11000 Everblades Parkway, Estero, FL
ESTERO — In the heat of a Southwest Florida summer, it’s hard to keep your cool.
Especially when you fall down. Repeatedly.
But if it’s all in the name of fun, education and athletic enjoyment, the concept of cool may not be especially important.
As part of a community outreach effort by the Florida Everblades Figure Skating Club, students from a Redlands Christian Migrant Association summer program in Immokalee are attending a learn to skate program at Germain Arena. The first clinic was held on Aug. 3; the second will be today. At the Aug. 3 event, 53 students from grades kindergarten to sixth took to the ice, coached by 14 teachers and volunteers from the skate club. A different group will attend today.
The majority of the Immokalee children had never skated on ice before, a state of inexperience that left them preoccupied with one activity: falling down. Even the bus ride from Immokalee to Estero was a nervous one, explained Latasha Radford, an RCMA kindergarten teaching assistant.
“They were anxious,” Radford said. “They didn’t know what to expect. And then, when they saw the hockey players (practicing in a different rink), they thought it was awesome.”
“They were in awe,” echoed Leticia Aveler, a volunteer with RCMA.
After an hour of off-ice instruction and time spent lacing up their skates, the students headed to the ice. They waited with excitement — and some trepidation — to step onto the rink.
“Stop saying you’re going to fall,” one student counseled another. “If you say you’re going to fall, you’ll fall.”
Depending on their ages, the skaters were divided into small groups and led by an instructor who gave them an introduction to the basics. While many of the children initially clung to the rink’s edge, they soon took tentative strides further out onto the ice.
The first thing to learn was how to march in place on skates, said teacher Jennifer Gentile. Gentile teaches the learn-to-skate program as a junior coach and has been skating for 10 years.
“It actually shows them how to use their balance,” she said. “It’s the only way you can learn how to skate. You have to march.” Seven-year-old Carolyn Frazier described her first experience on the ice as being a combination of three things: “skating, practicing, mostly falling.”
“My bottom hurts,” she added.
Maribel Tomas, 9, had slightly better luck. The skate club’s event was her first time on their ice, too, “but I’m getting good at it.”
Other skate basics included learning how to swizzle, a back-and-forth, in-and-out foot maneuver, and playing red light, green light so the students would learn how to stop.
By the end of the lesson, some of the children had also learned how to perform a spiral, a move where one of their legs was lifted up behind them in a balance pose, and how to jump up briefly in the air on their skates.
And, yes, they learned the safe way to fall.
Teacher Kitty Whaley has been figure skating for 11 years; she taught a group of 9-year-olds. She was pleased with the progress of her small class.
“There’s one girl in my group that’s amazing,” she said. “She’s really good.”
The learn-to-skate event is a culmination of about a year’s worth of planning on the part of the club, said Robin Gentile, the skate club’s past president. Part of the problem was finding a group who had their own transportation to the rink, Gentile said.
The skate club provides many paid learn-to-skate programs, but offering something as a community outreach is new to the club, Gentile explained.
After their lessons, the students learned the rules of free skate time — no making snowballs, to racing around and no tag – and enjoyed an opportunity to put into practice all they had just learned. Much of the earlier fear of falling disappeared as students skated, tumbled and just as easily got up to do it all again.
For friends Kaleigh Garza, Bianca Juarez and Donna Vega, all 12, and Clarissa Rios, 11, the verdict on skating was still out. On one hand, it was fun; on the other, it was scary.
“I kept falling a lot,” Kaleigh said.
“It was scary a lot,” Bianca said. “It feels like you’re going to break your leg.”
“I was freezing out there,” Kaleigh added.
Many of the students, including Kaleigh and Clarissa had been roller skating before, an activity that may — or may not — have given them an advantage on the ice. Kaleigh felt it helped. Clarissa wasn’t so sure.
“I’m good at that,” Kaleigh said of roller skating.
“I’m not so good at that,” Clarissa admitted.