By FRED KRONER
photo credit: Heather Wanniger at Sweet Lemonade Photography
Start with a premise that virtually everyone can agree on: Anything can be improved.
Who thinks Alexander Graham Bell would have first patented the telephone if his knowledge and the technology was sufficient to have created cell phones in 1876?
What about the baseball pitcher who threw a perfect game? Did he strike out every batter without anyone as much as hitting a foul ball?
With that mindset, we address last weekend’s Skate on Main event.
It was a good first-time event. It’s probably not a stretch to call it an outstanding first-time event.
But, it was not perfect. It can be better, and organizers are already looking at ways to tweak it for the future.
“In general, there are always changes and improvements that can be made,” said Dan Waldinger, the director of Mahomet’s Parks and Recreation Department, “but I don’t know yet what it looks like.”
The two-day event, which ended on Saturday, attracted 556 skaters, “which is awesome,” Waldinger said.
He estimated that the total turnout — many parents brought their children, but did not skate themselves — was in excess of 1,000 people.
When the West Virginia company, All Year Sports Galaxy, arrived for the setup, some last-minute reconfiguring was necessary. The original size of the rink was set to be 40 by 48 feet, but Waldinger said, “they had to trim width and add to the length” because of the street gutters and curbs.
The actual size was closer to 22 by 67 feet.
Mahomet Village President Sean Widener had seen a similar set up last year in Tennessee and suggested the idea. As Waldinger and staff did their research, they made a discovery.
“There aren’t a lot who do it, none locally to our knowledge,” Waldinger said.
Denise Reynolds, the program coordinator for Mahomet Parks and Rec, acknowledged the limited nature of the options.
“This was one of two companies we could find, she said. “They had more references and we didn’t hear back from the other one.”
Because Mahomet confirmed its commitment months ago, the date was set by the local committee instead of based on the company’s availability.
“We chose this date because it was part of a three-day weekend after the (school) kids were back from break,” Reynolds said.
The chosen vendor provided a synthetic surface.
The option of containing water and freezing it in an enclosed area was not appealing.
“Illinois temperatures (in January) can range from 60 to zero,” Waldinger said. “We didn’t want to take that risk without knowing we could use it.
“We didn’t want to do the hype and then have to cancel it.”
With temperatures hovering in the mid-50s on consecutive days last week, Waldinger felt good about that decision.
A refrigerated unit was a possibility, but Waldinger added, “we couldn’t afford that.”
Part of the nearly $8,000 fee paid to All Year Sports Galaxy was defrayed thanks to a marquee sponsor in Yo Yo’s Frozen Yogurt.
Advance publicity prompted one worry for Waldinger, who noticed more than 1,200 people had expressed interest on a Facebook page prior to the event.
“There was so much buzz, my big concern was we’d have too big of a crowd to handle and wouldn’t have enough help,” he said.
With temperatures dropping to near zero on Friday and Saturday with wind chills, weather conditions helped to lessen the demand.
“The (three) fire pits saved the day for a lot of parents,” Waldinger said.
Staffing turned out to be a non-issue.
“The volunteers are the reason it ran so smoothly,” Reynolds said.
Twenty-eight people donated their time during the weekend and Reynolds said, “the majority were from the Mahomet-Seymour Baseball Club.”
She added: “When you don’t know how many people will be there, you don’t know how much help you’ll need, but it ended up being perfect.”
In all, the rink was open for 13 hours with a new set of skaters able to enter every 30 minutes.
Skates were provided without charge.
Former Olympic speedskater Erik Henriksen was among the folks who were downtown and watched last weekend.
His impression about the venue was, “it was painfully small,” but he added, “I saw an interest in people wanting to go skating, especially close to home.
“The interest was very high and that’s good. I think it has a future.”
At first glance, the Main Street location seemed the ideal setup.
“We’re part of the village and being in front of the Village Hall was important,” Waldinger said.
“We also spilled onto part of the Corn Belt (Fire Department) layout.”
The location could be one of the points addressed before offering a contract for 2019.
“We’ll review (this year’s event) and look at a bigger area if we do it in the future,” Waldinger said.
Village administrators counted as many as 45 skaters on the surface at one time.
“The vendor said 60 (was possible), but we wanted to make sure people could get around,” Waldinger said. “Forty-five wasn’t terrible. It was quite manageable.”
Another topic of discussion is whether it would be prudent for the village to purchase what’s necessary to stage the skating party on an annual basis.
In addition to the startup cost in that scenario, storage would also be a factor.
The 2018 event was well-received. A television station (WCIA) provided a live broadcast from the site, a radio station (WIXY) mentioned it prominently, and two newspapers and an online daily also provided coverage.
“It was nice to put Mahomet in a good light and that makes us feel great,” Waldinger said.
Though the feedback from participants “was tremendous,” Waldinger said, he added, “we didn’t quite break even, but we were expecting maybe a bigger loss with the weather what it was.”
From the smiles on the faces of the attendees to the comments that were heard, such as “Mahomet needs more things like this,” Waldinger related, village administrators don’t need a financial statement to call it a success.
“It’s clear,” Reynolds said, “great memories were made.”
The challenge is also clear: How can the encore be an improved version of the debut?