Big night with stars for Figure Skating in Harlem

Skaters join business and entertainment luminaries to celebrate achievement

Jeremy Abbott and Adam Rippon were able to fly in at the last minute to attend the gala.
Jeremy Abbott and Adam Rippon were able to fly in at the last minute to attend the gala. (Lynn Rutherford)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(04/06/2011) - It has become the annual rite of early spring for U.S. figure skaters: catching up with the girls of Figure Skating in Harlem (FSH) and walking the red carpet with celebrities at the Skating with the Stars gala at Central Park's Wollman Rink.

"I've known so many of these girls for years," Tanith Belbin, a member of the FSH Advisory Board, said. "It's amazing; their skating just gets better and better, they're winning scholarships to college, they're growing up."

Sharon Cohen, the petite powerhouse who founded FSH in 1997, announced that this year's event raised more than half a million dollars, to be invested in a leading-edge academic center expected to open later this year.

"This was our best gala ever; the angels were looking out for us," she said. "You never know with the weather this time of year and it held out perfectly."

FSH encompasses far more than skating. The program integrates ice time with tutoring, counseling and career development, with the goals of instilling greater focus, confidence and self esteem. Girls accepted into the program are aged 6-18, come from the Harlem community and maintain a B-average or better in school.

Skaters turned out in full force to support the cause. Evan Lysacek; Sasha Cohen; Tim Goebel; Joannie Rochette; Todd Eldredge; Belbin and ice dance partner Ben Agosto; Johnny Weir; Emily Hughes; Fumie Suguri; and Lucinda Ruh signed autographs and took turns on the ice delivering skating tips. FSH students, including members of the synchronized skating team Harlem Ice, performed to "Empire State of Mind."

Scott Hamilton could not attend in person this year, but sent a $100,000 gift from the Pioneer Fund, which fellow Olympic champion Lysacek presented on Hamilton's behalf. Pioneer Fund is a philanthropic organization established by Helen Myers McLoraine, who helped fund Hamilton's training expenses during his competitive career.

The tragic earthquake in Japan and subsequent re-scheduling of the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships prevented U.S. world team members, including Olympic silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, from attending.

Jeremy Abbott and Adam Rippon caught last-minute flights to New York after performing in the "Skaters Care" benefit for Japanese Tsunami relief in Ontario, Calif., the day before. Rippon was especially impressed with the FSH graduates' 100 percent college attendance rate.

"Because I have so many [five] younger brothers and sisters, I know how important extracurricular activities are for kids," he said.

This year's gala honored longtime FSH supporters Tina and Terry Lundgren, the CEO of Macy's, and 2002 Olympic champion Sarah Hughes.

"Sarah is the best," Cohen said. "Before the [2002] Olympics, after the Olympics, she never forgot FSH. She kept coming back. As a Yale graduate, she's a great scholar/athlete role model for our girls."

A former competitive figure skater, Tina Lundgren is a U.S. Figure Skating gold medalist in freestyle and figures, and world figure skating judge.

"With Tina's athletic background, you would think she would naturally be interested in the skating component of the program, but the educational aspects of FSH impress and interest her even more," Cohen said.

"I was thrilled to honor Tina and Terry and have Donald Trump introduce them [to gala attendees]."

FSH also presented Lola C. West, a Managing Partner with Genesis Asset Management, with its Star Leadership Award.

"Lola was instrumental in helping me found FSH," Cohen said. "She helped give me a leg-up in fundraising, and she taught financial literacy to the girls."

A silent auction featuring items including lunch with Belbin and White in Detroit was held during the gala. Additional fabulous offerings, including a luxury trip to China to attend "Artistry on Ice 2001" and a signed Weir costume from the Skating with the Stars' premiere, are available for bid at until April 20.

The show of support comes at a good time for FSH, which is waging an ongoing effort to secure more ice time at the Riverbank State Park ice rink.

Currently, FSH purchases 4.5 hours a week at the rink, which is open November through March. The remaining time that is not allotted to public sessions, Cohen said, goes to hockey programs, including those of Manhattan private schools. Overwhelmingly, participates in those programs are boys, and most do not live in the surrounding neighborhood.

"It's our position that you cannot really compare FSH to private preparatory schools," Cohen said. "We are a community-based organization that serves girls in Harlem; many of the private schools can cost up to $30,000 a year to attend and have other fine athletic facilities available to them."

Lack of ice time has forced FSH to limit its participants to 130 girls, turning more than 100 applicants away, she added. Currently, no FSH student gets more than three hours a week of ice time, and some must travel an hour-and-a-half to and from the outer New York City borough of Queens on Sundays to skate.

Cohen is hopeful the new state administration will heed FSH's call.

"We have no issues with the new New York State administration," she said. "We're meeting with the Parks Department commissioner [Rose Harvey]. We really feel getting the opportunity to buy more ice time is a reasonable request."

For more information on FSH go to their website.