quality of our rink floor is second to none.”
Skaters come from as far away as Chicago and even Wisconsin to enjoy Funway’s rink.
On a recent Saturday afternoon after a heavy snowfall the previous day, the number of skaters circling the rink was only slightly less than normal.
“It’s usually bananas in here,” Funway staff member Tristian Tinoco said, grinning, as he minded the rink’s skate rental desk.
Most skaters select the traditional quad skates, Tinoco said, with the four wheels on each skate arranged like those on an automobile.
However, many patrons prefer in-line skates with the wheels configured one behind the other in a straight line.
In-line skates were a natural choice for Funway’s new rink manager Jonathan Hernandez when he made the transition from ice hockey skates to roller skates.
For Hernandez, the goal for open skating sessions is to ensure that patrons are enjoying themselves.
“We play kid-friendly music and want to keep people comfortable,” Hernandez said.
Safety is paramount and that’s why two or three guards, conspicuous in their zebra-striped jerseys looking like football referees, skate around the rink along with the patrons.
Justin Pillette of Aurora has been roller skating since he can remember and loves his job as a guard at the rink.
He keeps an eye out for customers with ill-fitting clothing that might impede their skating, for those who have fallen or for parents who are attempting to pick up their children while themselves wearing skates.
During “four corners,” a game similar to musical chairs, Pillette becomes the center of attention as he circles the rink with a giant fuzzy dice before letting it roll.
Skaters who have scattered to the four corners of the rink wait with anticipation to see which group will be eliminated before those remaining begin circling the rink again for another round.
Other popular games include “red light, green light,” a Simon-says type activity that has participants skating the rink floor from end-to-end rather than in a circle.
Funway’s family-friendly environment extends to its management.
Owner Hansen’s son Dominic is the entertainment center’s director of operations. Daughter Jackie Sommerfeld handles bookings for special events.
Private birthday parties and company outings, along with school and church groups, make up a big part of the rink’s business.
The two-hour open skate sessions are popular and so are the private lessons taught by members of a professional artistic skate team that recently made Funway its home after the closure of a rink in Lombard.
Bob Hansen bought Funway, 1335 S. River St., in 1990 and has been expanding its offerings ever since.
The sprawling complex is the largest entertainment center of its type in Illinois and features a 20-lane bowling alley, both indoor and outdoor mini-golf, indoor and outdoor go-cart tracks, laser tag, video games, bumper cars and an enormous party room.