Onyx skaters head to nationals
BY CHEYANNE KRAMER
OU News Bureau
A group of high school aged girls stand at attention around their coaches, standing still on slick ice. Black dresses reveal blue underskirts whenever they move. They stood silent, listening intently to their coach.
Their performances played back before them on a small screen, and they stood, nitpicking even the smallest detail of their choreography.
Two minute break, then back in position for a run-through. The girls begin to skate, moving effortlessly across the ice. Their faces were serious, focused, but calm and thoughtful.
Their movements were perfectly in synch. They could duck under another girl’s raised leg with no concern for the danger of the blades on their feet.
Outside of the rink, a group of moms talked. Little brothers bugged their parents, ready to leave the rink for the day, but practice was far from over. Once off the ice, the girls hurried to their fitness training.
Welcome to Onyx Synchronized Skating.
What is synchro?
“So many people don’t know that there’s even a sport called synchronized skating that has teams made up from 12-24 skaters that work like the Rockettes on ice or like synchronized swimming,” said Helen Wolf, director at Onyx Synchronized Skating in Rochester, Michigan.
Wolf described the team’s yearly schedule as from May until even April, depending on the girls’ skill level and placement in competition.
Onyx placed high enough at the Midwestern Sectionals to qualify for nationals this year. They will be in Rockfield, Illinois, from Feb 22 until Feb 26.
Teams in the juvenile division and above go to nationals. Wolf said that eventually 12-13 teams will be labeled as the “nation’s best” and skate in the national competition.
Being a novice-level team, there’s only medals for placing in the top three or four spots. However, teams in the junior and senior ranking are able to travel internationally for worlds if they place high enough.
To the skaters, the sport is more than just a qualification for a competition or a medal. To many, it’s a family.
Alessandra Lico has been a part of Onyx for eight years and has been skating for 10.
“Synchro is a place to get away from the outside world. It’s a totally different place,” she said. “To me, it’s where my family is.”
The same goes for Emma Ockerman, who has skated at Onyx for four years.
“Synchro is my family. I think about it all the time. I look forward to practices every day,” she said.
“I could do a lot of other things with my free time, but I chose synchro because it’s my favorite thing to do and where all of my favorite people are.”
The girls couldn’t be happier about their placement for nationals either. Wolf explained that of all of the girls on the team, only three have been to nationals, and none have gone with a novice level team.
“It was the best moment knowing I’d get to go to nationals with my favorite people,” Ockerman said.
Lico felt the same way.
“I’ve never been to nationals for synchro,” she said. “It was the best moment of my life finding out we were going. Definitely the biggest moment of my life”
According to the United States Figure Skating Association, skaters must be under 16 with the exception of four skaters allowed to be 16 or 17. Ockerman is aging out of the novice division and about to go to college.
“My junior year, balancing everything was hard,” she said. “Synchro was my only free time.”
Next year, though, she plans to continue with her passion of synchro by moving up into a collegiate division.
“I’m going to Liberty University to skate in college,” Ockerman said. “I just can’t imagine life without synchro.”
Wolf explained than 27 colleges around the country have synchronized skating teams, with two having varsity teams that offer scholarships for synchronized skaters.
“In the outside world, the muggles of nonskating they don’t know about the sport. We’re hoping to get into the next Olympics,” she said.
Onyx Synchronized Skating was, until this season, known as Phoenix Synchronized Skating. This year marks the first under its rebranding campaign.
Wolf has coached skating for over 25 years and has coached synchro at Onyx for 11 of those. This year is the first she’s seen anything like the novice girls.
“This is a huge accomplishment that the novice team made it to nationals in what is technically our first year after the rebranding,” she said.
The goal of rebranding the team was to get people interested in the sport at the lower levels and to raise them with the team.
Wolf put emphasis on placing skaters divisions where each individual could grow and gain the confidence and other skills needed in daily life.
“It’s hard to say what sets Onyx apart,” Wolf said. “But one of the biggest things with Onyx is that we’ve created a family. You aren’t just making a team, you’re entering a family organization. Kids are caring about other kids, we care about people as a whole. Families go through different things, people get sick and we’re there for them.”
Wolf said the girls on the team gain invaluable time management skills. In addition to weekly on-ice practices, the skaters must practice off ice, complete fitness training such as ballet and participate in individual ice and coaching sessions.
Despite the time commitment, Wolf estimated about 75 percent of the high school-age skaters are part of their school’s National Honor Societies.
The struggle ahead
With nationals two weeks away, parents of the skaters found themselves strapped for cash.
“It’s a finance the parents weren’t expecting,” Wolf said. “We were hoping to go to nationals, but we weren’t expecting the cost.”
Wolf said an important part for skaters is to take a bus if they can. This allows the team to spend time together from the first moment they step on the bus to when they make it back home.
“The Onyx team has a GoFundMe page now to try and cover the cost of the bus,” Wolf said.
People who are interested in joining Onyx Synchronized Skating are encouraged to visit an exhibition show or watch one of the Sunday practices at Onyx Ice Arena in Rochester.
“We have teams from our exhibition at about an average age of 5 to our open masters team with our oldest person being 66,” Wolf said.
The GoFundMe for the team is here.
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