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Worthington Figure Skating: magicians on ice

WORTHINGTON -- The skaters put on recitals rather than compete in matches and they all wear different costumes rather than a single team uniform, but that doesn't mean that figure skating isn't a sport.

Figure skaters
Photo Courtesy of Nicole Kempema The performers in the Worthington Figure Skating recital "Magic on Ice" pose with their flowers and medals after their 2011 event at the Worthington Arena.

WORTHINGTON -- The skaters put on recitals rather than compete in matches and they all wear different costumes rather than a single team uniform, but that doesn't mean that figure skating isn't a sport.

If one were to doubt the athleticism of the participants in the Worthington Figure Skating recital on Sunday, the easy way to find out would be for them to try it for themselves.

"A lot of people think it looks pretty easy when you sit back and you watch it, but it's really not," said Lisa Scholtes, the skating director for the program. "It's definitely a sport."

Sunday's recital -- titled "Magic on Ice" -- marked the end of the season for Worthington's figure skating program.

A total of around 40 skaters aged between five years old through high school age performed in the event, choreographing the skills they learned throughout the season to different songs with the overall theme of "magic."

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"It was kind of like the finale of their season," Scholtes said. "They show off all the skills that they've learned through the season, and they do it to a song -- hence why it's called a recital, I guess."

The songs ranged from "Magic" by B.o.B and "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" by The Police to "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" from Disney's Cinderella and "Hedwig's Theme" from the Harry Potter movies, with the skaters showcasing different moves based on their level of skating ability.

"To a routine they'll do going backwards, frontwards, spins and some jumps -- depending upon the level," Scholtes said.

When the skaters first become involved in the program at the Snowplow Sam level, they first learn the basics of standing on skates, moving forwards and beginning to learn how to go backwards. As they progress they start to learn the more difficult moves.

"You ask some of the parents, and the parents are amazed at some of their kids, especially the ones in Snowplow Sam," Scholtes said. "They go from not even being able to stand on ice skates to the time they have their recital being able to go forwards and go out on the ice without any help, and they can do it all on their own. It's pretty amazing."

The program takes skaters through the United Skates Figure Skating Association levels of certification, which ranges from Snowplow Sam at the bottom to freeskate at the top.

Different instructors teach different session to skaters at different levels. This year's teachers were Haley Kruse, Jenn Scholtes and Rachel Jones, with Shelby Kingery helping as an assistant.

The teachers are usually college aged and sometimes are high schoolers that have been involved in the program for a long period of time.

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"I've had quite a few kids that have gone from Snowplow Sam all the way up to freeskate," Scholtes said. "A lot of the ones who will stay start from elementary school and go from elementary all the way through high school. And then in high school they tend to get a little too busy -- by that time they're either getting ready to graduate or something."

The figure skating season in Worthington is broken up into two sessions that are six to seven weeks long each. The fall session starts in November and ends with a recital just after Christmas, and Sunday's recital marked the end of the winter session.

The Worthington program focuses on developing the skills of its participants and doesn't have a competitive aspect, but skaters in the program who are looking for more of a challenge are able to the opportunity by also joining the figure skating program in Luverne.

"We don't do competitions here, but Luverne does competitions," Scholtes said. "We aren't in that part of it here, but if they really want to compete then I recommend them to get over to Luverne where they have the chance to compete. Then they compete up in the (Twin Cities) and different competitions around the area... But, you know, it's costly -- it's kind of up to the parents as to what they want to pay."

Sunday's program featured a pair of sisters from the Luverne program as guest skaters -- Alyssa and Brooke Nattress and Riley and Lexie Severtson.

They performed competition-winning numbers during the program and came back for an encore dressed as "The Incredibles" from the Disney/Pixar movie before all of the skaters received medals and a flower to end the event.

Even if skaters in the program aren't interested in competitive figure skating, there have been a few that have pursued skating down a different avenue -- ice hockey.

"Some of the girls that are on the girls' hockey team were figure skaters too for a while before they decided to play hockey," Scholtes said.

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Skaters that have pursued this option in the past include current Worthington girls' hockey team members Taylor Heidebrink and Betsy Thompson.

Transitioning between the two sports isn't unusual, with skaters transitioning their skills from one sport to the other.

"I know a lot of places -- like I know up north -- will recommend that they start out in figure skating first and then go into hockey because then they kind of learn more of the fundamentals," Scholtes said. "It does pay off.

"But you don't always hear of people wanting to hear that because they all kind of think figure skating is kind of like too girlish, or whatever, or it's not a sport. It really is, it's a sport. It takes a lot of talent for these kids to be able to get out on the ice and to do what they do."

The Worthington program isn't unusual in that there are far more girls than boys involved, but there have been a fair number of boys participating in the program in the past.

Some of the boys will participate in the program and also take part in recitals, but there are also some who will take the classes but they or their parents will choose for them not to take part in performances.

Some boys will get involved in the program as a way to get skating experience before taking up hockey.

"Some of the boys will take ice skating lessons from us first and then they'll end up going into hockey too," Scholtes said. "It's kind of an easier way for them to get into the sport, I think, without making a huge, huge commitment I think for some parents."

People usually become aware of the program by finding advertisements through the Community Education Center, and through radio commercials. For anyone who is newly aware of the program, it's not as if it just sprung up overnight.

"This program has been around for 18 years," Scholtes said. "So it's not like something that's just been started."

For anyone looking for a better way for their kids to take advantage of the winter than they did this year, the program will start up at the same time next year.

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