Behind the scenes of figure skating - Nov. 29

Unsung heroes of figure skating sweep the ice

Ice sweepers are not always little kids. Sometimes adult skaters, like Marci Richards, age 62, help too.
Ice sweepers are not always little kids. Sometimes adult skaters, like Marci Richards, age 62, help too. (Jay Adeff)


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By Lynn Rutherford and Liz Leamy, special to
(11/29/2007) - Everyone knows about the Evan Lysaceks and Kimmie Meissners, but for each skater competing at an event there's a volunteer backing him or her up.

For example, there's the small army from the 2008 Eastern Sectional Championships, held at the Ice Factory in Wake Forest, N.C., last week. Their work began about 18 months ago.

"I approached the [Skating Club of North Carolina's] board to ask if we could put a bid in for sectionals," Scott Cudmore, an active coach in the area, said.

"We created a bid, had it approved, and then submitted it to U.S. Figure Skating [in Colorado Springs]. Then we had two on-site observation visits at some of our basic skills classes before we won the event.

"By mid-September, it was full steam ahead. We had a main corps of about 15 volunteers, about 50 other helpers and more than a 100 sweepers. I'd say in all it took 200 people to get sectionals done."

To help raise money to supplement the athletes' entry fees, Cudmore and the SC of North Carolina got creative.

"We did a Mother's Day auction and luncheon; we also sold official and unofficial practice ice," he said. "For the rest, we counted on donations from members of the club. That's how we paid for the athletes' hospitality room."

The comfort of the skaters was a bit of an innovation from Cudmore.

"I've been going to sectionals for 15 years, and I've never seen any hospitality room [with food and drink] for skaters," he said. "At nationals it's always there, but not all athletes make it to nationals. They need their own place to hang out, be kids, and use as a warm-up room, especially dance and pair skaters."

John Stock, managing partner of Ice Factory, part of a group that owns eight ice facilities in the Carolinas, said hosting Eastern Sectionals was well worth the work.

"It was a pleasure for us to do this," he said. "It might help grow the sport in the area. I think we're building awareness; new people come in here all the time. The rink is big on learn-to-skate programs, and our skating school is up to 200 kids now."

Sweeping it up

"Sweepers" are the engaging waifs -- some sure footed, some still on Bambi legs -- that push on to the ice after competitors, gaining applause as they doggedly pursue wrapped flowers, beanie babies and other toys.

In Wake Forest last week, Beth Campbell-Godwin of Cary, N.C., managed a brigade of sweepers. Between crowding into rest rooms at each Zamboni break and snuggling under blankets to stay warm, they took a quick break to talk to us.

Where are the sweepers from?
All over the Carolinas -- from Wilmington, N.C., and Greenville, S.C., as far west as Greensboro, N.C., and as far east as Greenville, N.C. There are a lot of "greens" here in the Carolinas.

How old are they?
Most are ages 7-10, a few are a bit younger. Most of them, of course, are girls, but we do have six or eight boys.

There also were some college students from East Carolina University come to sweep, and some adult skaters -- up to age 39 -- came to sweep the final events. Some of them are on a local adult synchronized skating team.

What, exactly, do they pick up? Flowers seem to be a bit out of style.
At Easterns, wrapped stuffed animals are the craze, with a couple of fuzzy dice thrown in, too.

"We pick up a lot of bears, dogs, rabbits, cats, and I got one unicorn," Sarah Godwin, age 9, said.

Do all of them belong to a skating club?
The kids are in the Team Factory Bridge Program, sort of an intermediate between skating school and competitive skating. They test up to pre-juvenile.

Any practice for this event?
Oh yeah, there was one team practice to get the butterflies out and to get the guidelines.

Here they are (the italics are Campbell-Godwin's):

1. Go directly out to toys and quickly back.
2. Do not go out if nothing is thrown.
3. Rhinestone check only at patch time.