Club seeks to maintain interest in skating

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The final figure skating medals of the Vancouver Olympics will be handed out tonight as the Winter Games near a conclusion.

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Fifteen-year-old Erica Williams practices her figure skating routine at the Augusta Ice Sports Center. "I have no long-term goal," said Williams, who has been skating for three years. "I just skate to have fun, and we'll see where it takes me."   Corey Perrine/Staff
Corey Perrine/Staff
Fifteen-year-old Erica Williams practices her figure skating routine at the Augusta Ice Sports Center. "I have no long-term goal," said Williams, who has been skating for three years. "I just skate to have fun, and we'll see where it takes me."

While the Olympics will wrap up this weekend, organizations such as the Figure Skating Club of Augusta are capitalizing on the excitement brought on by the competitions.

However, holding onto that momentum after the games are long over has been a challenge for the club.

"In Augusta, there has always been a fluctuating interest with figure skating depending on what's going on with the publicity of it," said Renee Austin, one of the club's coaches. "So this time of year, especially in an Olympic year, we're going to see a lot of people that we had not seen before digging out their skates."

Austin has already seen several new skaters come out for the Learn to Skate program at the Augusta Ice Sports Center. The youth hockey programs at the rink have also seen an increased turnout.

How long will that interest last?

As the temperature begins to rise in the South, attention that's paid to figure skating and other winter sports tends to decline, Austin said.

"When the weather warms up, that's when people start to pay more attention to outdoors activities and put skating aside. It's not until the weather cools down again that people think about skating," she said.

However, members of the club believe that logic is counter-intuitive.

"When it's hot outside, people should want to come in where you know it's going to be cool," said club president Sue Coon.

The club travels to and puts on tournaments during the spring and summer seasons, hoping the continued training for competitions keeps its skaters involved year-round.

The club holds an annual region event in mid-July.

Another issue facing the club has been a general lack of interest in the community. The club, which was founded in 1999, has long dealt with the issue of finding local kids who are interested in becoming figure skaters. Most of the club's skaters have come from other areas.

"Georgia, in general, grew up on football," Ashley Hawkins, one of the coaches, said. "I think it's still a new sport to Augusta because the Ice Sports Center is still fairly new."

One of the club's top talents, Chelsi LeBlanc, is proof that viewing the Olympics can bring local youth closer to the sport.

The 18-year-old LeBlanc said she became interested in skating after seeing the Olympics at a young age, before the ice rink opened. When what was known then as the Ice Forum opened, she signed up for lessons, fell in love with the sport and has been skating ever since.

"I remember being little, seeing people skating on TV and thinking, 'I want to do that. That looks like so much fun,'" LeBlanc said. "I hope that after people watch these Olympics, they feel the same way. You can really take this sport and fall in love with it."


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