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Highland Park wild for hometown Olympian

Centennial Ice Rink HighlPark will sohave sign threads 'Home JasBrown' celebrate Olympian. | Steven Senne/AP

Centennial Ice Rink in Highland Park will soon have a sign that reads "Home of Jason Brown" to celebrate the Olympian. | Steven Senne/AP

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Updated: March 31, 2014 4:26AM

Olympic figure skater Jason Brown clasped his head in disbelief Monday as his hometown mayor announced the ways her city would be showing its pride and support as he heads to Sochi, Russia.

For starters, the city of Highland Park will be declaring Friday, Feb. 7 as “Jason Brown Day” and will be sporting Jason Brown ribbons on lapels, trees and door knobs. The mayor also held up a “Home of Jason Brown” sign to be posted near the entrance to the park district’s Centennial Ice Rink.

“Thank you so much guys,” said Brown, 19, appearing by Skype from Colorado, where he now trains with coach Kori Ade.

In mid January, the 2013 graduate of Highland Park High School captured one of two spots on the U.S. Men’s Figure Skating Olympic team with a silver-medal finish at the U.S. Men’s Figure Skating Championships in Boston.

“I miss home so much,” Brown said. “I am so proud to be from Highland Park. I am so lucky to have grown up in such a warm and inclusive … community.”

Brown’s brother Dylan, 15, father Steve and grandparents Bill and Norma Brown and Hope Bernstein were on hand for the celebration, as were several aunts and uncles. A strong contingent of family members will be traveling to the Olympic games in Sochi.

Addressing Brown by Skype, Highland Park High School Principal Brad Swanson said, “I think this is a once-in-a-thousand lifetimes experience for us to have a hometown Olympian. Everybody I have talked to the past few days has had their own personal story about you.”

As Brown was rising in the world of competitive men’s figure skating, he never lost touch with the park district’s Centennial Ice Rink where he got his start in Learn-to-Skate classes. Last May, Brown — already a 2013 silver medalist in the World Junior Championships — performed in his 13th Centennial Ice Show, his last before graduating from high school.

“Year after year, I’ve watched the graduating seniors that I looked up to perform their final Highland Park Ice Show and move on to college,” Brown said at the time. “It’s crazy for me to think that I am one of those seniors now. I have no clue where the time went, but the memories and friendships that I’ve made there the past 13 years will stay with me.”

Park District Director Liza McElroy said Brown’s appearances have been thrilling for young skaters and now they’ll be able to say they’ve skated with an Olympian.

“He is a joy to work with and he is capable of anything,” said Rob Peal, who has coached Brown since 2000. “There is nothing choreographically that I have given him that he couldn’t do. He is very humble, sweet and down-to-earth.

“Figure skating is not a team sport and it is very easy to get caught up in the intensity,” he added. “From the day I met him, Jason has remained a very open, sweet and genuine person. He is super humble to the point that I don’t even know if he knows how good he is. There is not a bragging bone in his body.”

Peal said the 2014 Olympics appeared a long shot, particularly since Brown only recently added a triple axle jump to his program and has not incorporated a quadruple axle, as have some of his competitors. “But his skating skills, his musicality and techniques are at so much higher a standard that even without the quadruple jump, he is well above his competitors,” Peal said.

In Boston, Brown won his silver medal by finishing first in free skate with a rousing routine, set to Irish music. that sparked a spontaneous, standing ovation.

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