Remembering Sears by developing U.S. pairs

Memory of Will Sears honored at Mid-Atlantic Championships

Pairs teams benefited from detailed critiques, made possible by the Will Sears Foundation, at the Mid-Atlantic Championships.
Pairs teams benefited from detailed critiques, made possible by the Will Sears Foundation, at the Mid-Atlantic Championships. (Lynn Rutherford)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(09/13/2010) - In recent years the Middle Atlantic Championships, hosted annually by the Skating Club of New York, has honored the memory of Ariel William "Will" Sears. Sears died at age 20 just months after winning the 2002 U.S. novice pair title with partner Katie Boxwell.

Exhibitions featuring the Middle Atlantic champions, as well as guest stars like SCNY members Johnny Weir, Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov and Kyoko Ina, with partner John Zimmerman, were held. The shows were a treat for the final day of competition, but SCNY members thought there might be a more fitting way to remember Will, a modern-day "Renaissance man" who was also studying acting and writing a screenplay called "Dare Greatly" at the time of his inexplicable death.

"All of us want to help develop pairs in the U.S. and we felt doing that was the best way to honor Will," longtime SCNY member Lucy Brennan, an ISU judge and referee, said. "Will's mother, Mrs. [Margarita] Sears, agreed and the Will Sears Foundation contributed funds to help us hold pairs critiques and seminars."

Many summer competitions offer helpful reviews of skaters' programs prior to the fall competitive season, but few offer the kind of in-depth seminars, with panels of international and national judges and officials, that were held at Middle Atlantics this past weekend.

"Dance coaches and officials have really gotten together in the U.S. and shared their thoughts, and our dance has obviously improved greatly," Brennan said. "Now is the time to put the same kind of focus on pairs."

"We want our pairs to get as much constructive feedback as possible," Mitch Moyer, U.S. Figure Skating's Senior Director of Athlete Performance, added. "Ideally, pairs might compete [during the summer] at Liberty, Indy Pairs Challenge and Mid-Atlantics. Then, they would still have time to take any advice into consideration when preparing programs for sectionals or international assignments."

Brennan and others organized panel discussions with experts sharing their thoughts on the most important criteria for the development of young pairs. SCNY also offered in-depth critiques of all of the pairs competing at Mid-Atlantics, from the juvenile through senior ranks.

In addition to Brennan, who judged the 2002 Olympic pairs event, on hand were: Roger Glenn, a longtime ISU judge and referee who was on the 1998 Olympic pairs judging panel; Gale Tanger, an ISU technical controller, referee and judge who was recently named PSA Official of the Year; ISU judge Deveny Deck; ISU technical specialists Troy Goldstein and Simon Briggs; and others who were active behind the scenes.

Special guest official Hely Abbondati of Finland, an ISU judge, referee and technical controller, also took part.

Overall, the experts liked what they saw.

"I watched many of you last season, and you are advancing so well," Tanger said. "You're really pushing yourselves."

One theme stood out, as pairs were counseled again and again to improve their skating skills and execute quality elements rather than continually chase higher element levels.

"If you can't hit a certain position in a spin, don't worry so much about that particular feature; make sure you do a solid spin," Goldstein said. "Pay careful attention to your sit spin and upright spin positions. We've seen teams lose points because the lady is in one position and the man is in another."

Pair spirals, still a requirement in the free skate, also came in for discussion.

"Remember, both skaters' spirals have to be on a curve and an edge, or you will lose credit," Goldstein said, before adding two more tips.

"I would like to congratulate the junior men in this competition for staying in the low-pivot position on their death spirals. Senior men, take note. And remember: do a twist with the steps directly into a tap -- if the lady is lifted above the shoulder, and then set down before the twist, you'll lose credit."

On a more basic level, Tanger made special note of the importance of "tracking" your partner.

"You need to know where your partner is every moment on the ice," she said. "For that, you need to practice basic stroking more."

Glenn advised the skaters to "push out your landings more, really hold the edge coming out of a lift. Don't sacrifice the quality of a lift just to add another feature. And there are simple things -- like looking at your partner, or acknowledging him with a simple arm movement -- that can make a big difference in how lifts look."

Coaches and skaters unanimously supported the effort.

"It's always good to have the kids hear these comments directly from judges and callers, especially the concentration on showing elements with proper edges," said Isabelle Brasseur, the two-time Canadian Olympic bronze medalist who had three pairs compete at Mid-Atlantics, including her nine-year-old daughter Gabriella Marvaldi and partner Kyle Hogeboom.

"Of course we tell them a lot of this at the rink, but these seminars really reinforced it. I have to add a special thank you to the Will Sears Foundation, because all of the judges and officials here were given a lot of time to really pay attention to each pair."

"It's always good to hear what's running through the judges' heads," said 15-year-old Cody Dolkiewicz, who competes in intermediate pairs with Juliana May and is trained by Brasseur and her husband, Rocky Marval. "I especially liked the part about improving arm movements."

Castelli and Shnapir work on throw triple Axel
In 2006, two-time U.S. champions Rene Inoue and John Baldwin became the first pair ever to land a throw triple Axel in Olympic competition. This season, Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir hope to follow in their footsteps.

Skating their free to music from the blockbuster movie Avatar, the pair hit a big triple twist, an exciting lift with a flip-up entrance, side-by-side triple Salchows and a double toe-double toe combination before launching into the challenging throw.

Castelli fell, but the technical panel gave her credit for rotating the triple. The pair went on to land a huge throw triple Salchow, earning 106.54 points. They easily won the event over Israelis Danielle Montalbano and Evgeni Krasnopolski, who showed good side-by-side double Axels.

"We knew we probably wouldn't land the Axel here, but we wanted Marissa to gain the experience of trying it in a competitive program," said Bobby Martin, who coaches the couple (with Carrie Wall and Sheryl Franks) at Skating Club of Boston.

"We worked on it for four months with the [jump] harness, and now we don't use the harness any more. It's really coming along. Marissa has landed a handful on her own [unassisted]. Later in the season, that double toe, double toe combination will be triple toe, double toe, but here we wanted to focus on getting the Axel out."