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Youths of all ages skate at the Ice Arena in Worthington. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

Open skate: open for fun

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Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

WORTHINGTON — Money can’t buy you love, but $7 can buy you an evening of exercise on ice, coupled with casual social interaction, at the Worthington Arena.

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That’s the cost of admission for open skate hours (with a pair of rental skates thrown in) at the Stower Drive site.

“We’ve been seeing 150 to 200 skaters each Friday and Saturday night,” said Ben DeVries, manager of the Worthington Arena for the past five years. “In my wildest dreams I didn’t think there’d be so many kids out here — it’s just a good atmosphere.”

DeVries, who has worked at the arena in one capacity or another since 1997, remembers years when 50 or fewer skaters was the norm for open skate times.

“I don’t know why it’s grown so much, and maybe it will taper off a little when Saturday night basketball games get going,” DeVries speculated. “But right now, kids are coming out here in flocks.”

When the Worthington Hockey Association isn’t hosting a hockey game on weekend evenings, DeVries flings wide the arena’s doors for open skating (hours are typically 7-10 p.m. Friday, 5-9 p.m. Saturday and 4-8 p.m. Sunday).

Adults and families hit the ice, too, but 8- to 14-year-olds seem to comprise the biggest group of consistent attendees.

“It’s a good, safe place to be, and it seems to be the popular spot for fourth- through eighth-graders,” said DeVries. “They call their friends and meet at the rink.”

One needn’t look far to find open skating diehards, like 12-year-old cousins Lexi Ross and Jaimie Ross of Reading.

The Ross girls, who both attend Adrian Middle School, have spent most Friday nights of late on the ice.

“I learned to skate at open skate,” said Jaimie, while Lexi said she took figure skating lessons for three years.

“You can come and hang out with your friends here,” said Jaimie while waiting for a Pee Wee hockey game to end and open skate to begin Friday night. “I’ve always liked ice skating.”

“And I like it when they play music, and let you request songs,” chimed in Lexi. “And they sharpen your skates.”

“It just feels good to be out of the house and doing something that’s fun,” added Jaimie.

The fifth-grade twosome of Andrea Silva Falcon, 11, and Monica Resendiz, 11, both of Worthington, also finds the local ice arena the hottest place in town on many weekend nights.

“We come every week,” said Falcon, sporting a bright jacket and hair bow that complemented those worn by her friend. “We like to skate, and if we weren’t here, we’d probably be using our iPads, watching TV or doing other stuff.”

“It’s fun learning how to skate,” said Resendiz, “and I like getting out for some exercise.”

Besides the significant income the arena receives from all the open skate and skate rental fees (active Worthington Hockey Association players are admitted free, having already paid their annual sporting assessment), the Worthington Arena realizes proceeds from concession sales.

“If kids arrive with a $20 bill, they don’t leave with any change,” DeVries said with a chuckle. “The money we take in from open skate fees and concessions really helps out our bottom line a lot.”

Indeed, Falcon confirmed (even as she licked a colorful ring pop) that she “always” brings $10 or $20 to open skate sessions.

“She always gets a Nerds rope,” giggled Resendiz. “I like the Gatorade.”

Kevin Black, president of the Worthington Hockey Association, appreciates the attention — and funds — the Worthington Arena receives from a wide swath of the area’s younger residents.

“This seems to be the social hot spot for third- through ninth-graders,” Black confirmed. “It’s good that kids have a place like this to come and move around so they’re not just playing video games, sitting at computers or watching TV.”

Planning regular open skate hours was all part of the design, Black said.

“The arena was a cooperative deal with the city to provide recreational opportunities for residents,” explained Black. “When the hockey association and city originally created this indoor ice facility, part of the idea was that it would be used for the general public.

“We’ve tried to maintain that over the years, and attendance has been particularly strong so far this season. The concession stand is always open, too, during open skate times, and kids like getting hot chocolate, snacks and popcorn.”

DeVries said that most of the youths who attend open skate sessions are well behaved and cooperative with arena rules. He enjoys seeing kids having fun and staying active, and is impressed by the enthusiasm many show for the opportunity.

“If kids from the rink see me out shopping, even in the summer months, they’ll ask me when the rink will be open,” said DeVries, adding that the arena typically remains operational until about the second week of March or as the weather allows. “They’re really excited to come here.”

Black also sees open skate as a time for kids to sharpen their skating skills, with an eye toward promoting the Worthington Hockey Association’s teams and recruiting players.

“One of the goals is that kids who have fun skating might take a look at hockey as a possible sport to consider,” Black said. “By offering them the chance to skate, they may decide they want to become part of a hockey team.”

And even current hockey players, like 11-year-old Pee Wee player Zach Ahrenstorff, don’t mind leaving their sticks at home once in a while for a little free time at the rink.

“I started skating when I was four years old,” said Ahrenstorff, a Worthington Middle School sixth grader. “I like that you get to hang out with your friends at open skate — it’s just about having fun on the ice.”

The Worthington Arena, 1600 Stower Drive, has scheduled open skate hours: Friday, 7-10 p.m.; Saturday, 5-9 p.m.; and Sunday, 4-8 p.m. Hours can vary depending on hockey game schedules; to confirm hours, call 507-376-5252 or visit www.wgtnhockey.net. The Worthington Arena will not be open Dec. 25. The annual alumni hockey game (free and open to the public) is scheduled for Dec. 24 at 4 p.m.

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