The Niagara-on-the-Lake Skating Club opened this season with a focus on safety, for skaters, coaches and young program assistants.
And for those who missed the first session, registration will open Nov. 13 for winter programs.
Club president Yvonne Haines says there are about 250 skaters enjoying being back on the ice, after an early end to last season, when the skating club and minor hockey association learned the ice would be removed early, due to COVID.
There have been some limits to the number of kids on the ice this past session to ensure everyone can be kept safe, especially for the youngest group of skaters who require hands-on assistance as they learn to stand on their own, says Haines. “We are doing everything we can to minimize risks for everyone.”
It is also important to keep the young program assistants safe, some of whom are too young to be vaccinated. For that reason, the younger children have also been wearing masks on the ice.
If COVID numbers are low, and everyone, from young staters to coaches, stays safe, the club will consider increasing the number of children allowed on the ice in the winter sessions, she adds.
Parents of the youngest groups have to be in the building when their youngsters are on the ice, and have to be vaccinated.
“We can’t be responsible for kids on the ice, some of them as young as three,” says Haines.
Parents who are not vaccinated can’t register their youngsters, and that lost them a few registrations, but not many, she added.
At the door, as parents arrive with their skaters, an arena staff member greets them, asking for vaccination proof, and then Haines has them sign in. “I’m taking attendance, to make sure I know who is with which child, for contact tracing.”
Haines, who has been a volunteer with the club since her daughter Emma was a young skater, is also retired from Niagara Health, after 47 years as a registered nurse. She retired in May 2020, and when there was a call for nurses to administer vaccinations, she stepped up.
She knows the protocols “in and out,” she says, and is adamant about enforcing restrictions, from the province, the town and Public Health, as well as policies set by the skating club and Skating Ontario.
Founded in 1967, the NOTL Skating Club has a long history of delivering the highest quality programs for skaters of all ages and abilities, from the youngest who are just stepping on the ice for the first time, to those who want to compete, says Haines.
That is reflected in the number of parents who come from other municipalities for their children to join the club. “They like our programs, and we have a good reputation.”
Yvonne’s daughter Emma joined the club when she was six — old compared to the many kids who learn to skate when they’re three or four — and she loved it from the beginning, becoming a very talented competitive skater.
“I loved going fast, trying new things, and jumping, when I got older. And I loved the competitions.”
She also helped out as a program assistant for several years, putting in many volunteer hours with the younger kids — being on the ice was a huge part of her life, and until recently, she would lace
up her skates and have some fun with friends from her skating days.
She’s now Emma Thwaites, 35 and the mother of three children. She can be found at least twice a week in the stands at the Centennial Arena watching her two daughters learn to skate. Kayla is seven, and Brooklyn is four, both enjoying their lessons.
Her son Luke is just a year old, and her husband Graham will likely sign him up with minor hockey as soon as he’s old enough, but she would like to see him join the pre-CanSkate group for three-to-five-year-olds, to learn all the basics that will serve him well in hockey. Many young boys take their first steps on the ice with the skating club, before beginning their minor hockey career, she says.
“It gives kids the basic skills, like balance, speed control, skating backwards and forwards, everything that’s needed for those foundational skills that are necessary for any sport on the ice it leads to. Skating is skating, and the skills will always be there, whatever sport you choose.”
She has high praise for the local club, “an established program with a great reputation in the region. And kids have a ton of fun, that’s the main thing.”
As far as feeling comfortable having her kids in activities during a pandemic, she says, “I have no issues at all. They are doing everything they can to keep us all safe, and I have never once doubted the safety of my family. We feel very confident, and getting back to doing this with our kids, it’s so nice just to feel some normalcy. The kids are seeing each other again, and it’s important for them to also have that feeling of returning to normal. They’re happy, and I’m happy to be out and seeing people again after a long 18 months.”
For those interested in registering their children for winter sessions, the club offers pre-CanSkate and CanSkate for beginner level skaters of all ages, three levels of StarSkate, and competitive skating lessons.
For more information visit https://www.notlskatingclub.com.