FORT WAYNE – From the time 9-year-old Maya Schoeph came to the Headwaters Park Ice Arena earlier this winter with her Emmanual St. Michael fourth-grade class, she has wanted to return.
Saturday – this time with her father, Joe – she was back on the ice.
“When she came back from the school, she said, ‘We’ve got to go down there again, Dad. I want to go again,’ ” the elder Schoeph recalled. “So I said, ‘We’ll take you. We’ll take you.’ But we looked, and this was the last weekend, so we came down here.”
Today marks the final day of skating in a season that was far from record-setting in attendance.
“Our numbers were off about 5 to 6,000 skaters this year because of the cold weather,” Headwaters Park Executive Director Geoff Paddock said.
“When you have some of that cold weather and some snow, it adds to the atmosphere and brings more people out. But if it’s too cold and too snowy, folks stay away.”
Paddock says the rink has had an estimated 19,000 visitors this season.
“Our peak was two years ago when we had a little over 26,000 skaters,” Paddock said. “We averaged 24, 25,000 a year now. … But it’s been too bitterly cold this year, and really, too cold to have employees hang outside. There were several days this year when we had to close either for part of the day or all of the day. As we know from all of the school closings this year, it just wasn’t safe to be out. That took a number of skaters away.”
Which is why some skaters returned Saturday amid the mid-30s temperatures.
Maya and her father had their rented skates tightly laced as they carefully walked toward the ice. Maya reminded that she had done this before. It was Joe’s first time.
“He can use a skating buddy,” Maya said of her dad, nodding at a small, white contraption on which the unsteady may hold on to across the ice.
While many skaters glided effortlessly across the ice, moving counterclockwise, the Schoephs were careful not to violate some of the rules that were posted near the rink.
Do not: sit on the dasher rails; perform spins or jumps; skate faster than most other skaters.
Meanwhile, 13-year-old Susan Prokop, making her skating debut, desperately clung to the rails all the way around.
“My arm hurts from hanging on,” the Portage Middle School eighth-grader said.
After today, the rink will be closed until the new season begins around Thanksgiving.
“We really do need to draw the line this Sunday because it takes about six weeks to dismantle everything,” Paddock said.
“We sometimes let the ice melt naturally. Given the temperatures this year, I think we’re going to have to use some other tools to get that ice to melt – perhaps some hot water, some salt, maybe some sand. We’ll be working on melting that ice because it takes about five to six weeks to get everything dismantled. It’s a laborious set-up, really.”
Just as it’s been laborious for Joe and Susan to stay up.