Faces of Synchro

Have you heard about the Unified Synchro Team?


Unified Synchro Team

Before the cancellation due to the pandemic, the team was selected to skate at the World Synchronized Skating Championships opening ceremony. Let's learn more about the Unified Team, a part of the famous Hockettes family.


For the international synchro community, what does a “unified synchro team” mean?

Erin Donovan, Hockettes Synchronized Skating Program director and head coach for University of Michigan Synchro Skate teams: A Unified team is comprised of half traditional athletes and half Special Olympics* athletes, bringing adaptive skaters together with peer mentors. The Unified Hockettes has members from the Juvenile, Intermediate, Novice and Junior competitive Hockettes teams as well as many of the Ann Arbor Figure Skating Club Special Olympics athletes.

*Note: Special Olympics athletes are people who are 8 years old or older and who have an intellectual disability. 

Hockettes are a famous and historic synchro family. Could you tell us more about it?

The Hockettes are cited in the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame as the first Synchronized Skating Team (known as "Precision Skating"), created by Dr. Richard Porter in 1956.

Dr. Porter was a coach at the Ann Arbor Figure Skating Club and he noticed that there were not many team sports for young women available. He wanted to create a way that the skaters in his club could come together to work towards a common goal. He created the Hockettes to perform in the club ice show and the University of Michigan hockey games.

Outdoor performance

The concept of teamwork took off and has grown into the competitive synchronized skating world we know today. The AAFSC Hockettes director and Adaptive Skating director again found that while the Special Olympics athletes were succeeding in their individual events and improving their skating skills, they were excluded from participating in all the club had to offer, such as the Hockettes.

They worked together to follow Dr. Porter’s dream of creating new opportunities for skaters to work together and the Hockettes Unified team as formed, creating more inclusion within the club and for our athletes. 

Mary Johanson, AAFSC Adaptive Skating Director: Over the past two years, the team has grown not only in number but in strength and compassion as well. With one season under our belt, the team was able to feel more comfortable and have more skaters interested in joining the team.

It is truly a blessing to see the teamwork and compassion the skaters have for each other and the team. The way they take care of each other while skating and cheer each other (in success and defeat) on is nothing like I have ever seen before. It is an amazing feeling as a coach to watch and help skaters achieve their dream of being on the nation’s first synchronized skating team.

Before cancellation due to the pandemic, the team was selected to skate at the World Synchronized Skating Championships opening ceremony, how did that come about?

Mary Johanson: As the chair of the Adaptive Skating Committee for US Figure Skating, I am always looking for opportunities to promote and showcase adaptive skaters of all abilities. I was at an adaptive skating conference in Canada and showed our team’s video to several International judges who made the suggestion to perform at the championships to show the world what adaptive skaters can do.

I then spoke with USFS headquarters who agreed this would be a tremendous opportunity for Adaptive skating and passed the idea on to the event organizers. We were all so excited for the opportunity and grateful to U.S. Figure Skating for the support they give to their communities.

It was due to the ability of the Synchronized Skating Committee and the Adaptive Skating Committee working together that this opportunity became available and it showcases the teamwork that we are teaching to our Unified synchronized skaters. Teamwork and Camaraderie is an aspect of the sport that adaptive athletes can sometimes miss out on.

At Porter Classic

Quotes from the athletes and parents
“When I was in 6th grade, I watched the Hockettes perform. It was my first time seeing them perform, and I thought “Oh my gosh, they are so beautiful! I really want to try this and be able to skate like this with a group. I want to be a Hockettes!” Since I was 11, it has always been my dream to be a Hockette. Now I am part of the Unified Hockettes team, and I finally get to follow my dream. My motto is “don’t be afraid to wish for something with all of your heart and follow your dreams. Never say never, it can come true.”” - Special Olympics competitor Grace Cregear.

“Synchro is all about teamwork and supporting each other — literally — on the ice. Doing that with special needs skaters is challenging but so rewarding because when we get it and manage to complete and element, we are all so excited. And really, it is not just about the Unified skaters helping the special needs skaters — we all encourage each other and help each other and learn from each other. We’ve had some amazing opportunities with this team and it has truly been one of the best things I have ever done as a skater.” - Tess Gompper, Unified partner (traditional skater).

“Participation in Unified Hockettes synchro has finally given my daughter an outlet for skating that is 100% positive and incredibly rewarding.” - Karen Watts, mother of Unified partner (traditional skater) 

Thank you for the opportunity to share our program. We are very proud of our Unified team members and look forward to the time when they compete and perform with the rest of the synchro world (post-pandemic).

Go check the Take Over on OneTeamMVMT's Instagram page.

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