The neighborhood high school senior’s picture was in the local papers and Life magazine. She appeared on Regis and Kathy Lee. What important achievement triggered this media frenzy? Kaela Meinert did the full splits in the limbo contest at the White Rock Skate Center.

“I have so many memories from going to the skating rink every weekend, and getting to travel to New York and Japan for the limbo,” Meinert says. “It is a time that I will always remember.”

The Connors family’s White Rock Skate Center has been part of neighborhood folklore for almost three decades.

How many places can you dance around in a circle with balloons on your head, visit with your friends, get some exercise and have just enough time to eat nachos and drink a Coke before leaving happily with “New York, New York” sounding in the background? And that’s what has kept generations of neighborhood families returning to the skating rink nestled on a hilltop near the intersection of Northwest Highway and Ferndale Road.

Current owner Chuck Connors recalls when his dad built the rink in 1973.

“My father had just ended a 30-year career in construction and wanted a part-time job. He was tossing between a car wash and building a roller skating rink, and because he had a couple daughters and thought it would be a little more family-oriented, he opted for the skating rink.”

The ownership change from father to son had good timing on its side. Connors became the owner in 1980 after earning his masters degree.

“I used to be a counselor at a community college working with handicapped students. The timing worked out great, because my father wanted to retire again from his part-time job turned 80-hour week, and I was familiar with the business and enjoyed working with children.

“The rink is a real family thing. My mom and two sisters worked here as teachers of classes and returning phone calls and mopping floors. My daughter, Leslie, who attends Lake Highlands schools, works here on weekends, and my wife cashiers.”

The rink’s opening was a great success. “This big thing was being built up on the hill, and a lot of this stuff wasn’t around here, so it really stood out,” Connors says.

The opening drew “throngs of people that first week, month and year, because you can open anything, and it’s a novelty for awhile. It just took off, and we have enjoyed it over the years.”

Afternoon sessions usually are frequented by the five- to 11-year-olds, and then 10- to 14-year-olds come Friday and Saturday nights. Parents also are frequent patrons on Sundays because they can skate free after paying for their children. The Skate Center also hosts various charities, including Equest, which takes handicapped children out on horses to give them confidence and experience, and My Guardian Angel, an organization for kids who suffer a loss such as the divorce or death of parents.

In addition, “50 to 75 birthday parties are given away for school or church auctions” each year, Connors says.

If schools want to do something different at the end of the year, whether for a Safety Patrol reward or for TAAS, the rink isn’t far away.

The employees are another important story at the Skate Center.

“I’ve had hundreds of employees,” Connors says. “Many of them have multiple members of their family who have worked here – like the Avalos family from Lake Highlands whose two sons and daughter were employees of mine. I haven’t got an employee who used to work here that has a child who works here yet, but that’s probably around the corner,” he predicts.

Most of the employees are students at nearby Lake Highlands or Bryan Adams high schools.

“One thing that I tell them at orientation is that this is one of the neatest jobs you will ever have because with so many jobs – doctor, lawyer, car repair shop – people don’t want to be there. But when people are here, they are off work and with their kids.

“People are here to have a good time. It’s a great environment.”

The skating rink offers a little something for everyone. If you feel a need for speed, skating races are held for different age groups; a lotteryesque Lucky Number game can win you a free Coke at the snack bar; and for the more flexible and adventurous, there’s that famous limbo.

“We used to try a lot of this and that, but regardless of the group, I could have 50-year-olds or five-year-olds, a sorority or high school seniors – everybody enjoys the limbo,” Connors says.

“The game is as much fun for the onlookers as those who participate because of how close these kids reach the floor! You can hear ‘ooohs’ and ‘ahhs’ from the crowd during the splits, and cheering when the bar is lowered another notch,” he says.

As years progressed, “we’ve built a bulletin board of 15 or 20 others that have done just as well (as Kaela Meinert.) One girl,” Mr. Connors points to a picture of Shanetta Drake on the colorful board right next to the skating rink exit, “came all the way from Texarkana with her mom one Saturday afternoon because her mom heard that we had a bunch of good limbo players.

“When she walked in the door, a couple of the regular limboers scoped out the competition, but at the end of the night they realized: Hey, she’s one of us.”

Music played at the Skate Center is mainly appropriate top-40 songs.

“Occasionally we will take requests,” Connors says, “but it’s kind of like a radio station in that every radio station has a format, and they might play a little something different, but mostly they stick to one thing.”

Two trademark songs are the Ghostbusters theme song, which is accompanied with spooky lighting and fog that mists the skaters, and New York, New York that concludes each skating session. Connors says he selected the song to “put a smile on their face and a hop in their step.”

The Skate Center usually upgrades yearly, from adding more party rooms to repainting the walls in traditional red, white and blue. Changes over the years include a large video screen that mimicked MTV when it started 10 years ago (it was popular for awhile), and the still-popular “Money Machine,” a rectangular clear box in which the birthday child stands and grabs money while the machine blows it around.

“I love to hear parents say they are comfortable dropping their kids off here and knowing that they feel safe doing it,” Connors says.

“I am in charge of peoples’ kids when they drop them off at the door, so what happens to the kids, how they’re treated and what music they listen to, or what they see while they’re here is very important – I take it seriously.”

Connors says skating “is a very unique business. Where else can a 10- or 12-year-old go, besides the mall or a friend’s party, for a structured amount of time? Here they can be by themselves, meet old friends and maybe make new ones.

“People who used to skate here are now parents bringing in their seven-,eight-, and nine-year-olds. They walk in the door, and their mouth will just open and they’ll say: Wow, it’s just like it was when I used to skate here!

“And I used to be like: No, it’s not – I just redid the carpet!” But then I realized that it’s not new tile or paint that triggers memories.

“It’s the feel of a place.”