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Synchronized skating tournament  results good for local teams, economy

The Crystallettes from Dearborn Michiagn compete  2014 Midwestern Pacific Synchronized Skating Competition. The Crystallettes took 2nd intermediate competition. |

The Crystallettes from Dearborn, Michiagn, compete in the 2014 Midwestern and Pacific Synchronized Skating Competition. The Crystallettes took 2nd in the intermediate competition. | Jessica Koscielniak/Sun-Times

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Updated: January 28, 2014 12:39PM

HOFFMAN ESTATES — Two of the host Starlights Synchronized Skating Teams won their respective divisions at last week’s 2014 Midwestern & Pacific Coast sectionals and will be heading the pack of Chicago area teams that will be competing at the national championships in Colorado Springs in late February.

The tournament ran Thursday through Saturday at the Sears Center and the ice rink in the Triphahn Center.

Patty Donato said that the Starlights adult and senior teams finished first, as did the Jazz juveniles. Also qualifying for the big tournament were the Starlights novice, junior, and juvenile teams. Other locals moving on from the tournament are the Dazzlers intermediates, the Radiance juveniles, and the Jazz novices.

The Starlights call Buffalo Grove home, while the Jazz hail from Rolling Meadows, the Dazzlers from Downers Grove, and the Radiance from Glenwood.

Donato said the Jazz juniors did not compete in Hoffman Estate but have a bye to the nationals. That squad will be competing and representing the United States at the Junior World Challenge Cup in early March in Switzerland.

The Starlights seniors also are heading to Europe and will compete in the Spring Cup in Italy, Feb. 14-16.

Synchronized skating got its start in the 1950s as entertainment during intermissions at University of Michigan hockey games and is one of the fastest-growing disciplines in figure skating. Teams of 12 to 20 athletes perform intricate routines in unison on the ice to music with those routines having themes to hold them together. At higher levels of competition, there is a long program and a short program.

About 99 percent of the competitors are women, and the men who do compete do so on coed teams. There are levels of competition for those from the ages of 6 and above, with the oldest skater this past weekend 72 years old.

Two tourneys

Donato explained that the event in Hoffman Estates actually was two tournaments — one for Midwestern teams, the other for West Coast ones. In each, there were five divisions in which teams could qualify for nationals, and eight for developmental level skating squads. Four to six teams in each of the upper divisions moved on to the nationals,

“The Starlights have nine levels of teams,” Donato said. “We’ve been lucky enough to have done extremely well in moving teams on to the nationals, where our novices and intermediates won titles several years ago.”

The U.S. Figure Skating qualifying event in Hoffman Estates featured about 2,700 skaters representing 171 synchronized skating teams from the Midwest and West Coast, with about 800 of the competitors from Chicago area teams. Donato said attendance was 3,000 to 3,500 each day.

The event rotates between venues, and this was the first time 15-year-old Starlights organization put a bid into the governing body, U.S. Figure Skating. The group co-hosted the event with the Skokie Valley Skating Club.

The sectionals tournament was last in the Chicago area about 14 years ago, and nationals have never been here. Donato said she, Jane Fiore, and Kristin Adamczyk headed up the local organizing committee for the event.

“Things went relatively smoothly, thanks in large part to a tremendous amount of volunteers from both within and out of our organization,” Donato said.

Donato said at least 200 people lent helping hands, with a core group of 25 putting in 16-hour days from last Monday through Saturday.

“This also was our largest fund raiser, with the money going back into the organization to help reduce the fees for families involved and to grow the sport,” Donato said. “Competitive skating is expensive, and the money we raised should help us bring in other skaters.”

The event also provided a boost to the local economy.

“We saw large teams of young athletes heading into our restaurants and shops as a result of this event,” Hoffman Estates Director of Tourism Linda Scheck said. “At one point I walked into the Target (along Route 59) and saw over 100 skaters dressed in their colorful warm-ups happily browsing and shopping those aisles. Imagine 50 skaters walking into the Claim Jumpers or Stone Eagle (in the same mall). And I believe a couple of hundred attended a show at Medieval Times.”

Scheck said having the skaters in the area meant good business over the weekend at the Bennigan’s in the Elgin Holiday Inn, too.

“We’re still getting actualized room counts back from properties, but in broad strokes, there were about 5,000 room nights spread from Elk Grove Village to Elgin. So we know an entire region benefitted from this event,” Scheck said.

Event organizer Matt Kaplan, who heads the hospitality firm IBHC which booked hotels for the tournament, estimated guests spent about $500,000 on rooms and another $500,000 was spent locally on meals, shopping and to rent the two facilities.

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