Dr. Porter: "Competing this year will be much different"


Fond du Lac Blades Junior (Credits: Ice Galaxy - 2020)

The United States is one of the hardest hit countries of Covid-19. After months, teams are just starting to get back on the ice. While skaters are busy at work creating new programs and preparing for the season, everyone is wondering: what will the competition season look like? We asked Lawrence Ward and Mary Reilly competition co-chairs of the Dr. Richard Porter Competition (December 4-6, 2020) about potential changes we may see this year.

Are you planning on delaying until it is safer to hold the Porter Classic?

Lawrence Ward and Mary Reilly: We want everyone to know safety is our primary criteria. No, we do not plan on delaying the event. Moving later in December will not make any difference in safety and just pushes us too close to Christmas. Moving to January might help but there are only 3 weekends before US Figure Skating holds Sectionals and there are already events on those weekends. US Figure Skating has said they will support delaying events but unless they delay Sectionals which they have said is very unlikely there really isn’t an opportunity to delay.

Our thinking is to keep the date and hold a safe event if we can, if not pursue a virtual event, and if that can’t work then we would cancel. We like the idea of a virtual event, especially in light of the seeming success of the Peggy Fleming Trophy [a virtual skating competition released to the public on Friday, July 17, in the USA], but US Figure Skating is opposed right now. We haven’t ruled it out though because it would be the least restrictive option for the teams. You will learn that going to the Porter Classic and likely many other competitions will not be the kind of fun event that everyone has come to expect but participating in a virtual event could bring a little fun back.

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Dr. Porter is one of the biggest competitions in the USA. Many competitions will be looking towards you for guidance in how to move forward under Covid-19. What kind of challenges are you expecting planning and day of?

We have been in discussion with the Ann Arbor IceCube management, Chief Referee Karen Wolanchuk, US Figure Skating Synchronized Competitions Chairperson/USFS Event Management staff, the Chair of US Figure Skating Sports Sciences and Medicine Committee, and the Washtenaw County Health Department.

As a result of these many meetings we have developed a plan to go forward. Our biggest concern is the unknown. Fall is expected to bring an increase in cases which, compounded with the flu season, could present big problems for the country. Our entry deadline might be too early to know what the country will look like in December. We will need the rink and local hotels to be flexible in the case we need to cancel late. We do have hard criteria and this is important. We can’t proceed because we hope it will be OK or because we think it will be OK. We need good data and criteria to make these decisions in cooperation with all of the above groups we have been in contact with.

We expect teams will be wanting to delay decisions as long as possible with respect to traveling to competitions so we are delaying the start and end of our registration window. We expect fewer teams this year and are planning on a 2 day event using only one competition rink instead of the 3 day 2 rink format in past years.

The Senior team Crystallettes. (Credits: Ice Galaxy - 2020)

Legally, what state and federal restrictions are you required to enforce when it comes to large sporting events and “group gatherings”? How are you planning to accommodate?

As you are aware, there are few if any federal restrictions. This is our biggest concern. Each state is handling the pandemic differently. Michigan is doing better than many states but has still seen cases increase since Memorial Day (May 25, 2020). The state has very specific criteria that determine what phase the state is in and what activities are permitted in each phase. We are following those criteria. The most important criteria for us is moving to the Low Risk phase in the state which would allow skating rinks to open. We are not there yet.

State group gathering size limits will determine how many people we could have in the rink at one time. Not knowing just where the state will be for our area in early December we have agreed on a plan that will minimize the number of people. The only people that will be in the rink are rink staff, volunteers, officials, and teams. Teams means the listed roster, coaches and chaperones. No one else will be allowed in the rink.

What kind of plans do you have to ensure the safety and health of skaters, coaches, managers, judges, and spectators?

- The Ann Arbor IceCube has a policy that everyone entering the building must have a temperature check and sign a waiver. The temperature check will be done each time a person enters the building. If the temperature is high they will not be allowed to enter.

- The Ann Arbor IceCube is following the guidelines issued jointly by USA Hockey, US Figure Skating, and U.S. Ice Rink Association. They will be cleaning and disinfecting the rink and locker rooms on a regular basis. The locker rooms will be cleaned and disinfected after each use and locker room capacity has been reduced to 10 persons.

- Teams will be allowed to enter the rink at specific times according to the practice and competition schedule. This will eliminate lines waiting to enter the building.

- Teams will enter the rink dressed to skate. Locker rooms will be used only to take skates on and off. This will reduce the locker room time to allow for adequate cleaning.

- The flow of teams while in the building will be controlled to ensure adequate social distancing.

Miami University Senior (Credits: Ice Galaxy - 2020)

- Masks will be required in the building 100%, no exceptions (and no exposed noses). This includes when skaters are on the ice.

- Teams will be required to use hand sanitizer when entering and exiting the ice.

- There will be no warm-ups allowed in the rink. There is a potential aerosol concern that our CountyHealth Department says is not yet confirmed but no warm-ups helps take that concern off the table.

- Hand sanitizer will be available around the rink and where teams enter and leave the ice.

- The officials room size will be expanded to allow for adequate social distancing.

- Fewer judges will be used on the events and spacing between officials will be expanded to allow for adequate social distancing.

- There will be no spectators and vendors.

OR... we'll do a virtual event! 

What do you expect are differences skaters and teams will face this year when it comes to traveling, hotel accommodations, locker rooms, aware ceremonies, etc.?

Travel for the teams this year will be different. Maintaining social distance, wearing masks, and good hygiene will need to be followed with a vengeance to ensure traveling is as safe as possible. Travel and hotel accommodations will require vigilance on the part of the teams to make sure they stay safe. Locker rooms at the Ann Arbor IceCube will have their capacity cut in half to 10 people so each team will need 2 locker rooms. They will be cleaned after each use and the time in each locker room will be reduced to allow for the cleaning. We will not have any awards ceremonies and will not have a Kiss and Cry area. Competing this year will be much different with each team spending very little time in the rink.

Lastly, is there anything you'd like to say about the state of figure skating competitions in the future? 

To be honest we haven’t thought much beyond this year yet. Like all big world events, life including skating will change in some ways. We’ll just have to see how life unfolds.

Thank you so much Lawrence and Mary for giving us insight about how Dr. Porter Classic will play out!

Good luck to you and the rest of the competitions in the United States. As always, stay safe and healthy!