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Program teaches youth to skate

Above: Jessica Wiederhoeft, left, talks to a group of youth during Learn to Skate Wednesday evening at the Martin County Arena in Fairmont. The program, offered through Fairmont CER and the Youth Hockey Association, teaches the basics of skating.

FAIRMONT — Spending time on the ice is a favorite pastime for many in the area. Being located in Minnesota and in a city with five lakes helps. Learn to Skate aims to help the littlest skaters stay up on the ice.

Learn to Skate is a joint venture between the Fairmont Youth Hockey Association and Fairmont Community Education and Recreation. Instructor Jessica Wiederhoeft estimates it’s been going on about 15 years. It used to be put on by the hockey association before CER got involved.

Wiederhoeft explained that USA Hockey, who the association does its youth program through, had begun tacking on additional fees and extras for the program.

“If we do it through CER, we’re not required to have all of the extras and it helps keep the costs down to make it affordable,” Wiederhoeft said.

Wiederhoeft gets her lessons from USA Hockey. Members of Fairmont boys and girls hockey teams help out with learn to skate and learn to play hockey.

The programs are for youth ages 3-12. Wiederhoeft took it over in 2015, after moving back to Fairmont after college.

“Learn to Skate is the basics of getting up, figuring out your balance and learning how to move on skates,” Wiederhoeft explained.

She said Learn to play Hockey is for those who may be interested in hockey, but don’t want to commit to being on a team for a whole season. They will learn the fundamentals of the game.

“A lot of parents have their kid do it to test the waters and they can sign up for a team if they’re interested,” Wiederhoeft said.

Usually there’s about 40 youth in learn to skate. Wiederhoeft said this year there is just over 20. She’s not sure if it’s because it wasn’t advertised for as much or if Covid has played a hand.

“I’m actually thankful there’s not 40 because there’s a lot the are really young ones this time. It’s great parents want them to try it out,” she said.

Wiederhoeft said learning to skate is beneficial because it’s a lifelong skill, kind of like riding a bike.

“It’s not a program to force hockey by any means. There’s so much more that can be done on a sheet of ice,” she said.

Wiederhoeft herself learned to skate in 3rd grade because of a field trip she went on for school to the arena.

“It sparked my interest and led on from there. When I first started, it was only squirts and I was the only girl. Now there’s squirts, 10U, 12U plus the girls varsity team,” Wiederhoeft said.

The growth of the program has led the hockey association to push for more access. Two members of the hockey association are on the community center advisory board as there is an interest in including an ice rink in the proposed community center.

She said right now they’re strapped for ice time as the Martin County Arena is used for wedding receptions and other events, and of course the Martin County Fair in the summer.

She pointed out that a lot of communities, especially around the twin cities area, have ice year-round.

“We only get half of October through March. Everyone else is still playing or doing summer hockey but we’re limited,” Wiederhoeft said.

She said a lot of people in this area involved in hockey travel to Albert Lea, Mankato, New Ulm or even a league in the summer in the twin cities.

Wiederhoeft pointed out that it could open the opportunity to provide figure skating.

“That could be a whole other thing added to the community,” she said.

In addition to learn to skate and learn to play hockey, which take place Wednesday evenings, and regular practice which will be starting up soon, open skate nights and rock on ice will be happening, too.

Wiederhoeft said the schedule for rock on ice is out, with the first one taking place from 7-10:30 p.m. on Nov. 24. She said they’ll also have open skate from 5:30-7 p.m. on Sunday evenings, starting this weekend.

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