Save An Important Institution – The Sugar Land Ice and Sports Center

Remember the Back to the Future movie where the old ladies were having people sign petitions to “Save the Clock Tower?” I can hear their pleading voices in my ears right now, “Save the Clock Tower, Save the Clock Tower.” Except, in my head, I am thinking, “Save the Ice Rink, Save the Ice Rink.”

Sugar Land Ice and Sports Center, an institution that has been important to all of the Houston community, is closed indefinitely with a pending decision on whether that will be permanent.

Privately owned, the rinks need work, and the owners are considering that maybe it is time to fold.

This great rink is the skating home of a long list of figure skaters. There aren’t very many ice rinks in Houston, so to lose even one is a tough blow, and will not be easily replaced.

All kinds of budding and up and coming skaters, integral in the US Figure Skating program, have been taught here. (A former Olympic medal winner and other world class athletes got their start here or teach here.) There are approximately 700 skaters currently taking lessons, making it one of the largest programs in the country. There are also countless ice hockey leagues for youth from the very young, to high school age and up to the Old Timer’s leagues with members between 40 and their early 70s.

Tyler Myers, a first round NHL draft pick is a professional ice hockey defenseman currently playing for the Winnipeg Jets of the National Hockey League (NHL). The Sugar Land rink is a place where Tyler skated and received his hockey training through his teenage years until he moved to Canada.

It is important to my own family because my husband is a transplanted Yankee, as many are here in Houston (not to mention all the Canadians here) and hockey is their passion – it is his personal favorite sport to play. He depends on the leagues for older adults to play at a pace he feels comfortable with, to keep him heart healthy and in good shape.

Most importantly, and this is the true emphasis of this blog, is that this Sugar Land facility is a hub for disabled skaters of all kinds, with skate therapy programs including the StarSkaters Sled Hockey and Therapeutic Skating programs started by Jim O’Neill.

These two programs are manned by a large staff of volunteers. “This is a model program for US Figure Skating, developed by STARskaters in Sugar Land and we are working on rolling this out nationwide to the nearly 1,000 US Figure Skating programs,” said O’Neill.  “Very few rinks nationwide offer anything for kids with disabilities.”

You can read my story on the sled hockey program in the Houston Chronicle here, but since that time, this program has continued, expanded, and now serves both children to adults, and includes the 2015 national championship sled hockey team.

Recently, we were invited to an exhibition event for the Sled Hockey program, and I could not help but be completely uplifted by watching people with all kinds of physical disabilities, glide on the ice as light as a feather. The freedom of mobility which registered on their faces said it all to me, and I can’t even fathom where these people will go for this type of program if the rink closes.

The Skate Therapy program (just ice skating) involves over 100 people who use the facility for skate therapy that includes disabled skaters and is staffed by volunteer instructors. 

Sarah, mom of Sami, a 23 year old with autism said her son has been involved in skate therapy at the Sugar Land facility for many, many years. She feels fortunate she lives close by because most of those participating come from the far reaches of Houston because there is nothing else like it for children and adults with disabilities.

Sami spent 30 minutes on ice with volunteers twice a week to learn the basics of skating and help him overcome his physical challenges, as well as manage his behaviors and emotions, and help him overcome anxiety.

“The benefits are far reaching outside the program,” Sarah said. “There aren’t many things for these kids to do. For one thing, it is so liberating and accepts who you are.”

When the rink closed, Sami, who is mostly non-verbal, wanted to go skating and she struggled to explain what was going on so he would understand. Finally, she had to drive Sami to the rink to show him that it was all locked up – closed, so he could understand.

“It is heartbreaking for him and many others,” Sarah added.

To see just a little bit of this impact with your own eyes, watch the local news interview with Francesca, who is blind and has trouble walking, but can now skate unassisted. (Link Here)

If the owners can’t reopen, concerned citizens are hoping that the city of Sugar Land will step in and take over ownership and turn it into a public, rather than a privately owned space. A petition is circulating to see if this can happen.

To sign the petition, follow this link.

To visit their Facebook webpage, go here.

It is my hope by helping to circulate this devastating news, that we can help the rink open again. In the meantime maybe someone else will step up to the plate and relocate a skate therapy program somewhere else until the fate of the rink is decided.

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