One-Wheel Roller

King of the rink Leo White is ready for prime time, but is prime time ready for him?

Foggy had to close the East St. Louis rink some two years ago for what he calls "management problems" -- roller-skating parlance for "We couldn't control teenage troublemakers." Still, Foggy is planning to reopen the shopworn barn in late October.

From the looks of the building's mint-green façade and off-the-beaten path location in East St. Louis' South Broadway warehouse district, it is virtually unfathomable that Foggy will pull it off -- unfathomable until Foggy, clad in his grass-cutting getup of blue denim and black "No Fear" ballcap, lets you inside the old lady.

Although its polished cement floor is inferior to Pine Lawn's Northern maple -- which Foggy refers to as "the Rolls-Royce of roller-skating surfaces" -- the gabled-roof structure permits a borderline-psychedelic light show that would just as easily appeal to the sunshine-daydream tripster as the sunrise-exercise soul sister.

Who needs skates when you've got a good pair of hands?
Jennifer Silverberg
Who needs skates when you've got a good pair of hands?
Skate King's Mathew Foggy, the Bill Gates of the St. Louis roll
Jennifer Silverberg
Skate King's Mathew Foggy, the Bill Gates of the St. Louis roll

Foggy's center "is the only game in town," he says. "Ike and Tina Turner once played here."

The interior is astonishingly unadorned. The prices at the concession stand will remain the same -- "Aspirin, $.60" -- but Foggy sheepishly admits that he'll have to remove the Kit-Kat bars that have been going stale for the past two years. All that remains is a little weed-pulling, the acquisition of some new arcade games and minimal marketing -- something that Foggy believes will be accomplished by word of mouth at local schools and among his clientele in Pine Lawn.

"The closure could be a blessing in disguise," says Foggy, reasoning that the geographic cross-pollination of skaters at his Pine Lawn rink will be a boon for business on both sides of the river once he reopens the East Side venue.

At the Pine Lawn center, Foggy has cut way back on sessions for teens, essentially limiting their time on the rink to Tuesday-night "Rap and Roll" from 7-10 p.m.

"For the most part, we've canceled out the teen market, which is a concern of mine," he laments. "You're skating them as kids, basically skipping over them as teens, and you come back when they're adults."

Other rinks -- namely those owned by the Stith brothers (Andre's brother Drexel owns the Palace in Florissant) -- are slightly more ballsy when it comes to catering to kids.

"Kids are our business," says Andre.

But this dedication to serving youth has not come without peril. Saints, which sits on the Olivette-Creve Coeur border, has drawn the ire of the Creve Coeur police, who aggressively prevent Saints patrons from parking on the west side of Warson Road. The ire is undeserved, in Stith's opinion.

"Any time an African-American business is successful, they figure it's all drugs, gangs and negativity," asserts Stith, who praises the comparatively accommodating nature of the Olivette cops, who police the east side of Warson. "We're racially profiled by the Creve Coeur Police Department like you'd never imagine. They don't want us here.

"Everyone likes to give kids places to go, but they don't want it in their backyard."

The Creve Coeur cops claim they're simply responding to the wishes of homeowners on their side of the tracks.

"There is an overflow-parking problem that exists," explains Captain Don Kayser, giving voice to a conundrum that Stith acknowledges. "Business owners have asked us to enforce no trespassing. We don't profile anyone there."

"I've been here eleven years, and there's never been an ounce of damage," claims Stith, who's looking to relocate. "We have weathered probably more than people weathered during slavery."

Saints also hosts a wildly popular adult session on Thursday nights. General opinion holds that although the Pine Lawn Skate King's floor is far superior to Saints' polyurethane, the latter rink plays better music, thereby attracting a comparable number of rollers.

Whether Leo White will gain recognition from coastal tastemakers rests largely in the hands of two associates: World Championship of Performing Arts founder Griff O'Neill and White's manager, Larry Hicks, who's known the One-Wheel Roller since White was a little boy.

Now in its sixth year, WCOPA annually attracts 2,500 performers from 30 countries, each of whom shells out a $1,000 entry fee to compete in one of eight categories: dance, vocal, modeling, acting, comedy, bands, instrumentalists and variety. There is no cash prize for the winners, just Olympic-style medals and the opportunity to rub shoulders with a gaggle of purportedly credible Hollywood agents.

"We've had hundreds launch careers," claims O'Neill.

O'Neill, who met White at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel a few months ago, thinks the One-Wheel Roller has what it takes to be a star. White is similarly impressed with his silver-haired suitor.

"We all know it's hard to get into Hollywood," says White, whose earnest, trusting demeanor appears susceptible to bursts of naïveté. "He's got the keys to the gate. If you go off first impressions, he would leave you with a very good impression."

White would be wise to be somewhat skeptical of the clout of O'Neill, whose pre-WCOPA claim to fame was as executive producer of pageants such as Miss America, Miss Teen America and All-American Woman, whatever that is. Although each performer is given a videotape of the proceedings to shop to local television stations back home after the event, WCOPA has no TV contract of its own. And its only past champion to gain any sort of mainstream notoriety (no, Christian rock doesn't count) is fifteen-year-old Texas teeny-popper Brooke Allison.

« Previous Page
Next Page »