Rode

Red Deer Central Lions looking to return to the ice shortly

Under normal circumstances the Red Deer Central Lions Speed Skating Club would be about ready to begin the outdoor portion of their season.

Their indoor season begins in early October and runs until the middle of December when the outdoor ice at Setters Place is ready.

However, this season is anything but normal.

The club did get underway in October, before the pandemic forced things to shut down in mid November.

But with the oval almost ready for use at the Bower Ponds facility club president Andy Jenkins is hoping they can return to the ice.

“From what I understand we have clearance from Alberta Health,” said Jenkins. “We haven’t heard what the city situation is when it comes to training outdoors plus we have to see what the Alberta Association says, but we’re hoping we can begin shortly.”

If they can return, they hope to run through February before finishing the season indoors at the Kinex.

The club had hoped to train at the Gary W Harris Centre at RDC this season.

“We talked with them but they just didn’t have the prime time slots we needed,” he said.

“I know the Canadian Indoor National team wanted to hold a camp there, but they didn’t have the mats needed. We said we’d bring our mats if we could negotiate practice times as well, but it just didn’t work out.”

The Red Deer Club has been one of the best amateur clubs in the province for years with a number of athletes advancing to the national program. The latest, and still member of the Canadian team, is Maddison Pearman of Ponoka.

Shawna Pearman was a long-time coach with the Lions and is still in the executive.

But of late the club has saw their numbers dip to 30 competitive skaters — all younger athletes — with none at the national level — yet. Close to 20 are boys.

“Our participation has slipped slightly over the last few years and I believe a lot has to do with visibility,” said Jenkins, who has been president for the past four years.

“We expected by moving to Setters Place it would increase a bit as it’s beautiful outdoor location, as good as any in the province and up with most in the country.

“We also expected a bit of growth after the exposure of the Canada Winter Games. A lot of us were involved in both the indoor and outdoor speed skating. As well we hosted the Canadian Youth Long Track championships.”

But Jenkins admits kids have a lot more things on the go over the last few years.

“When I was a kid there wasn’t as much,” he said “But there’s a vast selection of things for kids to do … there’re busy with school projects and extracurricular activities.

“Plus there’s always a few that age out, but I don’t believe we lose more than normal that way. I know there’s still a lot of enthusiasm in our group.”

Jenkins believes there’s still those interested in the sport and is always looking to get in the school news letters.

“If anyone is interested we welcome them to come down and try it any time they want.”

This season has been tough on the athletes because competitions have been cancelled or postponed.

“It’s hard to just train with no one to compete against,” he said. “We were planning a mini club competition, but that was tossed out when we had to shut down. We’re hoping once we can train outdoors we can set up something, even if it’s just racing within the club.”

Club members race in both indoor and outdoor competitions when they do get to compete.

“We don’t specialize in any one, I believe they enjoy both.”

Unlike several other sports there hasn’t been any virtual training sessions set up, since the summer.

“The provincial association had some virtual training and dryland training during the summer,” added Jenkins. “We’re only been off now a couple of weeks so nothing new has been set up.”

Nick Schultz is in his second year as head coach, taking over from Shawna Pearman.

“Shawna was instrumental in a lot of the growth of the club, having coached for about 20 years and is still involved,” he said.

When things get back to normal Pearman will continue to organize competitions, including the always popular Red Deer Club meet.

“We’ll still run that for sure, as it’s still a great meet,” said Jenkins, who hopes some of the younger skaters develop into provincial and national level athletes.

“We strive to be as competitive as possible,” he said. “And of course there’s the social aspect of the club, which is equally as important.”

Schultz has two assistant coaches as well, making the club as strong in that aspect as any in the province,

“We’re lucky that way … a lot of clubs unfortunately don’t have the coaching staff we do.”

Now Jenkins hopes the staff is back working shortly.

Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and can be contacted at danrode@shaw.ca