When the city of Burbank had to cut its budget by 5% in 2009, its parks and recreation officials nearly eliminated the roller hockey program at Ralph Foy Park under the assumption that the sport hardly held the public's interest anymore.
But players spoke up in defense of their rink at public meetings, prompting the city to hire Community Sports Foundation to operate the venue.
Since that time, interest in the sport and the venue has exploded, especially since it's one of the few roller hockey rinks in the San Fernando Valley. The number of youth hockey league players has more than doubled since 2010, according to a city report.
“I tried to convince them that the sport wasn't dead; they were just playing in other places,” said Frank Dalessandro, owner of Community Sports Foundation.
The operation has gone from four youth teams in 2010 to 10 this year. Another 400 adults participate. Combined, the two demographics comprise nearly 60 teams.
“It is one of those fantastic stories to tell,” said Marisa Garcia, assistant director of Burbank's Park, Recreation & Community Services. “As staff, we were going in one direction because that's what we thought was in the best interest for that facility, and we were proven wrong.”
On Tuesday, the City Council approved renewing the lease with Community Sports Foundation for up to an additional 20 years.
It's a long way from where it almost ended up.
When the rink was newly built in 1997, the YMCA managed it before giving the responsibility to the city in 2004.
Over time, the city quit offering league games, and by 2009, officials couldn't think of a reason to keep the rink.
They considered using the space for soccer, volleyball or basketball games instead, Garcia said.
That's when local players showed up at City Council meetings to fight to keep it open.
Since the Burbank rink was one of few remaining in the San Fernando Valley, Dalessandro knew locals would return, given the chance.
“We asked them to just give us a year,” he said.
Meanwhile, AYSO Commissioner Oscar Barraza of Burbank's Region 254 approached the city about using the space for soccer fields in 2009.
He said every season can bring up to 100 new players, further straining the ability of organizers to accommodate everyone on three fields.
“We have over 1,700 players in our region, so having a successful season there would be rather easy,” Barraza said in an email.
But by then the city had already granted the rink to Dalessandro.
Nine months into it, Dalessandro said the number of users started to balloon.
Under the new lease agreement, Community Sports Foundation will manage the rink for the next five years.
The city may renew the contract three more times, which could mean the foundation runs the rink for the next 20 years.
“It's fantastic,” Dalessandro said. “I would say 80% of kids who play have never played hockey before. What's happening: They're bringing their friends too.”