It was the final adult night at SkateDaze.
About 300 skaters crowded the rink, rolling to rap music, executing tricky dance moves, trying to see if they could set a speed record.
Everybody wanted a moment — or another lifetime — with owner Scott Cernik.
He posed for selfies with former employees and longtime rink groupies, some of them folks on the back side of middle age who remember wearing psychedelic bell-bottoms, wide belts and stylish ribbed-knit tops to skate every weekend as teens. He had Kleenex handy in case anybody got overly emotional, and as the praise and gratitude piled on, he feared he might be the one.
It has been a week of lasts for Cernik, wife Pam and their family — last private parties, last toddler skate and, finally, the last day of business. Ever. At 6 p.m. Sunday, after the DJ plays a yet-to-be determined last song, SkateDaze is history. On Feb. 1, the Cerniks sold the building and land at 132nd and B Streets to Midwest Laboratories.
“It was a really hard decision,” Cernik said. “I grew up on skates.”
The SkateDaze sale marks more than just the end of one beloved business. The Cernik family has been involved in skating for 73 years, ever since Frank Cernik, Scott’s father, began with a portable roller rink in 1946. Frank bought his first permanent rink in Fremont in 1950, and his first Omaha rink, Skateland at 108th and Q Streets, in 1968. Over the years, the Cerniks also had rinks in Bellevue, 84th and F Streets, off Interstate 680 near Irvington, and out-of-state in Mesa, Arizona; Fargo, North Dakota; and Minneapolis.
Frank Cernik, 91, will be at SkateDaze on Sunday for the rink’s final hours. When the family waffled on selling, even though they kept getting better offers, he was the one who was definitive, urging Scott and Pam to retire.
“I called Dad. We were going round and round and everyone was upset,” Scott said. “He said we’d been doing this a long time, and it’s time for you to go out and have some fun.”
The rink business has been plenty of fun for Scott and the hundreds of employees he hired over the years.
It was more than fun for the generations of Omaha teens and tweens who saw the Cernik establishments as a second home. The rinks were the place to go at every opportunity, to meet friends who went to different schools and participate in special skates such as the limbo and the hokey pokey.
I was one of those bell-bottom ballerinas. One of my parents took me and at least one friend from our home in Minne Lusa to the Irvington rink nearly every weekend. Dance moves were OK, but my real passion was skating as fast as I possibly could. Referees in striped shirts skated alongside us for safety, and I frequently was kicked off the floor for speeding.
We also waited breathlessly for couples skates, wondering if we’d be chosen. We’d sit on sideline benches near the lockers, joking, giggling and yelling. More than a few relationships started as people glided across that smooth plastic floor, and many led to lifelong commitments.
“The first kiss I ever got was at Skateland,” said Christine Morford Egerton, 47. “And we’re still friends.”
Morford Egerton, a graduate of Marian High School who was raised in northwest Omaha, started going to the Irvington Skateland in grade school with her sister — “my first skating buddy” — and got her first job in the rink’s snack bar.
“It’s hard to explain what this place really means to a lot of people,” she said during a break at the adult skate. “I spent more time with my Skateland friends than my school friends. It’s where we established our work ethic, and we enjoyed it because we wanted to be there. You were working and still got to see your friends.”
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She hasn’t been around as much in recent years, but she came this week to see Cernik for a tearful (at least on her part) reunion.
If not for skating, said Steve Jacobsen, 54, he wouldn’t be here — his parents met at a rink in Lincoln. He skated all the time as a kid, and came to SkateDaze about seven years ago when he wanted to get back into the activity.
“I’ve met the nicest people I ever met here,” he said, adding that he’s heartbroken about the closing because it means many kids now won’t have the same experience.
Scott Cernik said he’s gratified to have provided safe and wholesome fun for young people over the years. Many former patrons have told him that they wouldn’t be the productive people they are now if they hadn’t had skating. It kept them out of trouble.
That was true for Jaycob Demers as an adult. His dad was the manager of the 84th and F Skateland in the 1980s. He loved skating, but turned his back on it when he got older and discovered drinking and developed an alcohol problem.
“I turned back to skating to help me give up booze,” said Demers, now 36. It worked. He said he’s been sober for several years, and he’s now known as one of the best regulars at SkateDaze. He has some killer dance moves.
If anything causes Cernik to cry in the next few days, it will be the barrage of stories from the hundreds of people who will miss SkateDaze. Since he announced the closure, people have posted numerous thank-yous and memories on the rink’s Facebook page, and nearly 151,000 people have visited the site.
“It makes me feel wonderful, like what we’ve done, all the effort over decades, is worthwhile,” Cernik said.
On Thursday, time was running out on adult skate. The DJ dimmed the lights — signaling the last song of the night, traditionally a couples skate. Friends and lovers paired off for a few final swirls around a dark oval. Back in the day, we skated romantically in the dark, giddy and fearful, barely touching our partner’s hand. Now, people are more bold, and guide themselves with cellphone lights.
“I Will Always Love You” started playing on the loudspeaker, but in what seemed like an instant, the music was done and the DJ was saying goodbye for the last time. Women stood near the rink walls, heads down, swiping at their eyes. Hugs were everywhere. A massive clump of people resembling a rugby scrum skated to the middle of the rink for group photos.
The adult skaters will move to Skate City in Bellevue (another former Cernik property), the last remaining open-to-the-public rink in the metro area, but it won’t be the same.
A few folks grabbed coats and purses and headed for the exits, but many continued to circulate. They were in no hurry.
“I don’t know how I’m gonna get them to leave,” Cernik said, but he didn’t seem to care.
The moment would never come again.