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Figure-skating spotlight shines on Gurnee’s Southport Skating Club

Rachael Rice 12 Ingleside was part Road Gold ice-skating show Rink Side Gurnee Mills. | EDWIN DUMKE/SUN-TIMES MEDIA

Rachael Rice, 12, of Ingleside was part of the Road to Gold ice-skating show at Rink Side in Gurnee Mills. | EDWIN DUMKE/SUN-TIMES MEDIA

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Updated: March 4, 2014 6:16AM

With the Winter Olympics in Sochi less than a week away, the Gurnee-based Southport Skating Club and Rink Side Sports Ice Arena in Gurnee were priming the excitement pump by holding their own opening ceremony on Saturday.

The opening ceremonies included a procession of skaters carrying U.S. flags around the ice and the national anthem, played by the Woodland Middle School band and directed by Elise Maytusek, band director, who said she was definitely catching the Winter Olympics fever because the figure skating has always been a draw for her.

“It’s my favorite part of the Olympics, it always has been since Figure Skating 1 and 2 in my college physical- education classes,” she said.

As part of the Road to Gold, there was also a fund-raising effort to support the Olympic team’s figure skaters with raffles and a matching grant by the sports arena of $1,000 for the Destination Sochi fund.

“This event is to raise awareness for the Olympics and raise the excitement for the Olympics,” said Andrea Coffman, a club board member manning a raffle table near the rink entrance.

For club skaters, there wasn’t much need to raise the excitement level. “I am excited,” said Annie Pitts, 14, of Ingleside, who has been skating since she was 8, but she is “not quite ready” herself to be an Olympian.

But like her teammate Daniela Rubio, 17, of Lindenhurst, the dream of being an Olympian is always there. “I’d love to (make it to the Olympics), that’s been my dream since I was a little girl,” she said.

“I’m so excited (for the Games). I’ve been looking forward to this for like four years,” she said. “It’s a hard sport and it takes a lot of dedication. You just go for it. It’s a lot of fun,” she said, “If you have the dream, then you go for it,”

At one point, Rubio, Pitts, Stephanie Knoth, 16, of Lake Villa, Rachel Rice of Ingleside, and Stephanie Lecheler, 24, of Kenosha, who all did an exhibition figure skating routine, hammed it up at a fake winners podium, complete with bouquets of plastic flowers.

“It’s a great group of girls, awesome group,” said Jeane Rice, whose 12-year-old daughter was the youngest skater to be asked to perform in the exhibition. “That’s a cool accomplishment,” said her mom as she snapped pictures of the girls posing at the podium. “They did a beautiful job,” said Laura Baran, skating director.

The skating club originally skated just across the border in Wisconsin, but came to Gurnee around 10 years ago and has about 75 members, said Elaine Johnson of Grayslake, vice president of the club.

“We’ve had members who made it to national competitions and some have been skaters for Disney on Ice,” she said. They competed against teams that produced Highland Park Olympian Jason Brown, who eventually moved to Colorado with his coach to develop his skills.

And they had Gracie Gold, another Illinois Olympian who has practiced at The Glacier Ice Arena in Vernon Hills, come and visit with club members. “She also has a younger sister who competes (in the area),” said Johnson.

Club members can follow their passion right through into college, like Johnson’s daughter Skylar, 20, who skates on a synchronization team at the University of Illinois. Another club member made the team at the University of Wisconsin.

Three former club members will be skating at the end of this month in the nationals for synchronized skating in Colorado Springs.

“We’re the gateway to greatness, for girls and boys, but obviously we have more girls,” she said.

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