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Figure skaters say Mass. rink closures are unfair to them

Ice dancers Emma L'Esperance and Mika Amdour practiced in Winchester on Saturday evening. They had planned to be at the Skating Club of Boston but the state has closed all ice rinks through Nov. 7 because of coronavirus spread connected to indoor ice hockey.
Ice dancers Emma L'Esperance and Mika Amdour practiced in Winchester on Saturday evening. They had planned to be at the Skating Club of Boston but the state has closed all ice rinks through Nov. 7 because of coronavirus spread connected to indoor ice hockey.Erin Clark / Globe Staff

Emma L’Esperance and Mika Amdour had planned to spend Friday evening at The Skating Club of Boston, performing a free dance they will present next month at a key competition in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Instead, the teenage ice dancing partners were at Esperance’s Winchester home doing homework and watching “Dawn of the Dead.” That evening’s performance had been canceled under a state order that closed indoor ice rinks at 5 p.m. Friday until Nov. 7 because of “rising cases of COVID-19 connected to indoor ice hockey.”

“We were really taking this seriously. We knew our rink could be shut down and we didn’t want to be the reason why it was happening,” said L’Esperance, 18.

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The closures have been criticized as unfair and unnecessary by some figure skaters, who note that they share ice with hockey players, but weren’t identified as a source of the coronavirus cases that prompted the state Department of Public Health to pause operations at indoor ice rinks. The order doesn’t mention other sports that take place on ice such as figure skating or curling.

The state order prompted a local figure skating coach to launch an online petition asking Governor Charlie Baker to consider letting figure skaters back on the ice.

“Unlike what I have seen at my rink of business from hockey players and coaches, the figure skaters and their coaches have adhered to the regulations and ordinances of the Commonwealth and of each rink,” said the petition, which was organized by Chad Brennan and published on change.org. As of Saturday afternoon, more than 5,000 people had signed the petition.

“Do not punish the figure skaters due to hockey’s negligence,” the petition said.

Massachusetts Hockey leaders didn’t respond Saturday to requests for comment.

In a statement, a Department of Public Health spokeswoman said the temporary order is intended to “protect skaters, arena staff, and the surrounding communities” and aligns with actions in neighboring states. The order said there is at least one hockey-associated case of COVID-19 in 66 communities.

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The department didn’t respond to a question from the Globe about whether the state had seen coronavirus cases linked to figure skating. The state on Saturday reported 1,128 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, increasing the total to 146,023 cases. Another eight people have died, the state said, bringing the total number of fatalities to 9,616.

The ice rinks closed at critical juncture in the competition calendar for US Figure Skating, the sport’s governing body. A few days after the closures are scheduled to end, The Skating Club of Boston is scheduled to host a figure skating qualifying event for singles and pairs.

The weeklong event is expected to draw 400 athletes, about a quarter of them from Massachusetts, to the club’s new $68 million facility in Norwood, which opened last month, said Doug Zeghibe, the chief executive and executive director. One of the facility’s three rinks accommodates hockey.

Zeghibe said the club’s daily operations and competition plans have been revamped because of COVID-19. The organization hired a registered nurse as a safety officer, established a contact tracing program, and implemented mask mandates, temperature checks, social distancing measures, new cleaning protocols, and an online screening method for people accessing the facility, he said.

Competition participants must test negative for COVID-19 and spectators won’t be permitted to attend the event, which will allow no more than six skaters inside at a time, according to Zeghibe.

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The protocols so far have been working, he said. No virus transmissions have been linked to the facility, and only three people connected to the club have been infected, Zeghibe said.

Some of the country’s top skaters train in Massachusetts, and last month two leading coaches and nine athletes moved here from Texas to skate at The Skating Club of Boston, Zeghibe said. The rink closures are keeping young skaters off the ice, he said, just as they finalize preparations for the event and their out-of-state competition continues to practice.

“They will be wiped out of this competition if they can’t skate in the next two weeks,” he said.


Jodi Beggs, 41, an economist who skates at The Skating Club of Boston and Nashoba Valley Olympia in Boxborough, said the state’s decision didn’t appear to consider how the facilities run their businesses or whether exceptions could be made for figure skating, curling, or broomball.

The order allows skating facilities to remain open for off-ice activities. That means dance studios or conditioning rooms can stay open even though those spaces are usually much smaller than the skating rink, Beggs said.

“If you are not being thoughtful about one closing, why would I think that you are going to be thoughtful about any other closing,” she said.

L’Esperance and Amdour, 17, rehearsed Saturday at L’Esperance’s home. They both said the experience falls short of being on the ice.

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“We can do run-throughs of the programs off the ice, but we can’t really simulate exactly what’s going to happen,” Amdour said.


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.