She lets good times roll

`DJ Barb' spins the music that keeps skaters and parents coming back to Columbia rink

December 30, 2007|By Lisa Tom | Lisa Tom,Special to the Sun

Raquel Coelho, 10, goes roller-skating almost every weekend. "I meet most of my friends. We like the music," said the Stevens Forest Elementary student. "We like to skate fast and talk and we like the DJ."

The DJ is Barbara Schneider, who has been playing music at the Supreme Sports Club skating rink for over 27 years.

"I have kids come up to me with problems in their family or just worried about the world in general," said Schneider, who many affectionately call DJ Barb or the Skate Lady. "I just tell them to come here for three hours with your friends and family and forget about all that."

The rink on Deepage Drive off Snowden River Parkway in Columbia has become "a safe haven for kids," said Raquel's mother, Patricia.

"We told everyone in our [Long Reach] neighborhood to come here," said Patricia Coelho, who brings Raquel and her sister Shauna, 8.

"It's a great form of exercise. Everyone used to just sit in front of the television set on the weekends," Coelho said. "Now everyone comes."

"I love the type of crowd that comes here," she added. "There's no foul language, no foul music."

Parents trust DJ Barb and the staff so much that they sometimes leave their children at the rink to run brief errands.

"I know, if I leave my kids here, they're safe and they're having a good time," Coelho said.

Perlina Pearson of Wilde Lake is one of the volunteer parents who assists the staff in supervising the skaters, who frequently include her daughter Parthenia, 8, a student at Stevens Forest Elementary.

"This is my second family," said Pearson. "There's a big mix of kids, but they all know how to treat each other."

Schneider's personality and interaction with the children help create this environment.

"Barbara has this passion about making sure that everyone has fun," said Julie Seidman, skating manager and events coordinator. "The CDs, all the holiday decorations are out of her pocket. ... She gives her whole entire paycheck to the community."

She also gives her energy. Schneider emerges from her booth filled with black suitcases full of CDs to lead games with the skaters.

This time of year, Schneider walks onto the floor in a huge hat -- a glittering Christmas tree with red balls -- atop her head. Her voice fills the rink with energy.

"Cheer! Scream! Sit down! Let's go! Good job!" she yells during the relay race, sometimes cheering on the kids by name.

"You can tell she's a former school teacher. She gets them organized," said Teresa Kaidy of Dorsey Hall, mother of twins Grace and James, 9.

Schneider has a lot of experience organizing the rink. Schneider taught Seidman, now her manager, how to skate.

"She'd be out there playing the music and holding onto the back of my pants, so I wouldn't fall down," said Seidman.

"She still teaches me everything everyday. She's a great, dedicated, hardworking person.

"Maybe three times she's been absent [in 18 years]. She buried her father and that same day she came to work. That's how dedicated she is."

In the winter, Schneider makes a point of keeping the rink open in inclement weather.

"I feel that the kids need me. I want to know that they have a place to go," Schneider said. "If there's only five people out there, I run the session like there's 100 people. When they're happy, that makes me happy."

Schneider's passion for music and skating began in her youth.

"I would play music and we would skate in our basement," she said as she honored one kid's request for the chicken dance. "Dick Clark was my idol. He would play music for teenagers on `American Bandstand' and I thought `I could do that.'"

She added: "It's been a dream of mine. I want people to love skating and music as much as I do."

Schneider first volunteered to direct an after-school skate program at Stevens Forest Elementary in 1979 and continued to direct it for 23 years. She joined the skating rink, then called Skateland, in 1980.

Since then, she has hosted thousands of birthday parties and special holiday sessions.

"Barbara takes the time to design special programs for kids -- the Halloween program, bring-a-friend-free program," said Alan Rubinstein of Wilde Lake.

The rink also opens for an additional School's Out session from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on any day that county schools are scheduled to close. "She puts in the extra time to make sure skating is available during holiday times," said Rubinstein, whose children Elana, 13, and Michael, 10, learned to skate at the rink.

"She gets to watch these kids grow up," he said. Elana and Michael, who attend Krieger Schechter Jewish Day School, have many fond memories of weekends at the rink.

"One time [DJ Barb] told my fortune on my palm. She told me that I wasn't paying attention to my pets," said Elana.

Kids often approach her booth to make song requests, some not even tall enough to reach the microphone.

"This is a nice place to get them out, burn off their energy so they don't jump on the furniture ... it wipes them out, so they go right to sleep and I can have some quiet time," said Kaidy, laughing.

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