Ft. Dupont Ice Arena Reopens

After Months of Only Virtual Activity, Enthusiasts Flock to the Ice

46
Photo of Coach Tenaj (Tomeka Gueory's daughter) with one of her skating pupils.

Before the pandemic, the Fort Dupont Ice Arena (FDIA) in southeast was the center of action for Tomeka Gueory and her family. Three of her four daughters were practically raised on the ice, she says.

“My family and I have been a part of Fort Dupont for years. When I first moved to DC and got married, I wanted my then youngest daughter to participate in a sport that was fun and different. What was important to me was to actually get to know my neighborhood,” said Gueory, a FDIA board member and a Cleveland transplant, who at the time—1997—lived on Ridge Road close to FDIA, before the family purchased their northeast Deanwood home in 2015.

The ice-skating arena, located at 3779 Ely Place in the Fort Dupont area of Ward 7, reopened its doors on July 5, to the delight of its many ice skating fans. Starting September 11, the Saturday Kids On Ice (KOI) Program begins KOI provides subsidized figure skating, hockey and speed skating lessons to youth in DC Metropolitan area. This program programming to both boys and girls, and parents can choose from either a team sport or an individual sport.

History of FDIA and Introduction of DISC
In 1996, the National Park Service, which was in charge of the arena, decided to close it. A group of parents of skaters and friends organized as the Friends of Fort Dupont Ice Arena and took over management of the ice rink and revitalized the facility. There are plans, with secured funding, to extend and modernize the ice rink in the future.

Figure skating continues to take up large amounts of Gueory’s time. Serving as both Vice-President and Secretary for the District Impact Skating Club (DISC), she, along with Sheldonna Harris and Eric Karlins, cofounded the nonprofit club that is now prominently incorporated at FDIA. DISC, a minority-led, volunteer-run, skating club, was created for children as young as 5-years-old to learn and embrace the intricacies of figure skating. DISC’s website is https://districtimpactskatingclub.org.

FDIA is the only program within an approximate 50-mile radius that offers ice hockey, speed skating, and figure skating, all sports that are performed in the Olympics and is the only public indoor ice arena located in the District. People seeking further information about FDIA programs can use the link programming@fdia.org.

Beginning this September, FDIA is offering a free program for all DC public and charter school students called Schools Skate For Fitness from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. each weekday. Teachers can book time for themselves and students for the entire school year. Public skate sessions are always available, at a minimum, during Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons. Admission rates are $5.00 for adults, $4.00 for children, and $3.00 for skate rentals.

According to Karlins, FDIA’s mission to teach skating enthusiasts, inspired and motivated his 10-year-old daughter, Elsinore, who wanted to do more skating all year around. Her desire eventually spurred Karlins to join the DISC initiative and later become the club’s treasurer.

“I have traveled to other rinks in the suburbs, and none had an advanced program,” said Karlins who lives in the Brightwood neighborhood of Ward 4 with his family.

FDIA: Closed During the Pandemic
As tough as it was for parents and children to lose their skating venue, it was perhaps a more severe loss to the staff.

“The staff have always enjoyed working with the community and skating. We were open and accessible. Besides the loss of finances, we really missed that interaction. The overall morale of everybody, including myself, was down. Although we held virtual classes and activities, it was not the same,” said Ty Newberry, the executive director and general manager at FDIA.

Despite the 15-month closure, FDIA was able to stay solvent thanks to the hundreds of individuals, families, and foundations that made generous donations, many increasing their annual giving to keep the staff afloat during the pandemic.

Skating is Not Just a Hobby but a Commitment
The ice-skating rink is open every day of the week. Adults whose work schedule allows can skate at FDIA during the day on weekdays. Around 3 p.m., organized activities ensue. Multiple hockey teams practice and play games there during the afternoon and evenings.

On the weekends, the programs and activities start as early as 5:30 a.m. Harris, the elected president of DISC and the mother of Jaiden Harris-Thomas,14, and twin nine-year-old boys, Jonathan and Jordan, are regulars at FDIA. The twins are not as experienced as their big sister who has been skating for eight seasons, but they are spirited. Jordan and Jonathan participate in speed skating on Saturdays at 6:00 a.m. Approximately two dozen pupils are in that class, Harris said.

Advanced skating lessons are held on Saturdays as well from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. As the name would suggest, the advanced class are for those skaters, like Jaiden, who have completed levels one through six.

Like Gueory, Karlins, and numerous other parents, Harris has made many sacrifices to support her childrens’skating interests, including losing sleep to ensure their timely arrival at practice. Since the family resides in Hillcrest Heights, Harris commutes from there on Sundays for Jaiden’s 5:30 a.m. synchronized skating class that lasts until 7:30 a.m. Like the classic“soccer moms,” these working parents ferry their children from school to ice rink to home on what sometimes seems like a never-ending cycle but never complain because of the joy, teamwork, and lessons learnt at FDIA and on the ice.