The Skating Club of Boston Breaks New Ground

Despite cold and windy weather, the mood was festive Monday at the Skating Club of Boston’s groundbreaking ceremony for their new three-rink facility in Norwood, MA. It was a long-anticipated day, as planning for the new rink complex first started some 20 years ago. Now, construction will commence on what is intended to be a state-of-the-art facility, to open in summer 2020.

It’s been quite a journey to this point. Founded in 1912, the Skating Club of Boston is one of the oldest and most storied figure skating clubs in the United States. The Club has been home to many famous skaters during its long history, including Dick Button, Tenley Albright, Paul Wylie, Nancy Kerrigan, and, more recently, Ross Miner, Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir, and Christina Gao.

1240 Soldiers Field Road: The rink where it happened

For 80 years, the Skating Club of Boston’s home rink has been 1240 Soldiers Field Road in Boston. It’s a central spot, where the city of Boston converges with nearby cities Cambridge, Watertown, and Brookline. The location at 1240 Soldiers Field has always been important for the Club. Its centrality helped make the Club a viable training choice for skaters all around the greater Boston area. Also, the Skating Club of Boston owned the rink at 1240 Soldiers Field, giving them full control over the ice. Few skating clubs enjoy such a privilege, as they typically do not own their premises.

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The rink at 1240 Soldiers Field Road in Boston

The famous rink at 1240 Soldiers Field first opened on New Year’s Day, 1939. Its classic “quonset hut” design bestowed a distinctive and memorable look. Generations of skaters learned how to skate and trained at the facility. Some of those skaters reached the highest pinnacles of the sport.

But as the 21st century began, the limitations of the aging building began to tell. The Club now has well over 600 members–and only one ice surface to accommodate them all. Further, the 80-year-old building lacks many of the amenities that newer ice rinks can offer. In the late 1990s, the Club’s officers determined that future growth would require a new and larger facility. They launched “The Next 100 Years” initiative to secure a new venue to help the Club expand and prepare for its second century. Eventually, this project led to Norwood, MA, and Monday’s groundbreaking event.

New era in Norwood

The groundbreaking ceremony for the new facility featured several prominent speakers, including 1956 Olympic champion Tenley Albright (one of the Club’s most famous and decorated members), 1984 Olympic Champion Scott Hamilton, and officials from the Skating Club of Boston and the city of Norwood. Also in attendance were many former skaters who now coach or choreograph at the Club, including Evgenia Shishkova & Vadim Naumov, Simon Shnapir, Alexandria (Shaughnessy) Ronzio, and Adam Blake.

Joseph Blount, president of the Skating Club of Boston, explained how the Club came to Norwood, a suburb about 20 miles southwest of Boston.

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Skating Club of Boston President Joseph Blount

“In the 20 years we’ve been working on it, we looked at about 35 properties, all total,” Blount said. “In Boston, we worked with the Boston planning board. We worked with Boston city officials.” However, despite these efforts, the Club could not find an appropriate and affordable  location in Boston itself.

“The land was just so costly [in Boston],” Blount explained. “It’s $10 million per acre. And we needed a minimum of 10 acres. Financially, we couldn’t afford to stay in Boston, because land was so expensive.”

Instead, the Skating Club of Boston bought a 36-acre parcel of land at 750 University Avenue in Norwood for $7.1 million total. The sale closed in March.

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The Skating Club’s new location in Norwood (circled)

Blount acknowledged that the decision to leave Boston was not easy. “There were so many people ingrained in the Boston area. They thought: ‘Because it’s the Skating Club of Boston, doesn’t it need to be there?’ But the Detroit Skating Club is thirty miles outside the town of Detroit,” Blount pointed out. “I think our members are coming around to: This is the best we can do, for the amount of money we can afford. We should be spending money on the skaters, helping them become what they want to be.”

The Club’s existing rink at 1240 Soldiers Field Road has now been sold. However, the Club will stay on at the property for the time being, leasing it back from the new owners, until the Norwood facility opens in summer 2020. At that point, all Club operations and personnel will move to Norwood.

In her speech at the event, Tenley Albright acknowledged the emotional pull and history of 1240 Soldiers Field Road–the rink where she trained for her Olympic title–but looked forward to the club’s future in Norwood. “I just couldn’t picture the Skating Club not being on Soldiers Field Road. But today, I’ve changed my mind,” she said, to cheers from the crowd. “Just think, Ice Chips [the Club’s annual show] will be here! And Ice Chips was what got me interested in skating.”

