Bill Tobias was already preparing to find a new home next year for the dozens of special needs hockey players he coaches for the Central Park North Stars. Then the head of the American Special Hockey Association (ASHA) chapter was told to clear out his lockers at NYC’s Lasker Rink by Sunday. Malik Garvin, who oversees Ice Hockey in Harlem’s (IHIH) 200-plus participants, got the same message.
The disruption is the result of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision last month to sever contracts with the Trump Organization while saying then-President Trump, “incited a rebellion against the United States government.”
The Trump Organization’s contract to operate Lasker Rink was set to expire in April ahead of the Central Park Conservancy’s major renovation of the park’s north end. “We were, for a day or two, devastated,” Tobias said, before Trump Organization representatives explained that they’d sort out the situation.
Following a month of “business as usual” mixed with rumors, uncertainty, and hope, the groups got word late last week that the city would indeed be locking the rink on February 26. The Trump Organization then announced it would be closing the rink as of Sunday to prepare for its departure. It is currently appealing the mayor’s move, which would also strip it of management of a golf course in the Bronx among other properties. Skaters flocked to the ice at Lasker and Wollman rinks on Sunday before de Blasio’s office changed course and said skating could continue as planned.
“New York City kids deserve all the time on the ice they can get this year. The Wollman and Lasker rinks will stay open under current management for the few weeks left in this season,” Bill Neidhardt, the mayor’s press secretary, said in a statement on Sunday.
Eric Trump, executive vice president for the Trump Organization, thanked the mayor in a tweet. “This is a bright moment for New York and please know we appreciate it. I look forward to saying “thanks” in person,” Trump wrote.
The Trump Organization had appealed the early closure, saying nearly 250 individuals who work or otherwise provide services at Wollman and Lasker Rinks would be out of jobs, in addition to the lost public skating lessons and skating and hockey programs conducted at the rinks.
Aside from the political spat, questions still remain about the future for youth hockey in Harlem when the ice rink does close. “There’s a bigger picture here that isn’t being considered,” Garvin said.
IHIH has operated at Lasker Rink since 1987, offering free equipment, teaching young kids to play, and leading off-ice enrichment programs. Garvin was one of those kids. He went on to play college hockey in Massachusetts and work in finance before taking over as director at the beginning of the season. He also spent time working at the rink.
“We’re going to find another home,” Garvin said, “but it won’t be in our backyard.”
Special Hockey coaches have begun thinking about their next steps as well, which could include getting ice time at the smaller Wollman Rink in the southern end of Central Park or even spearheading the management of a new rink somewhere else. “The conservancy does want to work with us,” North Stars assistant Steve Ginzberg said. “Nobody wants to see the program go away.”
Trump took over the rinks in 1987. In 2019, the organization removed its name from signs at the rink. Tobias said the North Stars were given practice time for free, though they did pay for scheduled games. Due to COVID-19, there have been no games this year.
“We are the only special needs hockey program in the NYC metro area,” Tobias said. “This was the only outdoor activity and badly needed social interaction that our players have had for months.”
(This story has updated the headline and third, fourth and fifth paragraphs with the announcement and reaction that the rinks would remain open.)