Walking into Romp n Roll, the smell hits you first.
It’s nostalgic — a mix of sweat and rental skates.
Everything about the Shaler roller rink has a hint of nostalgia to it, from the smell to the carpet with a confetti-like pattern to the colored lights and disco ball above the rink.
And things are especially nostalgic lately for members of the Steel City Roller Derby.
The league has spent all of its roughly 10-year existence at the rink, which announced last Monday that it’s closing Nov. 30. The new owners have a warehouse/showroom combination planned, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
And that means Steel City skaters are on the hunt for a new home before games between the three intra-league “home” teams — the Allegheny Avengers, Mon Monsters and Penn Bruisers — start in January. Travel teams, the Steel Hurtin’ and Steel Beamers, which are made up of many of the home team skaters, start their season in April.
While Steel City Roller Derby teams have always skated on a wooden rink, they’ve traveled to old warehouses with concrete floors, convention and sports centers, and even fairground pavilions.
So right now, the league isn’t ruling anything out for its next home (but it must have a 75-by-108 foot open space) and is even willing to practice in one place and have games in another with room for fans, said skater Cassandra Dale aka Daley Dose, 42, of Gibsonia, Pa.
Skaters just wanted to find a space, but added a few details to the wish list like a central location and maybe a concrete floor to help prepare for away games.
But there’s something special about a wooden rink, they said.
Sure, they’re partial to Romp n Roll: it’s where many of them learned roller derby and the rink they aspired to play on. During practice Thursday night, five members of the league shared their Romp n Roll memories.
Emily Weise-King, 35, of Squirrel Hill
Steel City teams: Penn Bruisers, Steel Hurtin’
It’ll be three years ago this winter, but Painsly still remembers walking into Romp n Roll for the first time.
“From the very first bootcamp, it was like being 9 or 10 [years old],” she said. “It’s the smell.”
And she remembered her first game, where there were little kids in the crowd asking her and other skaters for their autographs.
Painsly said she scored in that first game, but followed it with a penalty, and on her way to the penalty box, her coach said, “You’re doing so great.”
Shannon Wood, 30, of Pleasant Hills
Steel City teams: Allegheny Avengers, Steel Beamers
Roundhouse skated with a different roller derby league for about three years before switching to Steel City.
And she said the league and the wooden floors at Romp n Roll helped her improve as a skater and a player. It was something she noticed watching film of herself after about six months with the league.
Plus there’s something special about games at the rink. With people cheering, there’s a buzz. “It’s kinda electric.”
Breakin’ Knees Burger
Jeananne Burger, 36, of Lincoln Place
Steel City teams: Mon Monsters, Steel Beamers
Breakin’ Knees was was a member of the league for about three years before she made the Steel Beemers, a travel team.
At first, she was redshirted, so she practiced with the team at Romp n Roll, but didn’t play. A month later, she was told that she was on the team.
“I may have cried a little,” she said. “I had to walk away to not look like a wuss.”
There’s just something about being a team that’s special, she said, adding there’s a camaraderie and trust between teammates.
Heather Wood, 32, of Lawrenceville
Steel City teams: Retired skater, current referee
McShovin grew up in Shaler and skated at Romp n Roll when it was Shaler Skateland. (Her fourth grade birthday party was there.)
And it has the same feel — and smell — it’s always had, she said.
McShovin, who was a skater for several years, said she became a referee about three years ago. Now as head referee, she works to make sure skaters and officials have a good relationship, because everyone is there for fun.
Her first game as a referee was almost as nerve wracking as her first game as a skater, she said. “Except I knew people weren’t coming at me.”
Sfya (Somethin For Ya Ass)
Barbara Norvell, 34, Youngstown
Steel City teams: Mon Monsters, Steel Hurtin’
It’s only her second year with the league, but Sfya said she’s known Steel City skaters for longer.
When she was on other teams, she faced off against Steel City teams and traveled to Romp n Roll as a visiting opponent. But when she made the switch, because Steel City was more competitive, she said it was phenomenal to have Romp n Roll as home base.
The skaters were accepting and open, she said, adding that joining Steel City and skating on the league’s rink was a goal.
“I looked up to them,” Sfya said.