Ice rink is active but for how long?
The long, cold winters in Nome are more enjoyable for some people because of the city’s outdoor ice rink. Local kids love to skate and there’s a contingent of hockey players, many of them Minnesota or Wisconsin transplants. But how much longer will the rink exist? At last week’s city council meeting a resolution was passed which supports the issuance of a Right of Entry to the Nome Public School District. This means the school district officials can go about their business on the property, which has been designated as the site for the proposed teacher housing complex.
The lack of suitable housing in Nome has long been blamed for the district’s difficulties in hiring and retaining teachers. The turnover of staff is seen as an impediment to good education, so keeping teachers in Nome once they’ve been hired is important. Being able to offer reasonably priced, comfortable modern housing is seen as one way to make Nome more attractive to teachers from elsewhere. The district is in the process of looking for funding, so it will be a few years before a housing complex can be a reality. When that time comes the rink is going to have to move.
A possible location for a new rink is next to the Nome Rec Center. “That’s the site they’re talking about, as I understand it,” said Bob Hafner. Hafner is with the Nome Winter Sports Association, which operates the rink and the program for kids who like to skate. “But I’m not part of the planning,” he added. The rink now has a good sheet of ice and is in operation.
Hafner is looking at bank statements and trying to determine how many hours the association will be able to pay somebody. “I’m not a paid employee right now. I’m doing what I can do to hire somebody else to run the rink for a while. We’re waiting to hear from a couple of entities we’ve applied to. Our funds are down again from our gaming operations.”
On weekdays as many as 60 youngsters will show up at the rink to skate. Skates are available for free and the warming hut is a convivial and upbeat place to gather. Toward the end of the day’s session Hafner “snacks” them. The kids have come straight from school and get hungry.
When will the organized skating begin this year? “Organized is kind of up for debate,” said Hafner. “That’s kind of a joke. But you don’t organize sixty kids with one person supervising them on the ice. It’s kind of controlled chaos. We are hoping for some regular hours. We might have to close on Mondays and Tuesdays in order to stretch out the season and be open on weekends. We may not do the seven day a week thing like we’ve done in the past.”
Hafner thinks the setup as it was last year works great. “It works great for the kids and it works pretty good for me too,” he said. “I was the one working with the kids in the building but we have a plethora of people working behind the scenes helping me flood, maintain the building, and do things to make the place run. I’m the face that’s there with the kids. It’s exhausting but the controlled chaos is something that is a lot of fun to see. The kids love it. It’s a good thing that it’s free. We’re hoping to keep up the snacking like we did last year. The kids come straight from school and on weekends they’re there all day and they get hungry. So we try to give them something on weekends and a little something after school. But it’s getting tough.”
About 14 adults form the core of the hockey players. Since some travel for work it’s not always possible to form two teams to play in the evenings. “We struggle to get a good solid two teams on the ice every night,” said Hafner. “They can play three on three or four on four and have some fun.” This year the team will travel to Las Vegas for a tournament, a first for them. In the past they’ve gone to a tournament in Anchorage. “We’re pretty excited about it and we’re going to field a pretty good team,” said Hafner. “It will be our first trip down there so we’ll learn a lot.”