Blue Ridge Figure Skating Club Nurtures Competitive Local Talent
By NICOLE FAY BARR
Correspondent

Several Mountaintop ice skaters have Olympic dreams and, through the Blue Ridge Figure Skating Club, may get there someday. While skaters from all over the area practice at the club, two from Mountaintop recently were chosen for the highly-competitive regional level. The mother of one of those skaters told The Mountaintop Eagle about the club’s history and the local talent nurtured there.

The club formed in 2004, then called the Northeast Skating Academy. Its conception came about because, to compete and be recognized by the United States Figure Skating Academy, a skater must belong to a member club and, at the time, none in this area had existed. Since, the club has grown and changed its name, and today the Blue Ridge Figure Skating Club has 25 members and three coaches, using the Revolution skating rink in Pittston as its base. The club helps bridge the gap between the individual sport and the camaraderie and group atmosphere of team sports.

Through the U. S. Skating Academy, talented skaters are given a series of tests on their abilities and, if they qualify, can compete at the regional level. This region covers a wide area, from Northeast Pa to Florida, and two Mountaintop skaters competed at that level recently. The competitions take place in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and have even allowed the girls to skate with international talent.

Mountaintop’s two regional-level skaters are Claudia Brown, a junior at Crestwood, and Katina Humen’s daughter, Maria, a fifth grader at Fairview. Katina laughed that, when Maria first tried on skates at age four, all she wanted to do was get them off of her feet. However, when she was seven, she tried skating again and found that not only did she enjoy it, she had a real talent for it.

“It’s not easy to get to that qualifying level. It takes years,” Katina related of regionals. Maria started out with the Blue Ridge Club’s “Learn to Skate” program, where children as young as four or five years old who are interested in ice skating are taught in a group. From there, she progressed to private lessons.

To be great at ice skating, a competitor must practice constantly. Katina admitted the family was slow to commit Maria to dedicating all of her free time to the sport, but it was Maria who pushed and now she skates nearly every day of the week.

“It’s a big time commitment,” Katina stated. Asked what her daughter loves so much about the sport, she replied that, Maria is athletic, but when she participated in team sports, she became discouraged and seemed to blame others on the team for misses or losses. “She likes the personal accountability of skating,” Katina went on. “If she doesn’t do well, there’s no one to look to but herself.”

At her first competition when she was in second grade, Maria came in last place and she wasn’t happy about it, her mother said. Katina told her that it was her choice, she could give up or she could work harder. Maria chose to work harder.

With her coaches at the Blue Ridge Club, Maria chooses a song for competition and works on the choreography. At the regional level, nine judges examine the skaters’ performances and rate them in two areas –technical element and program score.

“That takes a lot of courage,” Katina said. “It takes a lot of guts and a lot of courage to get out there in front of those judges. And it can be devastating or it can be something to learn from.”

In the regional competition, skaters must perform a certain level of jumps and spins and are judged on the quality, rotation, and height of the jumps, as well as the complexity of the spins and footwork.

After her first time at regionals this past October, Maria didn’t qualify for the next level, but still, she’s already thinking about trying again in 2018. “There’s no season to skating and we don’t take time off, not even a week,” Katina said.

Those who are successful at the regional competitions move onto sectional trails, which covers a third of the country, and then to the national level and those skaters, Katina said, “are the people you see on tv.”

Along with Maria and Claudia Brown, who both competed at regionals, other Mountaintop skaters are practicing at the Blue Ridge Club and are hoping to compete this year. They are Lexi Zabroski, Catherine and Hannah Ziegler, and DeAnna Alston. Also, Taylor Dean skated for the club for many years and has now transitioned to a collegiate club.

A lot of times the skaters work independently, but they also get together at the Blue Ridge Club for freestyle time, where they all enjoy a sense of camaraderie together. While children as young as four can join the club, adults as well can and they can be of any skill level. After the Learn to Skate program is finished, the club has a Bridge program, for skaters who do well but are not ready for private lessons, and then an Elite program, for more active figure skaters preparing for competitions.

For more information, visit the club’s Facebook page, or its website, www.blueridgefsc.com.