LINCOLN PARK — Last year, Jack Starkey didn't have any buddies to bring out of retirement with him when he laced up his old inline skates to play in the North Avenue Beach Sports League, so he joined a team of strangers.
The roller hockey team started off shaky but righted their ship, making it to the second round of last year's playoffs. By the end of the season, the 14 guys had become close friends, hanging out to grab drinks and watch the Blackhawks play.
But last week, they learned their league would not be returning after the Chicago Park District did not renew a contract for the rink.
"We all joined as individuals and decided to come back as a team. Our jerseys were delivered last week," said Starkey, 22, of Lakeview. "Everybody's really p----- off about it."
Despite its "best efforts," North Avenue Beach Sports was unable to renew its contract with the Park District for the 2014 season, said a note on the league's website.
A Park District spokeswoman said via email that North Avenue Beach Sports' contract expired in October, and that the Park District was now accepting bids from companies wanting to operate at the beach.
The Park District would not comment on why the league's contract wasn't renewed, only that "a concessionaire for the area has not been determined" and that "the selection is expected to be finalized within the next few weeks."
Tracy McKenzie, general manager for Park Concessions Management, said the decision was based on maximizing financial opportunities with the space for the future. He said the spot where the rink once sat was highly coveted and that the Park District hopes to find another location for the rink.
"The new use can make a lot of additional money," said McKenzie, saying a contract for the space is in the works but a deal has not been completed.
The owner of NAB Sports, Alden Clendenin, said he recently biked past the spot where the rink used to be and he "teared up."
"It's just a big open lot," said Clendenin. "I poured blood, sweat and tears into this. It sucks for sure."
He said he still owns the portable rink and has "no place to go with it."
Clendenin said long delays on the contract decision caused his NAB Sports employees — about two dozen high school and college kids — to panic about their summer plans. The delays also kept various skills camps, leagues and events planned at the rink this summer in limbo.
He said he finally received the devastating news Tuesday, about a month before Memorial Day — the day he expected to open up shop for the summer.
The Park District would not comment on the short notice.
McKenzie denied rumors that the space would be occupied by a something similar to the current Castaways bar and grill, saying the Park District contract with Castaways does not allow a similar business that close.
Starkey's team was "bummed out about it," but he said he also thinks the crowds, who gathered to watch the inline warriors do battle along the lakeshore, will miss the league as well.
"There'd be kids watching and people would stop on the trail on their bike rides," he said.
"It was fun [for us] to have a crowd there, and fun for everyone to watch. It added a cool unique aspect to the North Avenue Beach."
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