Getting In-Line: Local Speed Skaters Race to Nationals

by Nathan Oravec

To the outsider, at first glance, it looks basic. Basic, but fast - as, with a blur of blue lycra, they launch into a graceful ballet of motion and speed, propelled, first, by the custom-fitted set of in-line wheels guiding their every turn, and, second, by sheer determination and will. Around the rink they race - a halo of silent precision and deft maneuverability. And after watching for a moment, it is plain to see, not only is this sport not basic - years and technology beyond its origins with four wheels and wooden floors - but it is also even faster than first anticipated.

“It’s a hard sport to follow,” says Annett College of Greencastle, speed-skating mom. “It took me three years to learn it all.” College’s son, Zachary, 12, has been involved in the sport since the summer of 1999. Her daughter, Amber, 5, took up the sport shortly after, when she was a little over two years old. Today, both skate and compete as part of local speed-skating groups, affiliates of home teams S.O.S. (Speed on Skates), based out of Reading, PA, and LCS (Liberty Calin Speed), of Cornwell Heights, NJ, respectively.

Having recently competed and placed in Regional competition, Zachary will join fellow teammates Wynter Barresi, Brittany Shatzer and Brett Donaldson in the Nationals, held in Nebraska, this July.

Joined together for the greater good, in respects to regional competition, both the S.O.S. and LCS groups are part of the in-line skating organization USARS (USA Roller Sports). Comprised of nine regions nationwide and approximately 40 amateur roller skating clubs, USARS dates back to 1932 when it began holding amateur competitions, and today boasts a roster of nearly 23,000 skaters, coaches, and officials.

While both local groups attend frequent home meets to their Pennsylvania and Jersey headquarters (at least 1-2 times a month), regularly scheduled practices - three to five times per week - are held at local roller-rinks throughout the area for purposes of indoor training, and, often, for outdoor, in housing developments.

“Wherever we can find smooth asphalt,” says College. “We usually practice [outdoors] at schools or in housing developments. When we practice in neighborhoods, people come out onto their front porches to watch. It’s great.”

According to College, kids hailing from throughout the Tri-State - Greencastle, Waynesboro, Blue Ridge Summit, Hagerstown and Frederick - take part in both the S.O.S. and LCS groups, with members ranging in age from 2 to 44.

Two programs comprise the sport of speed skating; a three-year (maximum) beginner’s program, known as JO (Junior Olympic) and a Standard program, which includes those who have completed their initial three years of JO, or have placed at Nationals since starting the sport. Competition is based on division - arranged by age and gender - the only time both boys and girls compete together being in mixed-relays.

Competition itself is divided into two factions. The first, a metered event for both JO and Standard programs, runs anywhere from 100 to 3000 meter races, and placement surrounds the first skater to make it across the finish line, etc. The second, relays, run from 1200 to 4000 meters and include two-person and four-person categories, 15 age divisions for the former, seven for the latter.

Confused yet?

Dismissing this sport as merely roller-skating is, indeed, a mistake. As with any organized sport, speed-skating is heaped in its own strict rules, regulations and protocol, and as with any sport - for any athlete - involves and requires respect, focus, resolve, and practice - to make, as they say - perfect. “It takes a lot of determination to do this,” says College.

Skating-season runs from the first of September to the end of August each year, during which time teams take part in a number of activities from league and outside meets, invitationals, and skating clinics.

Both groups recently participated in the Regionals held on Saturday and Sunday, June 15-16 in Wardon, New Jersey. Several team-members will be heading to the Nationals held in Nebraska, July 21-27, a monumental achievement, albeit an expensive one.

“Competition in the Nationals can run anywhere from $500 to $1500,” notes College, dependent, she says, upon means of transportation, hotel stays, etc. Because of the steep fees, fundraisers are held year-round by the two groups - everything from candles, raffles, and food - to benefit the skaters, and all funds, she stresses, go toward the sport.

Brittany Shatzer, fellow teammate and Zachary’s cousin - who was the catalyst for his involvement in the sport, College explains, was last year’s overall National champ in her division, and will accompany fellow S.O.S. and LCS skaters again this year, each doing their best as they speed toward the finish line.

“It means something to go do this.”

Of the S.O.S. and LCS groups, the following skaters placed at this year’s Regionals:

• Zachary College - 2nd Overall Division; 2nd in a 2-Boy Relay
• Wynter Barresi - 1st Overall Division; 1st 4-Mix Freshmen; 2nd 2-PR Elementary Lady; 1st 2-Mix
• Brittany Shatzer - 2nd Overall Division; 1st 4-Girl Relay; 2nd - 4 Mix Freshmen
• Amber College - 4th Overall Division
• John Scott - 3rd Overall Division
• Brett Donaldson - 1st Overall Division
• Sabrina Zeger - 5th Overall Division