Forty-eight Canskate children, 11 girls in group test and 21 senior skaters performed March 16 in the Unity Skating Club’s annual ice carnival. The club is proud of those participant numbers for a community this size, with Canskate students showing their biggest numbers. Although, with 59 skaters and 12 instructors on the ice at one time for practices, it definitely presented a challenge for this year’s coaches.
Carnival chair, Diane Hauta, tells me she couldn’t count the number of hours put into the annual carnival. Coaches spend much time setting up the on-ice portion of the production by choosing music for each routine and then choreographing the number for the actual production. Parents work on the remainder of the production by lining up costumes, printing and selling tickets, finding volunteers for the dozens of jobs to do pre-carnival and post-carnival. The day of the carnival is a long one as the setup and decorations begin, as well as last minute practices. And then, in the very same day, everything has to come down.
Diane tells me the biggest challenge “is making sure everything clicks on carnival day”. And it always does. The reward comes in seeing 500-plus people in the stands enjoying the performances.
When I talked to coaches about their involvement in this annual showcase, they were all quick to shy away, stating the event is to highlight the kids’ achievements, not their own. However, one can only imagine the hours that could put in by these four women in a season, let alone for the ice carnival. Carnival requires a lot of time to find a new theme to fit all age groups and the coaches feel fortunate that the senior skaters devote many hours to helping out with the younger kids’ numbers. The coaches were also quick to point out that, although carnival is their showcase event, it is not the main goal in a skater’s season as they are also all working on their dances, skills, and free skate programs that often don’t make it into the carnival.
Colleen Smith has coached professionally for 21 years, with 15 of those years being dedicated to Unity’s club. An interesting side note about Colleen is that she was Clark McArthur’s Canskate coach while she was in Lloydminster and he now plays in the NHL. She also taught power skating to kids named Scott Hartnell and Lance Ward.
Coach Michelle Brown-McLean has been coaching in Unity since 1998. She was a junior coach in Macklin out of university as well as coaching Canskate in Senlac and precision skating in Unity.
Coach Jenn Cholin has been coaching for a couple of years but just joined the Unity Skating Club this year.
Coach Corinne Van de Meutter has been coaching for 27 years.
All skating club coaches are required to have a NCCP level 1 designation and police clearance every three years, in addition to valid first aid certification, to coach any level of skating.
As said to me, “We strive to make them skaters, not figure skaters in the Canskate program. It is an option for the hockey stars to start with us. Skate Canada has mandated that we teach skating and not pressure any kids to become one or the other.”
Carnival day was a lively flurry of activity before and during the event. Skaters were lining up costumes in their dressing rooms for quick changes between numbers. Kira Mielke was thoroughly enjoying the moment when I stopped her for a quick chat. “I love skating and this is my first year in it. I can’t wait to perform our Inspector Gadget number.”
Senior skater Courtney Smith has been skating since age three and, as a 10-year-old, this is her third year in the senior skate program. Of course she says it helps to have mom as a coach because, “I can get some extra instruction off-ice and she is not afraid to say anything to me!”, as she flashes me a grin.
I asked Shirraya Winterhalt if she felt extra pressure at this year’s carnival coming off her big win at this year’s Battle of the Blades. She replied, “Maybe I feel a little extra pressure, but I am still excited for tonight’s performance.”
Jenna Winterhalt and Katy Robertson are both veterans in the club with Jenna having 10 years in and Kaytlin having 13 years. Both girls, along with other senior skaters, work with Canskate kids through the season. They also told me their season is done March 26 when they complete their last test day for the season. The girls choreographed their own quad number for the carnival, with the help of Thomas Seipp setting up a music number for them. They also told me there isn’t much time to practise for carnival so for five solid weeks after interclub competition, they are on the ice as much as they can be to perfect their numbers for the show. The big smiles made it apparent they love what they are doing.
Several group test skaters, ages six to nine, told me their favorite parts of the carnival were the audience to watch them, the moves they get to perform and, of course, the goodies their fans throw on the ice following each performance.
Senior skater Robin Belliveau has been in the club for 13 years. This year she has attained her gold dance, which hasn’t been done locally in five years, since Alix Tuffs was in the club. She is testing for her gold skills in March and, if she achieves it, she will have the highest level a senior skater can achieve. She tells me, “That will make next year a fun year for skating.” She loves to skate and she wants to be able to test skaters and coach skaters in her future.