It’s just about noon on hot summer day in July when 13-year-old Alina Raines of Clay County nails her first spin on one foot on ice skates — a fairly lofty accomplishment for someone who has been skating only a little more than a year.
She looks around the Line Creek Ice Rink to see who may have witnessed her accomplishment. Her mother sits behind the glass window watching, beaming with pride. Three boys play on the opposite end of the rink, paying no attention to Alina. Otherwise, she pretty much has the place to herself this weekday.
“That’s the nice thing about being here in the summer,” Alina said. “I have plenty of room to experiment, and if I fall, no one sees me. If I do well, no one sees me either.”
During the school year, Alina spends her Saturday mornings at the open skate time at Line Creek, but competes for space on the ice with as many as 150 people. When falls happen — and they do because that’s part of learning — many see the spill.
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Monica Raines, Alina’s mother, sees the benefit of the late summer season.
“We like to come here because it’s convenient and Alina gets in good practice, but it’s also the one place you can really stay cool in the summer,” said Monica Raines.
The Kansas City area has three indoor ice rinks that are open all year, including one in Shawnee. When temperatures fall below freezing and the snow begins to fly, the parking lots, locker rooms and rinks of these facilities are packed with ice sports lovers.
But in the summer, when temperatures poke around the 100-degree mark and humidity is thick, most of the crowds descend instead on swimming pools and area lakes, all but forgetting the refreshing coolness of an ice rink.
The indoor temperatures range from 45 degrees at the Kansas City Ice Center in Shawnee to about 55 degrees at the Line Creek Community Center ice rink. The actual ice temperatures are kept at about 14 degrees and 19 degrees respectively.
At Kansas City Ice Center in Shawnee, manager Kay Gentges reports that it’s not uncommon to have 300 people at a public skate period on a weekend in January. The center often runs out of adult-size skates on winter weekends and turns people away from both the indoor and outdoor rink. But in July, when only the indoor ring is open, 50 people is a big crowd at a public skate time.
“A lot of people don’t think about skating until it gets cold outside and that’s a shame, because it’s good exercise all year round,” Gentges said.
The public skate periods are most noticeably different from summer to winter. Summer day camps and child-care programs fill in some of the empty time, but family vacations and long weekends at the lake take their toll by as much as 30 percent, according to Gentges. Fridays are often very empty at Kansas City Ice Center.
Jemarcus Best of Overland Park is one of those people who takes advantage of the ice all year long. The 29-year-old bartender plays a drop-in game of hockey each Friday at noon.
“Hockey players recognize how important it is to keep up on their game skills, but it’s also a great way to cool off and get some exercise in the summer,” he said.
Best and many of his fellow players arrive wearing flip flops and tank tops, but within minutes are covered in heavy padding, gloves and helmets, sweating profusely as they chase the puck around the 200- by 85-foot regulation rink. About half of the players who show up are regulars but others just drop in, which is why this time period was created.
“Drop-in is great for someone who wants to get back in the game scenario,” Best said. “You can play as much or as little as you like, and summer time is really low-key.”
Hockey leagues for children and adults are the biggest demand on ice time in Kansas City, no matter what the season, according to a number of people at various rinks. Throughout the year, even in the summer, hockey leagues fill the ice rinks from as early as 5:30 a.m. until midnight.
“We have completely maxed out the ice we have available, particularly in the winter and certainly in southern Overland Park,” Gentges said.
The heavy demand on ice space in the winter months is the primary reason the Kansas City Curling Club hosts its annual “bonspiel,” or curling tournament, in August, according to member Bill McBride of Brookside. The club rented out the Line Creek Community Center ice rink Aug. 5 to 7, hosting 32 teams from across the United States in some serious ice action. Beer and barbecue contributed to the weekend’s event, a fundraiser for the club.
“There’s no way we could afford to pay for the ice time we need for a tournament in the winter months when there is such a demand for ice,” McBride said. The Kansas City Curling Club’s goal is to eventually build a separate facility dedicated to curling.
Even with the decreased cost and demand for the ice in the summer months, the Curling Club will have only about 40 to 50 people take advantage of a 90-minute curling session in the summer. In the winter months, easily 120 to 150 people will sign up for the same 90-minute session. If it’s a year when the winter Olympics occur, that number increases dramatically.
The Line Creek Ice Rink, which is owned by the city of Kansas City, doesn’t see as significant a drop in the number of people taking advantage of its facility as does the Kansas City Ice Center. Manager Nik Bologna simply rearranges time to allow for more use by day campers and figure skaters, and for events like the Curling Club’s bonspiel.
On some of these blistering hot days, some people have learned to take advantage of the cool temperatures inside without actually getting on the ice. Bologna often sees people walking or running on the paved trail adjacent to the center, then coming in to the ice rink to sit and cool off.
“Sometimes I even find some of the staff that have been working outside hanging out in the rink, taking a break from the heat,” Bologna said.
Fortunately, exposing your body to such a harsh change in air temperature creates little risk, according to Marc D. Larsen, medicinal director of St. Luke’s Hospital Emergency Department.
“The greater danger is prolonged exposure to either extreme temperature,” Larsen said. “In this situation, the body has a hard time maintaining its baseline temperature of 98.6 degrees.”
According to Larsen, children are more susceptible to extended exposure to extreme temperatures, but a rapid change in temperature, such as entering a 45-degree room after having been outdoors in the 100-degree heat, is no real danger.
Nonetheless, it’s advisable to wear long pants, gloves and jackets or winter coats when on the ice, even if the temperature outside is 100.
Alexa and Weston Renner of Parkville participate in the day camp at Line Creek Community Center, swimming and skating at least an hour a day.
“They have skated here year-round for almost three years and are as comfortable in skates as they are in a pair of sneakers,” said their mother, Amy Renner. “I think this is something that will stay with them for a lifetime.”
Ruth Barton of Overland Park agrees with that sentiment. A native of Vancouver, Canada, where ice sports are all but a part of the country’s DNA, Barton has skated all of her life and now enjoys watching her 16-year-old daughter, Holly Arend, embrace figure skating as a year-round activity.
“She really loves the performance and show part of skating, but I love that it is teaching her patience and endurance,” Barton said.
Holly and her friend Riley Wasser, 15, have spent the summer preparing for a U.S. Figure Skating competition in Cleveland, a qualifier for the U.S. Figure Skating Championship, which will be held in Kansas City in January 2017. The January event is a qualifier for the U.S. Olympic Team.
“It’s harder to do stuff and practice your routine when there are more people on the ice,” said Holly, a student at Blue Valley West. “But when I see other people skating their routines, it motivates me to do mine.”
Holly and Riley, who attends Blue Valley Northwest, admit they are among just a handful of students at their schools who skate competitively and thus, skate year-round.
“I don’t think most people realize that ice skating is a summer time sport,” Riley said.
Area ice rinks
▪ KC Ice Center
19900 Johnson Drive, Shawnee
▪ Line Creek Community Center
5940 N.W. Waukomis Drive, Kansas City
▪ Center Point Community Ice
19100 E. Valley View Parkway