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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Skating By

Evansville hosts a crowd for the Theatre on Ice figure skating competition.

If you feel a slight chill in Downtown Evansville this week, you can thank Theatre on Ice. The national competition is cooling off at the Ford Center June 25-29 for its annual figure skating contest.

This is not the first time the River City has hosted the National Theatre on Ice Competition. Some may remember when the competition came to Evansville, a first-time host, in 2017. It brought 1,237 ice skaters plus their families to the area and had an economic impact of $2 million.

Photo of 2024 National Theatre on Ice participants practicing at the Ford Center by Adin Parks

The co-chairs of this year’s event, Kelli Mann, president of Greater Evansville Figure Skating Club, and Jill Plough, vice president of GEFSC, say this year’s competition has eclipsed prior contests with 1,440 skaters and 80 teams, including two from Evansville.

Another benefit of hosting the competition is that home team skaters “see the excitement that goes on at nationals,” Mann says.

The first Evansville teams for Theatre on Ice were formed when Plough got involved in 2011 and started competing in 2012. Mann joined GEFSC in 2013 when her daughter developed an interest in figure skating.

“We had 14 girls on that very first team,” says Plough, acknowledging the learning curve. “We wanted to be part of it [but] we knew nothing.”

Part of that learning curve was watching YouTube videos of other teams participating in competitions dating back to the first in 2008, as well as corresponding with coaches around the country. These competitions are different from pairs or individual figure skating since a larger group of skaters are on the ice at the same time to tell a story or be abstract, similar to dancers collaborating to present a ballet like “The Nutcracker.”

In the years since the Evansville team’s inception, there has been consistent and even increased membership as figure skating has become more popular, with three teams participating in the 2017 nationals.

Photo of Explore Evansville CEO Alexis Berggren by Adin Parks

To host the competition, bids are submitted to U.S. Figure Skating. GEFSC worked with Explore Evansville and the Indiana Sports Commission to secure funding and submit a bid to host the event. Mann says the two entities were “very instrumental” in securing the bid. The news arrived in October 2022 that Evansville would host TOI nationals in 2024.

The next step involved getting a team in place to begin event planning, which at first meant bi-monthly, then monthly, and weekly meetings in recent weeks. Everything from registration, hospitality, volunteers, finances, transportation, officials – who come from across the country – and prop storage must be organized. Money made during the competitions also helps keep the cost lower for teams and skaters.

There are nine divisions, separated by free skate and choreographic exercise, and each team must skate in two programs. Skaters are judged on technical merit and presentation, focusing on originality, costuming, artistry, and musicality.

The Evansville teams started working on their programs last October after tryouts in August. The two teams representing Evansville in the national competition include an open team with 23 skaters and an adult team with 14 skaters, with ages ranging from 18 to 70.

Photo of 2024 National Theatre on Ice participants practicing at the Ford Center by Adin Parks

This year’s event also includes a competitors’ parade on Wednesday, taking skaters from S.E. Fifth Street to the Old National Events Plaza, where the Ice Cream Festival will greet them. Another focal point outside the Ford Center is the Swonder Ice Arena, which will serve as a practice area for participants.

Plough hopes that hosting the competition in Evansville again will “drum up excitement for figure skating.”

Tickets can be purchased at the Ford Center ticket booths through Saturday’s competitions. Admission is $35 for adults, $20 for children ages 3-17 and seniors 65 and older, and free for children 3 and younger. Tickets are not available for purchase online.

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Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti joined Tucker Publishing Group in September 2022 as a staff writer. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2020 with a bachelors degree in English. A Connecticut native, Maggie has ridden horses for 15 years and has hunt seat competition experience on the East Coast.

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