Unified Hockettes Creates Connections for Adaptive Skaters

Learn to Skate USA Blog
Nov 18 · 3 min read

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 edition of Learn to Skate USA The Magazine.

By Taylor Dean

At the Ann Arbor Figure Skating Club, every skater and program intertwine with each other. The Learn to Skate USA program plays a major role at the rink and within the club. The Special Olympics competitors have joint send-off parties with the Hockettes, the club’s synchronized skating program.

“They’re interacting all the time, and the kids really get to know each other,” said Erin Donovan, the director of Hockettes Synchronized Skating. “The adaptive skaters would always watch the Hockettes skating, and they really wanted to do synchro too, so forming the Unified team was a natural thing for us to do.”

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The Unified Hockettes are entering their third season as a team and have competed at the Porter Classic twice.

This was the idea that sparked the formation of the Unified Hockettes, a synchronized skating team composed of traditional synchronized skaters and Special Olympics athletes. The team brings adaptive skaters together with peer mentors to learn, compete and grow.

“Team sports is something therapeutic skaters don’t always get access to,” Donovan, who has been with the Hockettes organization since 2002, said. “The most important things are working together as teammates and performing. It really brings joy to the kids.

“It’s something that I want to give as many kids as possible.”

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The Unified Hockettes is composed of half traditional synchronized skaters and half Special Olympics athletes.

Each adaptive skater on the team gets a “Unified buddy” from one of the traditional synchronized skating teams, and they work together on skills and support each other as they learn. In a sport known for its surge of support at practice and competition, the environment is nothing but positive for everyone involved.

“No matter what happens outside the rink, when the kids come together, everyone is happy,” Donovan said. “The kids feel more connected to their environment and community, and the [adaptive] skaters who never did synchro before become more confident.”

The Michigan-based team formed in the spring of 2018 and completed its first full season that fall. Going into the Unified Hockettes’ third season, Donovan hopes they can continue competing and performing at shows in the United States and Canada.

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The team has performed at a variety of shows, including for the Scott Hamilton Cares Foundation.

“We also hope to have an open clinic to see if people in the surrounding area are interested,” she said. “It opens more opportunities for more skaters.”

The goal of the Unified Hockettes, Donovan said, is to bring joy the joy of team skating to more individuals, especially those who don’t typically receive the opportunity. This mission created the Hockettes organization and synchronized skating as a whole in the 1950s when Dr. Richard Porter formed the team to give women more opportunity for team sports.

“I think it’s a nice parallel with the Hockettes leading the way with this,” she said. “The goal is that we want to make this a national and worldwide program.”

Learn To Skate USA

Lessons in skating.

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