Blog: Think Outside the Rink

When you think of three-season athletes, what two types of facilities come to mind? If you thought of athletic fields and gymnasiums, you're in the majority. You probably did not raise your hand and say, "Oh, I know! I know! Ice rinks!"

I wouldn't have, either - but that was before I watched the staff at Baltimore's municipal facility, the Dominic DiPietro Family Skating Center, diversify their offerings and continue to coax people through the doors, even as the calendar turns and the mercury climbs.

Ice rinks are like pools, I've learned. When they're first open, everyone wants to be there - particularly kids. But as time wears on, attendance drops off. From October through December, the rink (locals call it "the Mimi;" it rhymes with "shimmy") is busy with the things you'd expect - ice skating, hockey, parties, lessons and clinics. Sometime after Christmas, the crowds start to slack off, so the staff shifts gears and offers co-ed broomball leagues.

For the uninitiated, broomball is a bit like ice hockey except that it's played in flat-soled shoes. You can learn about the equipment, rules and more by going to the sport's official site. It's a great late winter pick-up, and it works well to attract teens and adults who want to stay active.

The Mimi is an indoor facility; the ice is covered by a tension-supported structure. It's not air-conditioned, though the ice keeps it cold in the winter. But as the months creep forward into spring, it becomes impractical to keep frozen, so the ice is thawed, the coils are covered, and the area is used for yet another athletic activity: co-ed Wiffle® Ball leagues.

It's actually a great location, since spring can be cool and rainy, and having Wiffle® Ball inside the structure avoids the possibility of rainouts. Bonus: The lighter, slower ball has zero chance of hurting the Mimi's fabric. Those who need rules for that sport can go here.

By the time summer rolls around, the Mimi is too hot and humid to play in. That's okay, since other municipal facilities - pools, tennis courts, ball fields, bocce courts and more - will get lots of traffic. And as we've seen, it's only a matter of time until kids get tired of those, too. And when they do, the Mimi will be ready to welcome them back.

What's the point of all this? Maybe to encourage people to do what the city's rec professionals are doing: Keep folks interested. Lots of facilities have more than one use. Get creative, introduce new sports and you can keep the crowds coming back.

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