By GLENN HIBDON
GTR Sports Writer
It was Black Friday and dozens of enthusiasts were enjoying a public session at the Oilers Ice Center, skating in circles, doing spins and racing from one end of the rink to the other. Along came a little girl wearing a smile and a shirt bearing the inscription “Icing Isn’t Just for Cupcakes.’’
In their own way, the skaters were loud and proud, many of them members of the Tulsa Figure Skating Club. The organization, the fourth oldest such group in the United States, celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2018, almost in anonymity.
It can’t match football or baseball or even hockey in popularity, enjoying a cult like status in Oklahoma, but Tulsa’s club has a rich history that features Olympic champions and provides fun and recreation for those age five to 60. With more than 100 members, club Vice President Robert Baker wants to spread the figure skating gospel while planning for a rise in figures on the ice.
“The first thing you need is a love and passion for skating. After that it takes a lot of determination and hard work,’’ said Baker, who’s in the oil and gas distribution business during his free time. “You need to be willing to get out on the ice two or three hours a day. It’s a challenging sport.’’
Baker, a coach and mentor, has discovered skating and club membership can be for anyone who has the desire to put on a pair of blades. Sometimes all it takes is courage.
“I have a student who is severely autistic. He’s 15 and very smart,’’ Baker said. “He saw skating on TV and decided he wanted to give it a shot. I skate around with him for 30 minute lessons and he enjoys it. It helps in his balance, muscle development and coordination. I enjoy my time with him.’’
Some young skaters have a competitive fire burning inside them. Mollie Ekaitis, a 10-year-old fourth grader at Jenks Southeast Elementary, has only been skating for two years, but was encouraged to try after seeing the Olympic Games on television.
McKayla Brooks, 13, came to the ice naturally. Her father is a hockey referee who took her to a public skating session.
“I started when I was nine and now it takes all the stress away from my schoolwork,’’ she said. “My goal is to make the nationals and pass my field moves by the time I’m 15. After nationals I want to be a coach and help younger kids.’’
To help his daughter achieve those dreams, Daniel and Marissa Brooks, McKayla’s parents, have dedicated themselves to her success. They spend up to $1,500 a month taking her to practice, private tutoring, buying equipment and paying ice rental and travel expenses.
“I’m proud of her,’’ said Daniel Brook. “What I like most about the sport is it’s something we can do together. You have to be serious about it because you can shell out a lot of money and she wakes me up every morning at 5:45 (to take her to practice). She spends two hours before school and two hours after school.’’
Baker said for those who are not as serious as McKayla, club participation can start from $100 to $135 a year for kids and their parents. Different packages are available for collegians and others. Information can be obtained at tulsafsc.com.
The club travels to competitions in Oklahoma City, St. Joseph, Mo., Wichita, Dallas and Arkansas. The team’s five-state region includes, Texas, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas along with Oklahoma. Tulsa features the Ink Rink Learn to Skate event and then Skate Tulsa on Feb. 29, 2020. The aim ultimately is to qualify for events like the regionals and then up to the nationals, worlds and Olympics.
Newcomers will start at the Learn to Skate level and can progress through the Senior Level. Experience and talent, not age, determines which skaters are in which level. The Tulsa Figure Skating Club has been turning out champions since 1938. Publicizing itself though social media and the Learn to Skate program.
Olympic years usually see an increase in those wanting to compete. Baker said with the nationals and world championships coming up, there should be an increase in interest next year. The TFSC was world famous in years gone by. David Wilkinson Jenkins won the Olympic men’s freestyle gold medal in 1960, three world and four U.S. titles and became the first man to land a triple axel in a 1957 exhibition.
Will Smith, a current judge, captured first at the national championships novice men’s freestyle in 1969 and placed third in junior men when Tulsa played host to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 1970. The TFSC has sent three women to the nationals, including current performer Jin Wilson (three times), Kathy Gibson and Angie Simants.
While male members of the club have achieved glory in the past, the current crop of men are few and far between. One aspiring young man is 14-year-old Cole Makin, home schooled through the Epic Charter program.
“We had a youth church group that skated one night and he came and skated,’’ said David Makin, Cole’s father. “For three weeks he asked me if he could come back and I took him one more time. He seems to be a natural. He tried soccer and basketball, but he wanted to learn to skate.
“He loves the challenge and enjoys doing something he can do and excels at. Few boys do it so he’s in high demand. He’s been to several competitions and hasn’t lost yet. I don’t know why more boys aren’t involved. You get to hang out with all the young ladies and you can earn a college scholarship.’’
The elder Makin said his son is looking at Case University in Ohio for its dental school and skating program. If Cole does land a ride, it would be another feather in the cap of the TFSC.
“It is a predominantly female sport, but it’s not meant that way.’’ said Baker, who was an alternate twice to the nationals and won sectionals in novice dance pairs. “We would love to have more men and boys. It’s a physically demanding sport because you do rotating jumps and it’s as challenging as skating with a hockey puck or stick. Not a challenging sport? Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it’’
While figure skaters may not suffer the missing teeth and broken bones of some hockey players, can Connor McDavid or Sydney Crosby turn and a triple axel? Not likely.
By GLENN HIBDON