The Brawlin’ Betties during a match at Earl Warren Showgrounds | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Santa Barbara’s only roller rink is now under new management. Dynamite Pickleball and Santa Barbara Roller Hockey (SBRH) fought for control of the rink at Earl Warren Showgrounds, beginning when the lease went up for renewal this year. 

Following some contention between parties, Dynamite Pickleball was awarded the rink management contract from Earl Warren Showgrounds and is entering a rental agreement with SBRH, the nonprofit that built and owns the rink. To put it in simple terms, SBRH owns the roller rink itself, not the land it’s on. 

“It’s less of a win and more of an evolution,” said Earl Warren Showgrounds CEO Ben Sprague about the contract. “The goal is to manage the rink in the best way possible for all groups.”

Sprague originally considered asking SBRH to remove its property (the walls of the rink) to make space for other potential uses. However, the walls will be staying up for now, following the Earl Warren Showgrounds Board of Directors meeting last Thursday. 

“We are 99.9 percent close to a deal with derby, pickleball, soccer, lacrosse, and us,” said Joan Vignocchi, SBRH secretary. “I think we’ll be open by the rodeo,” which begins on August 4. 

The rink’s walls will not be removed for now, which is a protection included in Dynamite Pickleball’s agreement with SBRH. If Sprague and the board decide to take down the rink’s walls, they would have to wait at least until Dynamite Pickleball’s six-month contract is over and give SBRH a 45-day notice. 

Sprague compared it to figuring out the Showgrounds’ horse arena footing. With the Showgrounds becoming more inclusive of other uses, it means trying to find a “one-size-fits-all model” that “serves everyone.” 

Tensions were high when the issue of rink management first hit the presses. Those who love and rely on the rink — such as roller derby team the Brawlin’ Betties, who have been there since 2009 — feared that it was going to be closed or inaccessible to its variety of multi-sport users to prioritize pickleball players.  

Dynamite Pickleball, led by Dave and Tracy Wilcox, put in a higher bid than SBRH for the contract. That led to worry over the rink’s future, criticism of Earl Warren Showgrounds leadership by the groups who felt as if they were being pushed out, and, consequently, Sprague’s hesitancy to award the contract to SBRH. Later, SBRH issued an apology regarding the showgrounds management. 

“There was so much unnecessary fear and confusion created due to simple lack of communication that I don’t think will happen again,” Vignocchi said. “I am really optimistic that we can mend bridges and work collaboratively in the future.”

In exchange for Dynamite Pickleball taking the reins and profiting off of the rink, which is SBRH’s property, SBRH is compensated by the state and receives four hours of free use per week. All current users — including youth sports and roller derby — will have the same rates ($50/hour used) and hours as they did under SBRH management. 

Dynamite Pickleball will also have to fund daily maintenance, including trash and bathrooms. That means that SBRH’s volunteer board will no longer be responsible for picking up after young soccer players in their free time. 

“The best thing that came from this is that it highlighted the huge need S.B. has for more indoor sports arenas and complexes! Our rink capacity is strained to the max and can’t even accommodate the five sports we have,” Vignocchi said. 

Vignocchi emphasized that she and the rest of SBRH would like to work toward permanently guaranteeing a spot for roller sports at the showgrounds. 

“Small community spaces like these are as wonderful as libraries and parks and museums to teach kids the joys of sport, teamwork, laughing with your friends, and how to lose gracefully,” Vignocchi said. 


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