By Michael Isenberg
After months of being locked out of Moss Park Arena due to a fire, the head coaches of Ryerson’s figure skating team have unexpectedly quit.
Lisa Boyer and Jackie Frank informed the team of their surprising resignation via e-mail in late November.
The team now enters its second competition of the season in Waterloo this weekend in disarray.
“(It was) shocking,” said rookie Alex Dabkowski. “It was a sudden move. I didn’t even know there was a problem. (The coaches) just stopped showing up.”
After missing some practices late in November and not attending the first competition, the former coaches sent the team an e-mail with their resignations and no other explanations.
Neither returned calls. According to Terry Haggerty, Ryerson’s interuniversity sports manager, the coaches resigned because the responsibilities were too much to handle.
“They both have full-time jobs,” he said. “Jackie did this last year but her job got busier. This was Lisa’s first year out of school and she thought she could handle this (coaching) on top of her job, but it was more responsibility than she realized.”
The team was then left with an incomplete program, still having to teach the throngs of rookies steps to last year’s routine.
By adding more practices and off ice sessions, the 17-member squad has been cramming to compensate for the loss in time to compete. “It was very disappointing that they essentially ditched us,” said Amanda Arbuthnott, a synchronized skater.
“I understand they’re busy with other things, but at the same time they made a commitment to the team.” Frank and Boyer are former skaters on the team.
Frank was a former team captain and Boyer won the Greatest Contribution to Athletics award in 2005-06. Frank had been the coach for the past few seasons, and after graduating from Ryerson, Boyer joined her at the helm.
Together they built a strong, competitive team of synchronized and individual dance skaters. Last year the team was awarded Ryerson’s Team Leadership Award for their constant support of the school’s teams and won the best team spirit award at last year’s OUA Championships.
“We had been moving in the right direction over the last few years,” said Ali Kennedy, a third-year veteran and team captain. “We had been building a great team.”
Kennedy was not only hurt by the coaches’ abrupt leave, but as a key team member she also had to take on the new roll of synchro co-coach. “It’s not something I want to do, but something I have to do,” Kennedy said. “I want to do everything I can to be a leader and help the team, but I never thought that meant coaching the team.
“It’s a challenge getting used to taking charge, knowing when to be a friend and when to teach.”
Kennedy is still trying to get accustomed to the responsibilities of her new position. “It’s stressful because we’re in the middle of working (on our routines),” she said. “It was also confusing because everyone was friends with them, and then they just stopped contacting us.”
With the coaches gone, Kennedy along with Michelle Zenger coach the team on the ice while assistant coach Matt Bueno has taken on the role of head coach.
Bueno was a member of the team in the 2004-05 season, and the assistant freeskate coach last year. Originally the freeskate coach this year, he has quickly learned to cope with his new duties.
“I’m learning as I go, but the veterans on the team are really stepping up to make my job easier,” he said. “When the girls take charge, it helps me out a lot.” Bueno is doing more than just coaching the team, he’s become the team’s sign of consistency.
“He’s coaching elements of the sport he’s not used to and that’s what’s so inspiring. His commitment to the team is motivational,” said skater Alyssa Mercc.
Though he’s well-liked, Haggerty said Bueno will likely be replaced next season by a head coach on a full-time basis, allowing Bueno to resume his duties as free skate coach if he chooses to return.
It never hurts to have the support that Bueno gives the team. But as he noted, the only way the team can succeed is for the squad to step up and work hard. Their dedication — practicing from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday night and then at 7 a.m. Monday morning — is exactly what he’s talking about.
This has been yet another setback in the team’s season thus far.
Earlier this season the squad’s practice facility at Moss Park Arena burnt down, leaving the team without a home. Instead, the team had to focus on off-ice training to help prepare for their competitions.
But the squad has persevered in what was supposed to be a highlight year for the program. Ryerson is playing host to the best teams in the province in the OUA Championships that will be held at Varsity Arena at the University of Toronto on February 15-16.
Though they lack a dance coach — the only thing Bueno says may hinder the team’s success — the squad remains confident that they can compete at Waterloo and will contend in the OUA Championships.