By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – There’s a place where disco balls splash light in all directions and music thumps in every chest, while people on wheels merrily go ‘round and ‘round.
Skate centers have been around for decades, but young skaters don’t care about history. This is their time to get out on the floor.
Janiyah Jackson, 13, of Tupelo, has been visiting Skate Zone since she was 4 or 5. She gets a special feeling after lacing up her skates and joining her friends under the disco lights.
“You don’t move your feet up and down a lot,” she said. “It’s like you’re gliding instead of walking. I like how it feels. It’s smooth.”
Gliding is one option.
Falling is another.
“I fell down a bunch, but it didn’t hurt,” explained 6-year-old Tristam Yant of Dorsey.
He was full of smiles and energy, even after hours of trying to learn a new skill.
While kids skated, Harold Northington, 59, of Shannon, sat at a table with his back against a wall. He’s co-owner of Faye’s Playhouse and Learning Center in Verona, and he’s found that a skating rink is the perfect place to let his young charges burn off excess energy.
“I’m waiting for them to run out of steam,” he said.
Most of the adults who visit Skate Zone are there to pick up, drop off or look after kids. Skating around at high speeds is generally considered a young person’s game, but adults have their memories.
“I grew up skating. We would come a lot. I loved it,” said Tristam’s mother, Tammy Yant, 35. “But I haven’t done it in forever.”
Kenny Berry of Tupelo is 42 years old, which clearly puts him out of Skate Zone’s demographic group.
“The age range is from 8 to 14 or 15,” he said. “Once they get a car, you loose them, but every so often, one will come back.”
He’s the general manager of Skate Zone and has worked at skating centers for more than 20 years. It’s his job to make sure the music is playing, the disco balls are turning and the floor is swept clean.
“I learned how to drown the music out. I just hear the beats. The music can be blaring, but I know how to drown it out,” Berry said in the relative quiet of his office. “After hearing it in here all day, I listen to Fox News, CNN News or MLB
Network in my truck. I hardly ever listen to music in my truck.”
When he’s on the job, he has to stay in contact with his inner child. Otherwise, he might go crazy.
“Basically, you’ve just got to enjoy the kids,” he said.
It helps that he has fond memories of his first trip to a skating rink in Starkville. Some falling down was involved.
“My sister and them would hold my hand when I would go skating,” he said.
He eventually got a job offer from Dale Taylor, who owns several staking centers in Northeast Mississippi. The business suited Berry’s personality, and these days, he often sees young reminders of his longevity.
“I’ve had kids come to skate with me here whose moms used to skate with me in Starkville. They’ll come in and say, ‘I remember you,’” Berry said. “We’ve got several people like that, who live in the surrounding area now and bring their kids here and drop them off.”
Taylor, who owns Skate Zone, as well as centers in Starkville, Columbus and Meridian, said the clientele has changed since he got into the business more than 35 years ago.
“We had a lot of older skaters then,” he said. “We decided to focus on families and kids.”
Now, his skate centers are geared toward youngsters, but there’s still room for older skaters who want to join the kids.
“We’re happy to have people like that, who just love skating,” he said. “I’ve got people in their 20s and 30s in there all just wanting to skate, and all the kids adopt them.”
That describes Odell Cayson, except for the age. The Tupelo resident is 54 and he’s passionate about getting his time on the skate floor.
At one time, he was a regional skate champion, earning the right to represent Tupelo at contests in Jackson. A display case at Skate Zone holds some of Cayson’s trophies.
“I incorporated ice skating moves with skating. We skated to disco in the ‘70s,” he said. “I would skate in Tupelo from 2 to 5, then go to Corinth and skate from 7 to midnight. Every weekend. Also, we’d go to Pontotoc.”
When Cayson was learning to skate, experienced skaters taught him. He does the same for others now.
“I’ve been trying to teach the kids, to coach them up. People will ask me, ‘How do you move that way?’ I say, ‘I just work it out, work it out,’” he said. “I’ll be at the store or something and someone will say, ‘Hey, Mama, I know him. He’s at the
skate center. He taught me to skate.’”
Cayson cuts a trim figure. Clearly, his time on the floor offers him more than fun.
It does the same for the kids, even if they don’t know they’re exercising, Taylor said.
“I was talking to a grandmother the other day,” he said. “She said, ‘I’m so glad you’re open. We need places like this. Our kids are getting soft.’ It’s exercise. There’s no doubt about that.”
But it’s not for everybody.
During an all-night Thanksgiving break event, Berry got out on the floor in a pair of skates and ended up fracturing his tibial plateau after a fall.
“I went, ‘Oh, my, I’m too old for this,’” he said, shaking his head but wearing a smile. “Everybody sees your hurt, and they think you can’t skate. It was embarrassing.”
Maybe there’s a reason skating is mostly a kids’ game.