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Scott Hamilton, Tenley Albright, and Benjamin T. Wright

Although the Skating Club will lose its geographical tie to the city of Boston, the new location is large enough to build the modern, truly state-of-the-art facility that it lacked in Boston. The plans for the new Norwood location are impressive indeed.

The new facility will feature three rinks–one Olympic-sized and two NHL-size. The Olympic-sized rink, or Performance Center, will include arena seating for 2,500 people, allowing the Club to host competitions and shows at the site. There is also room to add a fourth rink in the future, if necessary.

In addition to the new rinks, the facility will include, seemingly, just about everything skaters and coaches could possibly need: Locker rooms; a dance practice room; a lobby cafe; a library; lounge areas; conference rooms; and a special coaches’ suite with lounge area, work stations, and private locker rooms.

Additionally, the Skating Club is partnering with the Micheli Center for Sports Injury Prevention to host a special center at the new facility dedicated to developing skaters’ fitness and avoiding injury. The center will include a fully equipped off-ice training room, where skaters can work out under the supervision of certified trainers, as well as private offices for physical therapy, injury treatment, and nutritional counseling.

Two rinks in the new facility will be completely dedicated to figure skating. The third rink will be shared with local hockey teams (in season).

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A rendering of the Performance Center at the new facility (with Olympic-size rink)

Once the new facility is open, the Skating Club expects to host many competitions and shows in the Olympic-sized arena, including New England Regionals and Eastern Sectionals. Erique L’Heureux, development and marketing coordinator for the new facility, said that the Club is also exploring hosting some synchronized skating and/or theatre on ice events at the new location.

And special guest speaker Scott Hamilton announced that the Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation will present a special S8 to Elimin8 Cancer fundraiser show as part of the new facility’s official grand opening festivities in December 2020.

Hamilton spoke of his connections with the Club. “All my family is from the Boston area. We’d come to Boston for all the Christmas holidays. And then, once I started skating, to go to the Skating Club of Boston was hallowed ground,” he said. “It’s hallowed ground. And when I look at what is going to be a magnificent, state-of-the-art facility that’s going to take the legacy of the Skating Club of Boston and bring it into the future …. Today is a day of nostalgia; it’s a day of forward thinking; it’s a day of excitement about the promise of what will be.”

The prospects of the Skating Club of Boston look bright, with the groundbreaking of their brand-new facility for the future.

Note:  To learn more about the Skating Club of Boston’s new facility, visit the project’s web site: https://thenext100years.org/.

Note:  If you’re enjoying the articles on The Divine Sport, please like our Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/adivinesport. Or follow us on Twitter to get updates of new posts:  @clairecloutier.

 

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Interview with Alexander Johnson (2019)

Alexander Johnson is starting a new chapter in his life this spring. After a 9-year career at the senior international level, which featured two top 6 finishes at U.S. Nationals and a Challenger Series medal, Johnson is shifting focus from competitive skating to his first full-time professional job in finance and a budding side career in figure skating choreography and coaching. Johnson hasn’t closed the door on a possible return to competitive skating; but for now, his priority is exploring these new opportunities.

I recently had a chance to chat with Johnson before his appearance in Ice Crystals, the annual club show for the Colonial Figure Skating Club in Acton/Boxborough, MA. Johnson spent several weeks at Colonial this spring, teaching and choreographing for Colonial skaters and working with different coaches, including 1980 Olympian Sheryl Franks and 1992 Olympian Konstantin Kostin. During our chat, Johnson shared some thoughts on his work at Colonial, his approach to choreography, and his programs for Ice Crystals.

Continue reading “Interview with Alexander Johnson (2019)”

Ice Crystals 2019

Skating shows in the Boston area come like a cascade every spring. Sometimes, I miss out on the earlier shows because it all starts happening so quickly. But I usually try to make it to Ice Crystals, the annual show of the Colonial Figure Skating Club in Acton/Boxborough, because it’s a nice way to end the local show season. This year was no exception, as Colonial put on a fun spring show titled “Destination Colonial.”   Continue reading “Ice Crystals 2019”

Stars on Ice 2019: Notes & Impressions

Yesterday I went to the Worcester, MA show of Stars on Ice & really enjoyed it a lot!! Here are some notes & impressions from this year’s show.

