After holding the Midwest and Pacific sectionals in Michigan last year, Kalamazoo has been chosen as the host city for the U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships in 2016, courtesy of the Greater Kalamazoo Skating Association. Synchronized skating is basically what it sounds like—figure skating with a lot more people.
Western Michigan University’s skating team is hoping to bring home 1st place, just like it did in 2004. The same year the team lost its varsity status due to budget cuts.
Even though it’s a club sport, without varsity level funding, the WMU team is still able to compete with top skaters around the country under U.S. Figure Skating regulations. Both Western’s senior and collegiate divisions are going to this year’s championships in Rhode Island. The senior team competes at slightly higher skill level than collegiate.
Alyssa Sutter is Western’s coach. She says the reigning national champs at Miami University of Ohio are probably the collegiate team’s biggest competitors.
“The last time they’ve been beaten at a national level was by Western Michigan back in 2004. So I think for us that’s always been a big goal for us to have in mind long term. But you know every college team that we compete against for the collegiate level is very competitive and it’s really a growing division. For our senior team I think our biggest competition is ourselves. And just to see our own senior program growing I think is a big goal for us.”
Sutter says synchronized skating is becoming almost as popular as its cousins—figure skating and ice dancing.
“You see a lot of clubs where they start at the basic skating level and they introduce those young skaters to synchronized skating right off the get-go as well as individual skating," says Sutter. "You hear a lot more talk about synchronized skating going to the Olympic level and I think that’s raised a lot of interest for individual skaters to go the synchronized skating route.”
Sutter says U.S. Figure Skating has also loosened the rules to allow the coaches more creativity in their routines. She says just this year U.S.F.S. allowed Olympic skaters to perform to music with lyrics—breaking an almost 90-year rule.
WMU skater Amelia Cegielski says Western is one of many teams pushing the boundaries of what synchronized skating can be. Last year’s routines were a good example.
“I was a cross skater, which means I skated both on the senior and collegiate teams. And we skated to an African tribe theme for collegiate, “The Hunger Games: for senior and “It’s a Man’s World” for senior as well. And I would say that all of those programs were my favorite," she says. "They were just so fun to compete and we were able to grow technically as well as artistically.”
Cegielski says she’s is graduating this year, but there’s still a chance she could take part in the 2016 championships.
“You are required to be a full time student, but in our senior division you can continue to compete even after college,” says Cegielski.
Like Cegielski, more than half of Western’s skaters are from out of state. But Sutter says the synchronized skating team would bring in more outside talent if they had varsity status.
“Two clubs that we definitely lose skaters to are the ones that are, you know, within five hours. We have Miami of Ohio which is a varsity program home to three teams and we also have Adrian College which is basically next door," says Sutter.
"And, you know, those are both programs I think that are good examples to see what a varsity status can do and how many skaters it can really pull in. So I think definitely Western would benefit to have the varsity status again and you would really see the numbers increase.”
The U.S. Synchronized Skating National Championships are coming to Kalamazoo’s Wings Stadium in 2016. Western Michigan University’s skate team will start its season after Labor Day. The team will be going to this year’s national championships in February in Rhode Island.