Realm of Wizardry

Philly skaters compete for a chance to roll down the red carpet.

By Doree Shafrir
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Aug. 24, 2005

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"I've been skating since I was 12," says 43-year-old William Jones, a member of the Philadelphia Wizards on Wheels, one of the city's last remaining semi-pro skate clubs. "All of us used to go to skating rinks around the city-West Philly, South Philly, Germantown-battling each other."

Jones is taking a break as four other members of the Wizards practice onstage in an auditorium at the Vare Recreation Center at 26th and Morris. They're doing the routine that won them first place last weekend at a local "skate-off" sponsored by the upcoming movie Roll Bounce, which stars no-longer-Lil Bow Wow as a '70s-era rollerskating champ.

The Wizards are getting in shape for Sunday's regional skate-off competition in New York City, where they'll be up against teams from Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis and New York. The winners of the regional competition go to the finals in Chicago on Sept. 17, and the grand prize is an all-expenses-paid trip to Roll Bounce's Hollywood premiere.

For the Wizards-who have performed their infectious dance routines on skates at countless parades, talent shows, block parties and skate-offs over the years-winning the Roll Bounce competition would bring them recognition outside the tight-knit rollerskating world.

It's a world linked together through websites such as www.skategroove.com, which posts news, events and contact information for clubs nationwide. On Skategroove, old-school skaters stay in touch, compare routines (skating styles vary regionally) and lament the closure of more skating rinks.

"There are parties across the country," explains Clyde "Ice" McCoy, who's been skating since he was 2 years old. "They go from midnight to 6 a.m. It's a club atmosphere on skates."

McCoy helped resurrect the Wizards in 1987, when he and his then-skating partner, a corporate lawyer named Lisa Campolo, were featured in the Daily News for the routines they performed in Rittenhouse Square. He called up some of his old friends, including Anthony "Tex" Smith, a member of the original North Philly Wizards team founded in the mid-'70s at the Carman Gardens Rollerskating Rink at Germantown and Allegheny, and suggested they start skating together again as a group.

The Wizards quickly added Jones, Orlando Brown (currently the group's elder statesman at 51) and Linda Corley. Since then they've also picked up members Morris "Philly Phlash" Armstrong-who started skating six years ago at 36 when he was diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension, and has lost 115 pounds since-and 35-year-old newcomer Alex Burgos. (He was recruited after McCoy saw him dancing in front of Lloyd Hall on Kelly Drive.)

When most of the Wizards were growing up, skating rinks were the locus of kids' weekend activity. Now, they say, kids aren't as interested in spending time learning the intricate dance moves required to compete at the Wizards' level.

"It's different than when we were kids," says Armstrong. "Skating doesn't hold their attention."

And many neighborhood skating rinks have quietly disappeared. Carman Gardens still exists-Smith skates there on Friday and Saturday nights-as does the Elmwood Skating Rink at 71st and Elmwood in Southwest Philly, and a rink in the Northeast where the local Roll Bounce competition was held. But the rink where Jones used to skate at 42nd and Lancaster is long closed.

"When I was growing up, skating came first," says Jones. "I used to skate six days a week."

With the Sept. 23 release of Roll Bounce and another upcoming skating film called Jellybeans, the Wizards hope they-and the sport-will receive some much-needed attention. They've been practicing their perfectly synchronized competition routine, set to Missy Elliott's upbeat "Lose Control," for a month and a half.

"This is a peak for us," says McCoy. "Now we're on the map."

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