When you see your favorite hoopster complete that cross-over, ankle-breaking baseline move to the basket in the heat of the midst of the NBA finals, you can always beat a path to the driveway or local courts and try it out for yourself against the best defense you can imagine.
If you’re following along with the Masters, you can simply go to the backyard to be that “Cinderella story.”
But for those watching the 2014 Winter Olympics, its hard to emulate the finesse, athleticism and artistry on ice demonstrated by the skaters in Sochi, Russia.
Barring a hard freeze or fresh coating of black ice on the roads, the Orange County SportsPlex remains a popular solution — an icy oasis tucked halfway between rinks in Greensboro and Cary.
“It’s a well-known fact in the figure skating community that there’s a four-year cycle,” said Jamye Gaster, figure skating director at the expansive Hillsborough facility. “The year leading into the Olympics is the lowest year of the four years, and the year following the Winter Olympics is the highest year.”
Many among the crowds that swelled during the afternoon public skating session this past Saturday cited Olympics coverage as having sparked interest.
“The Olympics certainly gave us a nudge,” said Shella LoBianco, who came with her husband and daughters Chiara, 8, and Eliana, 4.
“The girls had been watching it all morning,” LoBianco added, “and my youngest has been bugging me for a couple weeks. But watching the Olympics this morning got them all excited.”
“Skating’s a very unique sport,” Gaster said. It’s strange that we get onto ice and strap steel blades to our feet. But when you see it (on TV), it inspires kids to say, ‘Hey, I want to try that,’ Gaster explained.
The 90,000 square foot SportsPlex ( www.trianglesportsplex.com) is one of the state’s largest recreational facilities and one of only a few in the U.S. offering an ice arena, aquatics center and a fitness center under one roof.
Saturday’s public skating was one of the regularly scheduled sessions offered on weekday afternoons and on both afternoons and evenings on Saturdays and Sundays. Public sessions feature skate rentals, music, and even special features like “disco time” neon party lights. Costs are $6.50 for adults, $5.50 for children, and $3.50 for skate rentals. A group discount of $6 per person (including skate rental) is available to parties of 20 or more people.
All busy sessions are supervised by a staff of friendly “Skate Guards” who assist beginners and those in need.
Hundreds of skaters of all ages were on hand Saturday, motivated by Olympic coverage or merely peer pressure. Beginner Hannah Matthews, 18, said it was her friend Caitlyn Ferrell, 16, who talked her into coming.
“She’s teaching me,” Matthews laughed, “but she’s no good at it.”
“We just always meant to come in a try this,” said Lacey Lambe, who skated alongside her son Clyde, 4, and stepsister Sariah Stockwell, 10.
“I skated all by myself,” Clyde Lambe pointed out.
For those not quite ready to skate “all by themselves” however, the SportsPlex offers numerous figure skating lesson programs geared to singles skating, ice dancing and synchronized skating, which offers figure skating skills in a team setting.
“Figure skating is pretty much an individual sport,” SportsPlex executive director John Stock said. “The nice thing about synchro is that it takes figure skating to a team. Coming out of figure skating classes, not everyone wants to go into private lessons.
“Synchro gives them another option, and you’re spreading the cost over all the participants with a single coach, so it’s a little more cost-effective, and we’re unique in that we have one of the most competitive programs in the state.”
SportsPlex skating classes are divided into groups with similar skill levels. Jamye Gaster said lessons are available throughout the year for all abilities, and both half-day and full-day camps run throughout the summer. For more information, contact Gaster through the SportsPlex at (919) 644-0339.
“The goal of the entry level class is to teach absolutely anyone to skate and to make it fun and enjoyable so they’ll stick with it,” Gaster said. “Whether people just want to stand on their own two feet or learn a couple moves but not compete, we want to help people fulfill their goals.”
Gaster said the Sportsplex’s adult programs were wildly popular. It’s offering a special deal this winter where parents can get adult lessons at half price if they enroll their children in the “Learn To Skate” program.
Stock said that there are also those whose interest in skating is hockey-driven.
“We have our Ordinary Joes (and Jills) program which appeals to people who’ve never skated before, and it often leads to them wanting to learn to play hockey,” he said. “This basically gets them away from holding onto the boards: it just gets them ice-competent. If they want to go on, there’s the Learn to Play program, and there are just some great progressions.”
The SportsPlex hopes to capitalize on the Olympic fervor with some special events of its own, including National Skate Day on February 16.
“We’ll have free skate rentals for anyone coming to skate that day, and there will also be free lessons. There will be a figure skating exhibition, and we’ll probably bring out our rink rat skaters (children’s hockey league) out for a demonstration class.”
This Friday, parents can either drop off kids for Valentine’s Day childcare and a date night elsewhere or stay and make it a skate-date night with public skating that evening.
While kids’ Olympic dreams may drive them from the living room to the SportsPlex rink, it may seem hard to believe that there are also those for whom the SportsPlex ice may catapult them back to the Olympics, but it’s not a far-fetched notion.
“We’ve got several skaters who have become incredible singles skaters,” Gaster said. “One was a former synchro skater here: Ashleigh Faucette is from Chapel Hill, she now attends Miami of Ohio University, and she skated with the U.S. Team at Worlds last year.
“She just saw a skater running a program here at the SportsPlex once and she said, “Mommy, I want to do that.” Fourteen years later, she was at Worlds. We’ve had several skating with Team USA as a matter of fact. It’s amazing.”
The idea wasn’t lost on Katelyn Runkle, 7, who was honing her figure skating skills with friends at center ice on Saturday.
“We want to be in the Olympics when we’re older,” she said.