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Ann Arbor ice arena, skating teams fight for reclassification

Credit | MaxPixel
Credit | MaxPixel

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Ice arenas and rinks need to be reclassified, say Ann Arbor athletes and Diane Wilson, the general manager of Ann Arbor Ice Cube.

Since March, Wilson has been working to get the 130,000 square foot Ann Arbor ice rink and fitness facility to be reclassified so that it can reopen to the public and to the numerous hockey and skating teams that train on the rink.

“If you know hockey, and you know figure skating, you would know there are certainly ways to do this safely,” said Wilson.

While ice arenas and rinks in most of the country and in parts of northern Michigan have reopened, facilities in southern Michigan have remained closed, per an executive order that lumped them in with other fitness facilities.

To get the Cube and other ice rinks reclassified, Wilson has reached out to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, state representatives and state senators asking them to visit the arena to see how it differs from gyms or bowling alleys. She’s even participated in volunteer committees to review guidelines for different facilities.

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The Ann Arbor Ice Cube, which has three different rinks, is used by different ice skating and hockey teams, including the U.S. National Team, Eastern Michigan University hockey team and four local high school teams.

“We have everything in place [to open] and the community has just been incredible,” Wilson said over the phone. “Everybody is anxious to get back on the ice, from the figure skaters to the hockey players to youth hockey. It’s been endless.”

Wilson said she has seen an outpouring of support from the Ann Arbor community for the cause and she isn’t the only one who wants the arena reclassified.

Erin Donovan, Director of the Hockettes Synchronized Skating Program and University of Michigan Synchronized Skate Teams Head Coach, said that the athletes and families she works with are ready to get back on the ice.

Although the athletes have been doing adapted strength training on dry land, she said they need to be on the ice to perfect movements and synchronize themselves. Without the ice rink, they could fall behind other national teams, which is discouraging for athletes and their families.

Skaters training on dry-land as they wait to get back onto the ice.
Skaters training on dry-land as they wait to get back onto the ice. (Erin Donovan)

“This also impacts the university students. We draw students from across the country, and even international students, to the University of Michigan to come and skate because its the National Champion team,” said Donovan, stating that not reclassifying and reopening the ice rink also affects talented skaters considering enrollment at the university.

She added that Ann Arbor is the birthplace of synchronized skating and its teams are nationally ranked. Without access to local ice arenas, rankings could be jeopardized and the teams could miss out on important opportunities. For example, the U-M Synchronized Skating junior team, which is in the U.S. Figure Skating’s International Selection Pool, stands to lose its chance to be Team USA if it doesn’t perform well.

Over the summer, skating and hockey teams have traveled to Ohio to be on the ice but once school starts back up the rinks won’t be available to them.

“We’re not looking for everything to be back to the way it was. We’re just asking for the facility to be open so that we can continue this year and into the future,” said Donovan.

She said that the skate teams have shown that they can be responsible about the situation and that they are willing to adapt in order to keep skating. They’ve even discussed holding competitions virtually with different teams hitting the ice at different times.

This, coupled with the size of the Ann Arbor facility, makes it very possible to have skaters on the ice without them sacrificing social distancing.

Wilson said that even before the pandemic, the Ann Arbor Ice Cube was never at capacity because of its size and that several skaters could be on the ice without problems. If she can reopen the Cube’s three ice rinks, she already has procedures in place for temperature checks, limited capacity and contact tracing.

They’ve been in contact with Michigan Sen. Jeff Irwin (D), who is working with Sen. Michael D. MacDonald (R) on a bi-partisan presentation discussing the issue. Community members have also been signing a letter written by Sen. MacDonald petitioning Gov. Whitmer for reclassification.

Wilson and Donovan say that reclassifying the ice rinks isn’t political, they just want the facility to reopen so that athletes and teams can get back on the ice.

Ann Arbor skaters training on dry land as they wait to get back onto the ice.
Ann Arbor skaters training on dry land as they wait to get back onto the ice. (Erin Donovan)

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