The Ballinger Skate Palace has been a favorite destination of locals as well as people from Winters, Miles and other areas for almost 4 decades. It’s fitting that it was purchased by a group of local entrepreneurs who spent a lot of their youth sharing time at the skating rink.
In early December, locals Chad McDuffee and his wife Jaslyn McDuffee along with friends Johnathan Woodbury and Janet Bullard purchased the Skate Palace and are working to bring it back to prominence. McDuffee frequented the place many times while he was growing up in Ballinger, long before he joined the army, served in Iraq, came back home, went to college, became a school teacher and started building his own business, “Growing up here I know what the Skating Palace has meant to the youth of Ballinger. It was an integral part of growing up here.”
The 7,000 square foot business was on the market for over a year and McDuffee knew he wanted to purchase it to ensure it continued to be a part of the Ballinger landscape, “When I saw it go up for sale, I thought that about how someone could buy it and turn it into something else, other than a skating rink. It’s one of the things that the kids around here have, a place to go to for them. Kids need more things to do here in town. We should have more things for them to do and not fewer things.” McDuffee and his wife Jaslyn talked it over and got together with friends Johnathan Woodbury and Janet Bullard to discuss purchasing the locale, “Jaslyn laughed when I first brought it up to her. I’ve known Johnathan since we were teenagers. I talked to him one day and brought it up. We discussed the possibilities and felt that with two families owning it, we could alternate time off as needed as we continued to run the business.” Once McDuffee had Woodbury onboard, it was just a matter of working the details out with McDuffee’s wife, Jaslyn, and Woodbury’s girlfriend, Janet Bullard, who came in as partners. The four partners have proven to be an asset for the community with their ideas for improvements at the skating rink and to bring more options to the youth of the area.
McDuffee says that once the decision was made it was a matter of getting the financing to go through with it, “We had to figure out the finances and everything. We worked it out and it came together pretty quickly. It was a blessing that it stayed on the market as long as it did, just over a year. We just didn’t want someone to come in and turn it into something else.”
There are few things as satisfying as growing up and purchasing a place that you were so endeared to in your youth. Many memories have been made there and a large number of locals spent quality time there over the last 30 or 40 years. Many parents and grandparents bring their children and grandchildren there, introducing it to the kids as you would an old family friend.
The owners have already started working on making changes within the business. One thing they’ve done is brought in a fitness trainer, Jessica Garcia, to conduct classes. The classes alternate between Zumba, cardio and a mix. The classes are held every Monday and Wednesday from 6 p.m. until 7 p.m. For a fee of $6 you get a workout, clean energy shot and post workout shake, which is a bargain no matter how you cut it. Most fitness places require a monthly membership along with a down payment and they certainly don’t give out any freebees. Then you’re usually sweating it out in a class with complete strangers, rather than friends and family.
Another person who has started using the Skate Palace is Frank Galindo of Southwest Martial Arts. Galindo hosts Taekwondo classes at the skating rink on Monday and Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. McDuffee said that they wanted to bring in more options for the kids in Ballinger, “We talked to Frank when we bought the Skate Palace. We want kids in the area to have more choices and this is a way to do that. We have already had kids sign up for the classes and have a banner that is coming soon and will be hung up outside. We want this community to grow together as a community.”
Another activity they’re looking at adding is self-defense classes. Ballinger police chief Stan Maresch has gauged public interest in self-defense classes and has talked to McDuffee and the other owners about the Skate Palace hosting the classes.
McDuffee says the spaciousness of the building can be put to multiple uses, “There is just too much room in there not to do more things with it. There are people with knowledge and skills who just need an area to use. If someone has an interest in holding some kind of classes or other activity, they just need to contact us. We’d love to have them and I’m certain we could work something out. We’re open to ideas if people have something they’d like to see. Some people can’t come in on Tuesdays and Thursdays or Mondays and Wednesdays, some can’t come in the afternoons and others can’t come in the mornings. The more options we have, the better off we are and the more we can offer the community. For instance, yoga would be something great to have there.”
Back in the heyday of the 70s and 80s, skating rinks were the go-to locations for many communities. They were a popular youth meeting place on Friday nights and on Saturdays. Everyone went there and chowed down on pizza, nachos, frito pies and hotdogs in between laps around the rink. Many of the skating rinks had races, with everyone cheering on their favorite contestant. McDuffee says that is one of the aspects of his youth that he’d like for today’s youth to get back to, “When we grew up here, everyone knew you. Everyone said “Hi,” and asked you how you were doing, they asked about your family, you hung out with your friends and had fun. These days kids are wrapped up in video games and don’t socialize as much so it leaves some of them lacking in the social skills area of life. We want to bring socializing back. Kids can get out and hang out with each other and have fun and I take great pleasure in helping to bring that back to our community.” As an educator, it makes sense that McDuffee would have his finger on the pulse of the youth and want to see them have positive experiences. McDuffee is well respected by his students and the community. You can’t go to a football game and not hear scores of students yelling greetings down to McDuffee from the stands as he patrols the sidelines taking photos of the game.
The plans that the new owners have involve replacing the old air conditioning system, “The poor air conditioning is one of the big complaints and one of the reasons that the place wasn’t open in the summer. We’ve already had Parsons HVAC come in and they’re working on an estimate. We’re also going to replace the carpeting, redo the floor surface and give the place a fresh paint job. Asking whether we were going to be open in the summer was one of the first questions we were asked. So, “yes,” we are going to be open in the summer. It doesn’t make sense to be closed in the summer because that’s when the kids are out of school and really need more options for places to go. And to be honest, I feel blessed that the community trusts us as a place their kids can go and have fun.”
Another option will be Sunday birthday parties. Traditionally the rink has been closed on Sundays but McDuffee and the other owners plan on opening Sundays up to birthday parties, “We’re booked up for birthday parties most Saturdays and people asked us about Sunday. No one wants their kid to have a birthday on Saturday or Sunday but have to delay the party for a week because the skating rink is booked on Saturday and closed on Sunday. So, we’ve decided to have Sundays available for birthday parties.”
The main thing that will not be changing is the price of admission. It is almost unthinkable in today’s world for new owners to take over an establishment and not raise prices for any number of reasons. But McDuffee and company are doing just that, keeping the prices the same for now. The hours will also remain the same for the time being, with 2 skating sessions, 2 hours each on Friday and Saturday nights between 6:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. The cost is $4 per session or both sessions for $7.
The life of the Skate Palace has spanned a couple of generations and with the new owners at the helm it is sure to span at least a couple of more. Keeping part of your childhood alive for the next generation and beyond to use and experience is a worthy endeavor. The world keeps spinning as society delves further and further into their cell phones and computers but McDuffee and the other owners are working to get back to the old days when friends socialized in person and not through a web of wires and microchips. Communities across the country who have locals like the Chad and Jaslyn McDuffee, Johnathan Woodbury and Janet Bullard are fortunate. They take pride in keeping alive part of the local history and sharing it with others while keeping the original ideals close to their heart.