Learning to skate

Program encourages cheap winter exercise

Posted: Thursday, March 03, 2005

First-grader Forest Kobay-ashi, arms stretched wide, sailed on skates toward the opening in the boards at Treadwell Arena, hit the curb and fell down backward.

"I did that on purpose," he assured Harborview Montessori teacher Chris Trostel.

Forest scrambled to get up and slipped back down.

"That, too," the quick-thinking boy claimed.

Forest was one of about 50 students who took to the ice Wednesday morning to receive lessons from coaches with the nonprofit Juneau Skating Club.

The coaches, partly on volunteered time, are giving two lessons this school year to each student at Harborview and Gastineau elementary schools. The students pay a few dollars to cover ice time and minimal coaches' stipends. The city-owned arena lends the students skates for free.

The children get a 45-minute lesson and 15 minutes of open skating. It's part of their physical education class.

"A lot of these kids would never be able to get on the ice but for the school program. So many families here can't afford to go to the rink and rent the skates," said Pam Green, a coach at Juneau Skating Club.

The children become familiar with the rink - which opened last year at Douglas' Savikko Park - and they learn about a sport that may be new to them, said Harborview physical education teacher Dave Haas.

"If they have another choice to exercise that's not expensive, hopefully they'll exercise more," he said.

A girl who is a good skater approached Haas and asked if she had to wear her helmet. Haas related an anecdote about how he, also a good skater, once was knocked down from behind while skating on a lake.

When the moral of that story didn't persuade her, Haas cut to the bottom line: "Let's just say, I like your brains where they are."

When the lesson began, coaches broke up the children into small groups based on ability.

Cole Carnahan, a sixth-grader, is experienced enough to play hockey. But he said the lessons help him become more comfortable on skates, and he learns from them.

"I learned a few things, like how to pirouette," he said, agreeing that's not something you see in hockey games much.

Coach Lauren Anderson reviewed the rules, such as no pushing, before the students went on the ice sheet.

"If you feel like you're losing your balance, try to fall softly and don't grab onto anyone else, or we'll have a domino effect," she said.

Haas took a group of the youngest children onto the ice. The kids gripped the boards like a lifeline and determinedly walked along like a chain of mountain climbers traversing a ridge.

Eventually, Haas stood behind individual students, bent over them and helped them skate forward.

"I wish they could go every day, and they say that, too," said Montessori teacher Jennifer Ryznar, her conversation punctuated by the thumps of little bodies hitting the boards.

Coach Susan Kugelmann showed her students how to fall down safely and get up.

"The way to get up is to get on all fours, put one foot in front of you and press up," she said. Then she played red light, green light with the kids.

"I think it's a wonderful idea," said Beth Leban, mother of two hockey players but a beginning skater herself. "There's a whole range of experience here. Some children have never skated. They divide them up and they're meeting their needs."

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