The winter games­ —­ Kent style

Darren D’Altorio

It’s not hard to

find the link between the sports featured in

the Winter Olympic Games and students at Kent State.

The Kent State men’s ice hockey team was supposed to practice until 3 p.m. Tuesday, but head coach Jarret Whidden called practice 10 minutes early.

The U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team had a game at 3 p.m. He thought it was important he and the team be able to get out of their gear and in front of a television to watch it.

With the 2010 Winter Olympic Games going strong and Mother Nature blanketing Kent in her winter wonders, it’s not hard to find the link between the sports featured in the games and students at Kent State.

The Kent State men’s hockey team prepares for the upcoming playoffs at a recent practice. DARREN D’ALTORIO | DAILY KENT STATER

Tis’ the season for sled trails marring the snow-covered hills along Hilltop Drive. Even though these trails are tamer than a nail-biting trip down an Olympic bobsled track, the spirit of merry sled riders getting their adrenaline rushing still exists. A closer examination of campus reveals more evidence of a Winter Olympic connection.

Ramps built to launch snowboarders into the air and onto handrails can be spotted in front of Franklin Hall and Kent Hall, mimicking obstacles found in the Snowboard Cross event. And any given night, after classes are done and the sidewalks clear of pedestrians, the borders come out to play.

Brendan Hayes, junior advertising major, is one of the snowboarding night owls of Kent State. He came to Kent in the fall of 2004, but stayed for only one year. After his freshman year, he moved to Lake Tahoe, Calif., to pursue a professional snowboarding career.

“A couple of pros came to Ohio to film for a video,” Hayes said. “It was a good snow year that year, so I was showing them around and riding with them, hitting rails, and they said I was pretty good and should move out to California and give being a pro a try.”

Hayes stayed in California for the next five years, riding under sponsors like Rome Snowboards, Holden Outerwear and Dakine. He moved back to Ohio in January to finish his degree. He said his memories of snowboarding at Kent State are nothing but fun.

“Kent is a very hilly city,” he said. “And with the university, there are so many good handrails and weird stuff to snowboard on. You can get creative.”

He vividly remembers the morning he stuck a rail slide down the double-kinked rail behind the M.A.C. Center.

“It was my freshman year, the day before spring semester started,” he said. “We woke up super early so we wouldn’t get caught by security. I nailed it quickly. We got it on film and left. It felt good.”

Hayes said patience and dedication are what it takes to get good and compete at an Olympic level in snowboarding.

“You try tricks over and over again,” he said. “It gets boring doing the same stuff, but the guys in the Olympics do the same routines over and over. It’s all about repetition.”

The guys on the hockey team know about dedication, too.

Senior accounting major Ryan Gregory has been playing ice hockey for 19 years. He’s now 23 years old.

As a child, he said it was the excitement and rambunctious nature of the game that got him playing. Now, it’s the thrill of constantly evolving to the situation on the ice that keeps him hooked. And as the team’s goaltender, he must maintain his focus.

“It’s a non-stop environment,” he said. “There are no timeouts, no set plays. It’s always on the go.”

Whidden said Olympic hockey is exciting because it’s a break from the normal team format. Also, the spectacle of the Olympics draws new fans and gets more people involved.

“You go back to the youth programs,” he said. “Kids love it. They get hooked when they are young and they can’t get enough of it.”

Juliann Bontrager, skating director at the Kent State Ice Arena, said she was 12 years old when ice skating became a part of her life.

“We had a pond in the neighborhood,” she said. “When it froze, we would skate. It was a great way to make friends.”

Bontrager took her childhood passion and translated into a career of figure skating, ice dancing and instructing others.

“People try figure skating,” she said. “And I always hear that it’s much harder than it looks.”

She said figure skating is attractive because it has a romantic side, along with the pure power and jumping abilities of the athletes.

“The beauty attracts people,” she said. “The clothes, music and dancing combined with the athleticism make it exciting.”

She said anyone interested in learning to ice skate should come to the Ice Arena and ask about the Learn to Skate program, an educational skating class for all ages and skill levels. Also, any students wanting to fill up some extra space in their class schedule can register for the physical education section of ice skating.

Contact features reporter Darren D’Altorio at [email protected].