|Yale junior Katie Earle (in blue sweatshirt) helps the youngsters learn to balance themselves on
Yale librarian and skater passes on
her passion to local youngsters
Wexler/Grant Community School fourth-grader Shauntasia Hicks thinks she has
a shot at being as good a figure skater as her favorite Olympic champion, Kristi
But for now, just learning the basics of the sport at Yale’s Ingalls
Rink is enough to make her feel like a figure skating diva.
During a recent class there, Hicks showed off her new ability to spin, smiling
proudly afterwards as she glided over the ice while holding the hand of Yale
law librarian Bonnie Collier.
“She does have talent,” Collier says of Hicks after the class, adding
that the young girl’s natural ability just needs some nurturing.
Collier has an eye for seeing such talent: An accomplished figure skater who
competed regionally in her earlier years, she has also been an ice dancer and
judge for prestigious figure-skating competitions. Her own love of the sport
of skating — and her desire to share that passion with others — led
her to launch last year the Yale-Wexler Grant Skating Program, where Hicks
is getting the encouragement she needs to further develop her skills.
|Anatasia Shortridge, Shauntasia Hicks and Bonnie Collier take a minute to pose on the ice during a recent skating session at Ingalls Rink.
“I’ve been a skater all my life but before last year, I had never
done anything specifically for other skaters,” explains Collier. “The
Wexler/Grant Community School is very near Ingalls Rink, in a community that
is struggling, and it just seemed that having the school kids learn to skate
at a rink they might not otherwise visit could be a nice activity for them.”
Collier called Yale’s Department of Athletics, which donated an hour
of weekly rink time to the program, and, with a small fund from donations and
her own contribution, she visited local skate shops in search of used skates
for the children. She also purchased helmets for the beginning skaters.
In its first year, more than 20 third-grade students from Wexler/Grant joined
the program as an after-school activity. They were taught the basics of figure
skating by some eight volunteers, including Yale undergraduates who are skaters,
former hockey players and three professional skating teachers. The program
ran for six weeks in the fall and six weeks in the spring. Most of the children
took part for the entire year.
“Every Wednesday afternoon, the kids burst into the rink, so excited to
get onto the ice,” says the Yale librarian. “While we struggled a
bit in our first year because of limited funds, we got a surprise anonymous donation
this year of $3,000, which allowed me to pay the professional teachers.”
In addition to Yale students, Collier also enlisted the volunteer support of
skaters in the Yale Figure Skating Club, of which she is a member. Dr. Martina
Brueckner, associate professor of cardiology (pediatrics), is among those in
the group who volunteer to teach the New Haven schoolchildren. The Yale physician,
who learned to skate at the age of 35 and is now a regular on the ice at Ingalls
Rink, says the program benefits the children in numerous ways.
“They are exposed to a sport that they are unlikely to experience otherwise,” comments
Brueckner. “They get exercise while having fun, develop some confidence
from learning something new, and maybe develop a skill which they can use to
enjoy active lifelong sports participation.
“In my ‘real life,’ I am a pediatric cardiologist,” she
adds, “and am seeing more and more kids who are obese and out-of-shape
because they don’t have many options for fun, non-competitive activity.
Maybe this program can provide that sort of thing for the Wexler kids.”
This year, some 25 children, including returning fourth-graders and a new crop
of third-graders, join together for the afternoon skating practice at Ingalls
“The kids love it,” says Nicole Sanders, a math coach at Wexler-Grant. “It’s
amazing to see how far they have progressed in such a short time. It gives them
something different to do than the usual after-school enrichment programs.”
Observing a recent skating session at Ingalls, Sanders says some of the children “behave
entirely different on the ice than they do at school.”
“Skating requires different talent and there are different expectations
of the kids,” the math coach says. “Kids who have trouble focusing
in the classroom might be entirely focused on what they are doing on the ice.
So we made a decision not to tie in a child’s school behavior with whether
or not they can skate that day. If you have a bad day at school, you can still
“This is my favorite part of the school day,” says fourth-grader
Tirrell Bentley at the same skating session. He started the program last year
and now participates along with his sister, third-grader Tahira Bentley.
| School of Music student Alma Liebrecht works with Ruby Jones on her backward moves.
“I joined because I knew the rules to play hockey but I didn’t know
how to skate,” says Tirrell. “When I’m older, I want to be
either a hockey player or a football player. Right now I’m working on skating
backwards and on getting my speed up.”
His classmate, Tariq Antrum, says that one of the best aspects of being in
the program is that everyone starts out with no experience, and they learn
“I keep on fighting so I won’t fall on the ice,” says Antrum
while enjoying a snack with his school peers after a skating lesson. “I’m
getting better. Today I fell about five times. But I’m not embarrassed
because I’m not the only one who falls. Everybody falls.”
Adds third-grade student Dania Dozier, “It’s okay if you fall,
because everybody helps you out.”
Elizabeth Ludwig, a Yale sophomore who volunteers as an instructor in the program,
says that the Wexler/Grant students are at the perfect age to learn how to
skate. “Starting them this young is a huge bonus because they learn quickly
due to their enthusiasm and their minimal fear of falling,” comments
Ludwig, who was a competitive figure skater as a child before devoting her
attention to playing ice hockey in high school.
“The program also builds confidence both on and off the ice,” she
adds. “The kids see that if they apply themselves to an activity, they
can achieve a tangible goal, which I believe fosters a willingness to try new
things and a ‘stick with it’ attitude. Plus, the kids really enjoy
themselves on the ice, which is why they’re out there to begin with.”
Collier agrees that the boost in self-confidence the youngsters gain through
the skating program can spill over into other areas of their lives.
“It’s great for their self-esteem,” Collier says. “Maybe
one of them will say: “Wow, I can skate — so maybe I can do math too.”
Annalese Duncan, a teacher’s aide at Wexler/Grant School, says that she
has seen an improved attitude in many of the students who take part in the skating program.
“They really look forward to coming and putting on their skates and wearing
their T-shirts,” she says. (Each participant is given a T-shirt emblazoned
with Yale-Wexler/Grant Skating Program across the front.) “They develop
pride through the trial-and-error experience they have on the ice.”
Collier, who has been a librarian at Yale for 35 years (first as a reference
librarian at Sterling Library and now as an associate librarian for administration
at the Law Library), is confident that “there’s a future Olympian” in
the group of Wexler/Grant ice skaters.
“The first time on the ice, some of them can’t move,” she says. “One
of the kids once said: ‘Do they wax this stuff? It’s so slippery!’ But
in a matter of weeks, they are all zipping around with their friends. It’s
amazing, seeing their progression.”
Collier is grateful for the support she has received from volunteer skating
instructors and others to make the program possible. Ingalls rink manager Joe
Snecinski, for example, lent one of the bigger Wexler/
Grant students his own skates because Collier didn’t have a large enough
size for him.
As skating novice Hicks dreams of a day she can perform flying spins and axels like Yamaguchi, she is also realistic
about the kind of dedication such achievements require.
“I know you have to practice for hours and hours,” says the fourth-grader. “I
don’t have a problem with that. Practice makes perfect.”
Individuals interested in volunteering for or contributing to the Yale-Wexler/Grant
Skating Program can contact Bonnie Collier.
— By Susan Gonzalez
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