It’s a sport that has rarely ever been seen in Arizona, and one that has never had a team representing the Grand Canyon State.
That is, until now.
The Ice Denettes, a synchronized skating team made up of both boys and girls ranging from ages 5 to 18, has been practicing out of the Chandler and Scottsdale Ice Den locations for the past three years at the recreational level. They are the first team of this kind in Arizona.
“There’s a need for this,” said Danette Trett, one of the founders of the Ice Denettes. “There’s a lot of kids that are loving skating but want to participate in a team sport. It’s very popular in the east coast but not so popular in the west.
“California has a few teams, so it is starting to move this way. It’s kind of cool.”
Named after the venue in which they practice, the Ice Denettes were established three years ago by Trett and Jaime Kalnicki, who both have extensive backgrounds in synchronized ice skating.
Trett competed in show skating events dating back to when she was a kid. At the time, the sport was called precision skating. Kalnicki also competed.
The two senior coaches recently enlisted the help of Felicity Lothrop and Jacqueline Benson. Lothrop, who moved the Valley last November, competed in synchronized skating in her home state of New York. She also competed on the national team.
Benson, meanwhile, is currently a student at Arizona State University, dedicating her time to help kids learn and compete in the sport she also competes in and loves.
All of the coaches together have created a family environment for the skaters, which is an aspect they realized quickly kids need and want to help lead them toward success.
“Ice skating isn’t like this traditionally, it’s very individual and you usually don’t have a community,” Kalnicki said. “We’ve all figured out recently that kids want and need that. We’ve started creating that atmosphere through parties and other activities.
“We are doing things to build the team which these kids don’t have.”
The entire coaching staff has seen exponential growth in the program since last year. The Ice Denettes previously had just two teams, made up of skaters from Ahwatukee, Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler, Scottsdale and elsewhere in the Valley.
Now, however, there are four different teams that compete. With the influx of skaters brought along the opportunity to make the jump to a competitive skating league. It also meant the coaches had to hold auditions for specific teams in order to enter them in as a group into a category that matched their skill level.
Team Rising Stars was created for the intermediate skill level, where some of the youngest skaters participate. The Ice Denettes also have Team Unity, which is the next level up from the Rising Stars, Team Harmony and Team Synergy, which competes in the Open Juvenile Division, the most competitive of the four.
On Saturday, Nov. 9, the Ice Denettes took part in the Synchronized Fall Classic in Irvine, Calif. It was their first-ever competition at the competitive level. But that didn’t stop them from impressing on a national stage.
Team Synergy place fourth out of 13 teams, while Team Harmony and Unity both placed second. Team Rising Stars, the youngest group, placed first overall.
“This is a project we put together for four different teams, which we were told we probably wouldn’t be able to do, but we did it,” Kalnicki said. “Nobody does this is Arizona, so there really isn’t someone we can model after. We are the first and the only team.
“We are kind of figuring things out as we go.”
The Ice Denettes plan to compete in another competition in San Diego, Calif. in March. Before then, however, the coaching staff is planning to put together an exhibition here in the Valley in the next couple of months.
Their main goal is to continue to grow the team to add groups for competition. Auditions will be held in March, so they go into the summer months with the different groups already established for competitions in the fall.
“We want to set up the program when the summer hits so when we go into the competitive season, we are ready instead of still trying to choreograph and find music,” Trett said.
The Ice Denettes welcome all skaters to join the team, however some skating experience is required. Each skater is responsible for paying for their own equipment, but the coaches set up fundraisers and do what they can to keep the cost down.
The team generally practices once a week for 45 minutes. Before competitions, they may add another practice or two, but the goal is to allow the skaters to compete in other club or school sports as well.
“We are working diligently to keep the cost down and not have it be so demanding,” Trett said. “So, the kids that are in the elite schools and other activities can still participate in this particular sport.”
The coaches tend to put in several hours of work outside the 45 minutes per week at practice, but it’s something they do out of pure joy and love for the sport. From finding costumes to music and creating the choreography, it’s a job that is necessary to help the team succeed in national competitions.
They believe the work they put in behind the scenes has been a part of the reason for the growth and overall improvement of the team since its first year.
“We pushed it,” Lothrop said. “The choreography isn’t always easy, but I think it has drawn a lot of interest because it is something new, something different.”