Last year’s post-Olympics Stars on Ice tour was so good that I didn’t expect this year’s show to equal it. But, I actually enjoyed this year’s show every bit as much. I felt like the show had a really relaxed, mellow feel to it. All the skaters seemed to be having fun, and the group numbers from Jeff Buttle were brilliant–just great to watch.

I’ll sound like a cheerleader, I guess, but I really enjoyed pretty much every number in this show!

Nathan Chen of course was a highlight.  It was my first time seeing his “Caravan” short program live, and he performed it with lots of energy and a sense of joyfulness. I’m pretty sure he landed some quads in his first number. One thing I noticed this time, seeing Nathan live, is that he has quite his own style of skating. Rather than depending on the long, deep flowing edges of traditional skating, everything he does is fast, short, sharp bursts of movement. He has great speed and edge skills, although not necessarily the power of some of the other skaters, perhaps because of that distinctive style of movement. I love that he brings something different, something inventive.

Bradie Tennell was quite impressive live. Her speed is much more apparent and her skating skills seemed improved. Her Romeo & Juliet was quite nice to watch–a good piece in this setting, despite some criticisms of the program this year during the competitive season.

Both Ashley Wagner and Mirai Nagasu looked great; better than I expected after almost a year and a half away from competition. Mirai landed several triple toe loops and double Axels, and Ashley did at least one triple flip, some double Axels, and more. Ashley is just such a natural at shows like this–she gives every move an extra little wiggle or head shake or flourish or something to make it more interesting. She’s just a natural entertainer. Her “Dog Days Are Over” number was terrific (and I don’t even like that song!).

 

Mirai Nagasu almost brought a few tears to my eyes because she was just so beautiful and strong out there. The basic quality of her skating, I feel, has never really been appreciated enough–just her edges and line–something ineffable that she brings to the ice, it’s hard to describe. I really adored her “Halo” program in the second half. It’s just a beautiful, lyrical program made special by her skating, and it ended too soon. Her program in the first half made me smile a little because it’s by the same choreographer (Adam Blake) who did Emmy Ma’s “Love on the Brain” exhibition program, and those who have seen that program would recognize some similarities in costume and theme. It was a very good program, though–something different and interesting for Mirai.

It was great to see Jeremy Abbott again–both his programs were very much in his wheelhouse, and quite gorgeous to watch. I overheard the pre-show talk that he did with Bradie Tennell for a visiting nearby skating club, and I almost laughed when he said that he was never the most talented skater growing up. Really?? Maybe not the most talented in terms of jumps. Otherwise, I can think of few skaters more gifted than Jeremy ….

Davis/White‘s Queen medley was really good and brought out a fun, slightly flirtatious side to the Olympic champions. Their “Lilac Wine” was the best program of the show for me, with great emotional quality and really interesting choreography. One of their best professional programs, in my opinion.

Hubbell/Donohue‘s Queen medley was also great–and totally different than Meryl/Charlie’s. While Davis/White chose some more playful songs from the Queen backlog, Madi/Zach characteristically went with some of the most powerful songs–very suitable to them. Loved their number, also loved their softer but intense “Oats in the Water” piece in the first half. I have to say that Madi Hubbell comes across as one of the most natural dancers I’ve ever seen on the ice. When she’s apart from Zach in their programs or in group numbers, you see the music and rhythm just kind of oozing out of her, with every spontaneous movement. And when she and Zach come together, it’s like two powers joining forces. Luurrve them. 🙂

Seeing the Shibutanis again was so great; I enjoyed every second of it. Their Coldplay number was terrific and moving–I actually didn’t recognize any of the songs in it, so it felt quite fresh. And their Daft Punk number was intriguing. There’s not many highlight moves in this program–the focus is all on the rhythm and footwork–and I quite enjoyed it. As with Mirai, it’s hard to articulate what makes the Shibs so special to me–just an energy, a connection, a truth to their skating, that I find exciting. Alex had so much energy in the group numbers, he seemed to be loving it. And Maia was a queen as usual.

Anyhow, that’s my take on this year’s Stars on Ice show. I enjoyed it very much, and definitely recommend it if the tour comes near you. I felt really uplifted by the show–and I think I wasn’t the only one. I noticed quite a few people with happy faces on my way out!