Here skates a boy no older than 7, Capitals hockey jersey, pads and helmet, gliding in a pair of Bauers. A family snaps a woman’s photo near the blue line; she is as unsure of her footing as the boy is confident, but smiling nonetheless. The stereo plays classics of the ice rink: AC/DC, Queen, Cyndi Lauper, Prince. A young woman in a blue sweater practices carving perfect circles backwards on one blade, her other leg and back horizontal, arms outstretched, an airplane in reverse. Parents straddle 2-year-olds, gripped at the armpits, whose skates barely touch the ice.
But this is the county’s new $42 million Kettler Capitals Iceplex atop the parking garage at the Ballston Common Mall, so there’s a second rink away from the public skating:
We sit in the bleachers to watch the figure skaters practice. One small girl wears long strings connecting her skates to her wrists; she keeps the strings taut which trains her where her hands should be then tightens her body into a cylinder and spins. A boy’s coach shadows his charge holding a long boom attached to the harness on the boy’s chest. As the boy flies then falls, the coach lifts, and the boy hits the ice a little more softly. A young woman in a black leotard with neon-green stripes nails jumps the others practice. These kids are good enough to make us wonder if we’ll see them on TV someday.
For a county in the south, Arlington does skating good.
I’m from northern New York, where I played youth hockey and was none too good at it, thank you. That hasn’t kept me from a snobby attitude that says if you can’t grow ice naturally on a local pond, you shouldn’t have any at all. Also, the ice must be close enough for a child to walk there unaccompanied.
Until these rinks were built, Arlington failed me in both, especially since I can’t walk to the nice rink at Pentagon Row.
But the day after Thanksgiving, the family and I bundled up for time on the ice, then stepped into 60 degree weather to walk a mile to the new iceplex.
It is not exactly the frozen pond of my youth, so it was a surprise to bump into a hometown friend, Tom Stratford. Tom said he has already played a number of pick-up games of hockey at the rink. He skated on Friday with his young family and said he loved the new center.
That was echoed by Sean and Elaine Perkins who bring their two preschoolers for lessons and for free skate time. Sean is originally from Albany, N.Y., so the place felt more like the north country every minute.
The only complaints I heard were the lack of double-bladed skates for the tikes, and maybe buckets or frames for learning kids to push along the ice.
I happened to catch Judy Malin photographing her 85-year-old father and her husband as they sat on the bench just off the ice.
Ms. Malin, from Connecticut, is the sister of Barbara Donnellan, Arlington County’s director of the department of management and finance. Their family had four generations of skaters and spectators the day after Thanksgiving.
Four years in the making and it was finally here, Ms. Donnellan said. We talked about how many people were skating and wondered where they came from. She said a colleague guessed they had skated elsewhere, but she noticed a lot of beginners who might have been trying for the first time.
"I’m happy," Ms. Donnellan said. "I’m happy to be here."
Steve Thurston writes About Arlington for The Connection every other week and posts to his blog, http://buckinghamheraldtrib.blogspot.com, on Wednesdays and Sundays.