Monday, June 14, 2010

Ice Breakers Synchronized Skate Team

It's the middle of June. It's overcast and it's early. I'm at Ice Works with a bunch other people who are not quite dressed for an ice rink. But then again, even the Zamboni driver is in shorts. Who'da thought? I guess he's used to it.

But I am not a parent on one of these tiny-tykes here today. I'm here to find out a little about the Ice Breakers, Synchronized Skate Team.

With every youth competitive sport here on Long Island, there's a constant battle between the kids participating and the parents who sit on the sidelines.

"Don't tell me you're tired!"
"Get your hands away from your face!"
"I told you to eat something at home!"
"Who told you to stay up so late?"

Yeah, I've heard these all before and it doesn't even matter if it's the 3-year-olds or the 15-year-olds, the parent-child struggle is eternal. But we endure it because we know that every kid needs to participate in something to help develop not only their body but their personality. Here on Long Island the choices for team sports are almost never ending, but Synchronized Skating may not be one you've heard of.

The Ice Breakers out of Ice Works in Syosset is one of only two competitive synchronized skating teams on the Island and they are only in their second season. Their first season, the was just two teams, a pre-juvenile and an intermediate, and with only ten practices under their skates they earned them a second and third placing at a NY State competition. They're hoping to improve on that with this year's group of skaters.

Synchronized skating is actually popular around the world. Here are some stats from U.S. Figure Skating, the governing body of for the sport in the US.

U.S. Figure Skating held the first U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships in 1984 and also hosted the first World Synchronized Skating Championships in 2000. There are approximately 525 synchronized teams registered with U.S. Figure Skating, and nearly 5,000 athletes participate annually in the synchronized skating sectional championships.

Synchronized skating is a team sport in which 8-20 skaters perform a program together. It uses the same judging system as singles, pairs and dance and is characterized by teamwork, speed, intricate formations and challenging step sequences. As with the other disciplines, all teams perform a free skate with required well-balanced program elements. In addition, teams at the junior and senior level perform a short program consisting of required elements.

Elements in synchronized skating include blocks, circles, wheels, lines, intersections, moves in the field, moves in isolation, no-hold blocks, spins and pairs moves. The variety and difficulty of elements require that each team member is a highly skilled individual skater. The typical senior-level athlete has passed a senior or gold test in at least two disciplines.

Okay, got that? Here at Ice Works the Ice Breakers are coached by Elizabeth Lerner, a five time USFSA gold medalist and former member of the Suny Oswego Synchronized Skate Team. Erin Donovan, the head coach of the University of Michigan synchronized skate team (Yes, some of the most prestigious colleges in the country have synchro teams now!) has been tagged to choreograph the Ice Breaker's Pre-Juvenile and Intermediate teams.

I had the pleasure of spending a few minutes on Saturday with Val Murray, director of Ice works Skating Academy. You could not find a more enthusiastic, proud and caring coach than Val.

This year The Ice Breakers are looking to field a beginner team as well. "Tryouts are tomorrow and our season starts in September, so we're still looking for more girls. We still have openings. We'd like nine in each. Eight is the minimum and 12 is the max. But if we could get 12 at the beginner level, that would be great!" Val said with hope in her voice.

The groups are age appropriate. Beginner 1 is 8 and under. Beginner 3 is 12 and over. And then there is a juvenile team they are trying to field with 16 skaters and that is a 12-year-old (as of July 1st) and under team. (Okay, why that's not called Beginner 2, I don't know.) The Intermediate team is 13-18-year-olds. Practices begin in September and run until the end of March.

"We're a little behind the curve on Long Island." Val answered when I asked if there was a problem fielding teams. The biggest problem being so many other sports for girls (and boys) to participate in. Many of her skaters are involved in other sports which makes commitment difficult which is a shame since synchro skating is an up and coming sport around the world. "As a coach, I don't want to MAKE them choose, I don't want to say well it's this or that, but we ARE trying to build a program."

"There are teams that have been established and Synchro in Finland that are girls in the service. They are the best in the world. There two teams were First and Second this year at the World Championships in Colorado. The US came in third. It's the first time we ever made the podium at the World Championships. There is one other synchro team out East, and that's it. There is another another team in NY that has been established for awhile, but we're just starting out."

Girls looking to participate in the team need to know how to skate. The Ice Breakers do not teach skating. But as they are looking for skaters of all ages, there is no minimum requirement of years of experience.

I asked Val if every girl who comes in has dreams of being like Sarah Hughes or what is the driving force behind them. "Well, a lot of kids don't want to compete as a soloist and there is no other TEAM sport in skating besides hockey. This is an option for girls who don't want to play girls hockey. This is a team sport with a team environment. We travel as a team and they become friends for life. It's a great confidence builder."

As with all competitive travel teams, there are costs associated, but the Ice Breakers are a little under priced right now as they start out. (So it's currently a great bargain!) Enrollment fees include weekly practices, off ice and on anywhere from one to three times a week depending on the age level as well as one of those really cool jackets.

They are planning on competing in four competitions this year and Val is thinking of of running a 4-day mini camp at her home in Lake Placid where she coaches figure skating. It will be a team bonding experience as well as intense practice for upcoming competition.

"We're definitely going to go to the Eastern Championships. Last year the Eastern Championships were in Massachusetts. It was the largest synchronized skating competition on record. They had over 1,400 skaters, it was huge!"

Each team competes using only ONE choreographed routine. Depending on age group, they range from 1 1/2 minutes to 3 1/2 minutes and as with all skating events, you get ONE shot at getting it right.

If the team places at the Eastern competition then they can move on to the Nationals which will be held this year in California. What a great experience for these youngsters.

"This is a sport you can do forever! And it's beautiful." Val said as she was about to take to the ice herself.

I have to say, after checking it out -- She's right! You can contact the Ice Breakers at and check out their website at

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