Time Travel, from Disco to Futsal...a court grows in Durham


Durham, NC | January 2017 | By Annette Smith and David Fellerath

Time Travel Disco Futsal Durham 410

It’s the summer of 1985, and the disco era is transitioning into dance-pop and rock. The outdoor roller skating rink at Durham Parks and Recreation’s W.D. Hill Recreation Center continues to flourish for skaters who have found a new way to dance on wheels with inline skates and rollerblades. The 15-year-old rink, layered with a Sport Court surface, is equipped with a concession building for skate storage and rentals that doubles as the DJ hub for tunes that waft through the neighborhood on summer evenings. The picnic shelter serves as a shaded area for admirers to observe talented skaters “doing their thing.” 

But times change. When hip-hop comes into its own during the late 1980s and early 1990s, dancing on skates gives way to break dancers and pop-and-lock moves. The outdoor rink becomes a rarely used space, open on occasion during summers, and attracting a small fraction of its former audience. 

Time travel to 2015: An ambitious local nonprofit emerges in Durham with a mission is to push the sport of futsal to neighborhoods across the city. Futsal is a five-a-side version of soccer that is suited to urban play. This organization, called Durham Atlético and led by two local soccer players named David Fellerath and Kosta Harlan, approaches the W.D. Hill Recreation Center to rent space in the gym. During this discussion, the unused roller rink is discovered. With a “bit of work,” all agree, it could be an excellent futsal court!

In the spring of 2016, after daily advocacy from Durham Atlético, Durham was awarded funding from NRPA and the Disney Company, ABC and ESPN to refurbish the skate rink and surrounding area. The unused roller rink became the locus of activity for the recreation center and adjoining Hillside Park. Refurbished Sport Court tile, repairs and improvements to the shelter, additional seating, lighting, and landscaping have given new life to this once-popular venue. Weekends are filled with pick-up games. Futsal clinics for youth and league play are planned for the spring and summer. Happily, the space remains available for skating: A newly formed roller derby team has expressed interest in holding practices and clinics at the site. 

W.D. Hill and Hillside Park have a long history of playing a central role in the active life of the neighborhood surrounding it. The center occupies the site of the once-famous Algonquin Club, an elite tennis club for the blacks of Durham from the 1930s through the 1950s, considered its home court to be Hillside Park. There are great stories of pioneering African-American tennis greats Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson, and future basketball star John Lucas, playing at the court. 

The tennis courts are right next to the futsal court and benefit from the lighting, landscaping, and renewed activity at the park. With new purpose, the futsal court can bring children and adults to the park to learn a new skill, meet new people, and connect with the long and important history of the park. With the invigoration of the space for futsal and roller derby, we may even revisit the days when the park was an important site for tennis!