Figure skating: Students buy into Ziehnert's creative approach
CLIFTON PARK The young skaters of the Ziehnert Skating School pushed through a few light drills Saturday, then left the ice.
The school’s operator, coach Glenn Ziehnert, had tried to work a good practice into the day’s festivities, but early focus was on the cake in the lobby of The Hockey Hut, where Ziehnert and his students practice.
Ziehnert wasn’t complaining, though. After all, they’d earned it.
The previous weekend, he had brought this group of youngsters, some as young as 6 years old, to the Ice Skating Institute Championships in Lake Placid, where they turned in the club’s best performance to date, placing third among 19 clubs from several states.
“This is the best we’ve ever done,” Ziehnert said. “Other years, we’ve won trophies for best percentage, out of the events you’re in, but this year, we were third out of the entire competition.”
The competition is made up of many different events, but Ziehnert’s students focused on the freestyle, artistic and spotlight events. In the freestyle events, skaters go through different elements such as spirals, spinning and jumping, to music. In artistic events, Ziehnert said the focus is more on the beauty and grace of the skating. The spotlight events give the skaters the opportunity to perform with one another as characters in costume. Team points are awarded for first through fifth places.
Ziehnert started his skating school in 2010. He had worked as an instructor for years, but working for someone else means sticking to their prescribed curriculum.
He felt he had more to offer if he could have the artistic freedom to teach in his own way.
Now, the club is gaining some momentum as it continues to grow and perform well.
“I feel really lucky, especially with the hard times we have today with the economy,” Ziehnert said. “I feel I must be putting out a really good product, because it seems like it’s getting bigger and bigger and bigger. We focus on good technique, and that is the key to success for them.”
One of Ziehnert’s past students, Justin Morrow, is an assistant coach for the club. Ziehnert had coached Morrow since he was 7, and was coaching him and his ice dancing partner when they were competing for a spot at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Morrow said it has been rewarding to give back to the local skating community as an instructor.
“A lot of these events and competitions and shows they’re skating in, I did as a kid,” he said. “You get to see them doing what you did, and it’s cool to have that perspective as the coach. And it’s fun to see them improving, because a lot of them have made some great strides.
“Progress is great, but honestly, the best part is when you see them having fun out there. It’s one thing to work hard, but it’s another to enjoy it when you’re working out there on the ice. Just to see them smile when they’re learning new tricks and mastering those skills, that’s probably why I do this.”
One of those little smilers is Olivia Russell, 7, whose five medals jingled around her neck as she skated over to the side boards at The Hockey Hut. The club had just posed with their medals and
trophies for a few photos, the trophies standing more than half as high as some of the skaters.
Russell said she started skating when she was 5 or 6, and the most difficult trick she’s learned so far is an axle, but she already wants to learn to do a double axle.
She had been to Lake Placid before, she said, but taking the ice for a competition there hasn’t gotten any easier. The size of the 1980 rink, she said, and all the people in it can be intimidating.
“It’s a huge rink. Bigger than this one,” she said. “I get a little nervous because you have to compete against a lot of people. When you get into the final round, you get to do the spotlight, and that made me a little nervous that I was going to fall.”
She managed to stay upright, though.
“I am so excited as a coach,” Ziehnert said. “You work with the student right from the beginning, you see their slow progress, then they get better and better. You take them to a competition, and here they are, they win, and it makes all the dedication and hard work pay off for them. I have such pride in myself, too, that I was able to take these kids . . . and each and every one of them did their absolute best. There’s no greater satisfaction than seeing your kids skate their best. Then winning, that’s icing on the cake.”
Standing in the lobby as the students enjoyed their cake, he mentioned how he had hoped to get a little more practice in on Saturday, but he had given in to the fate sweet success had dictated. Cake always wins.
Then one of the littlest skaters came up to him and, in a hushed voice, asked him a question that drove home how much his students enjoy the hard work and were ready for another helping.
“Can we skate some more?”