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Winnwood Skate Center has long offered teens a safe hangout. A new chaperone rule threatens that

A white building with red letters on the side that say "Winnwood Skate Center"
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Owner Luke Powell wants the Winnwood Skate Center to be welcoming to all skaters. But after a New Year's Eve fight resulted in a chaperone policy, he's working to find ways to keep kids from being left out.

After a fight drew police to Winnwood Skate Center, the Northland rink had to adopt a new policy requiring every child under 18 to have a chaperone. Now the owner is worried about leaving kids behind.

Winnwood Skate Center has long been a gathering place for people of all ages. That’s what drew owners Luke and Anne Powell and Jim Foulk to the Northland rink when they bought it from the previous owners in October of 2021.

“This place is a home to so many people, just like any rink around the country is,” Powell said. “Winnwood Skate Center is nationally known as one of the best adult night places to go for rhythm and dance skating.”

Now, they’re working to maintain that atmosphere after a fight on New Year’s Eve required them to introduce a new policy requiring everyone under the age of 18 to be accompanied by a chaperone.

Powell was there on New Year’s Eve with his family, when he says a fight broke out at the rink involving two teenagers. After reviewing the video footage, Powell says a teenage girl hit a boy at the rink, and, in response, he punched a pinball machine. The sound of glass breaking caused many in the rink to think it was a gunshot.

“It broke the glass, and unfortunately, we all know what that sounds like,” Powell said. “It caused chaos.”

Patrons ran into the rink’s parking lot and the adjoining Target parking lot when another fight broke out. One teenager involved in the fight was Tased by officers after reaching for his waistband, where officers said they found a loaded handgun.

According to Powell, the two events are unrelated. He says a review of the footage at Winnwood shows the armed teen never entered the skating rink that night.

Harlo Foster, a 14-year-old regular at the rink, was there with friends when the fight broke out. After hearing the sound of the glass breaking, she ran from the rink to a familiar house nearby.

“I didn't hear any gunshots, but I heard people saying there was a gun,” Foster said. “So I thought, ‘Oh God, I have to get outta here.’ I still had my skates on, so I just crawled outside and sat on the steps to get my skates off. An older woman came out saying, ‘Run, run, run.’ I left my skates behind just so I could run.”

Once Foster realized there was no gun and the situation was under control, she went back with her mom, Staci Schnepper, to collect her things. Her skates were gone, but Powell covered the cost of her new pair.

While she says she understands the reasoning for the new rule, Foster is concerned about other kids her age who won’t be able to come to the rink since they don’t have a chaperone. She says Winnwood is “a nice community,” and she doesn’t want others to lose out on that.

The Kansas City Police Department and other agencies have been pushing Winnwood to adopt the chaperone policy for years — and the rink is one of the last entertainment venues in the metro area to adopt the rule. Worlds of Fun, Dave and Buster’s, and other skate centers, like B&D Skating Rink in Independence, Missouri, all have chaperone policies.

A man in a black hoodie and red hat stands behind a black and white speckled counter. Behind him are shelves of roller skates.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Luke Powell grew up going to his local skate center, often unsupervised while his parents worked. He's working to find ways to ensure no kids are barred from skating because of the new policy.

Powell, who also owns Legacy Skates on Kansas City’s Westside, says he and Foulk fought the policy for so long because they wanted Winnwood to remain a place where kids could come while their parents had to work or otherwise weren’t available.

“We didn't want to put a policy in place like this,” Powell said. “We want parents to have the ability to drop their kids off because we know that a lot of parents work at night. They're single parents, at times with multiple children. And what better place to send your kid to than to a skating rink? But, at the end of the day, we have to follow the guidelines.”

Now that the new rule is enacted, Powell is focused on ensuring regulars and new customers still find Winnwood welcoming.

“We have some of the best skaters in the country and we won't let a policy like this deter any new kid that wants to throw on a pair of skates come into our facility,” Powell said. “Our job is to accommodate the best we can while still creating a fun and super safe environment.”

The new rules have already begun affecting the “rink rats,” as Powell calls the children who come to Winnwood on a regular basis. While teaching a Saturday morning class, Powell noted that one boy who usually comes around that time wasn’t there because his parents were working.

Schepper, a waitress who works nights, has been coming to Winnwood for 15 years and bringing her children with her when she could. When working, she says she often dropped her kids off at the rink for the duration of her shift or had friends drive them to and from the rink.

“I've always treated it like I treat the YMCA — just as a safe spot that kids can go and have fun,” Schepper said. “Everyone who works and chaperones here are people I know and trust and they really care about the community. I've always felt very safe here. I just like how many children come here, it makes for a fun venue.”

Schepper says her daughter, Foster, mostly comes with her dad on weeknights now. But she’s confident Winnwood will continue to be welcoming with the new policy in place.

Worrying about childcare at the rink is an issue Powell is sensitive about. He grew up in a low-income family with two parents who had to work long hours. Powell’s local roller rink was a safe place for him to go, and he frequently went unsupervised.

“It definitely was a safe haven,” Powell said. “Skating was my outlet and it was where I was accepted. Skating rinks are a great place to just grow up in. My best friend and I met in skating, I met my wife in skating. So, a policy like this could potentially hinder that ability to create cool relationships that you might not have created before.”

To mitigate that, the skate center will work to accommodate children who may lack a chaperone. Powell says most kids who bring their own wheels can be trusted to stay out of trouble.

Powell is also working to implement a partnership — either through the rink or an organization like Big Brothers Big Sisters — to pair kids who need a chaperone with adults who are regulars at the rink who volunteer to help.

“A policy like this that got put in place seems so negative, but it's created so many great positives so far,” Powell said. “Our customers are not criminals. We're not going to treat them like criminals. I have no interest in going through all these routes to make our place a lockdown — we're a family entertainment center. Unfortunately, kids fight these days. A policy like this in place should and will mitigate that for sure.”

Corrected: January 9, 2023 at 12:50 PM CST
An earlier version of this story contained a misspelling of Jim Foulk's name. It has since been corrected.
When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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