Norra Reyes

Norra Reyes

Newsroom Manager, Business Editor, Letters

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Friday, 17 February 2017 15:42

Aibel Earns Silver at Empire State Games

SARATOGA SPRINGS – The figure skating events at the 2017 Empire State Winter Games in Lake Placid were held over three days, beginning February 3, with more than 600 figure skaters competing. Those placing in the top three of their events are invited to compete at the National State Games of America to be held in Grand Rapids, Michigan in August. According to figure skating coach Amada Shelburne, with the Saratoga Springs Figure Skating Club, it was the largest contingent of total athletes the games have ever had. Shelburne, who also takes on private figure skating students, had two athletes competing this year. “Claire Aibel was 2nd in her Intermediate Test Track group at Empires,” said Shelburne. “She received a Silver Medal. My other student, Emma Nicholson, received a Bronze Medal in her group.” Aibel, a Saratoga Springs High School junior, is also a recent Gold Medalist for United States Figure Skating in Moves in the Field. She earned the Silver for Intermediate Level Freestyle at the Empire State Games. She’s been skating about 9 years, and with Shelburne for 6 years. “She’s probably one of the hardest workers that I have taught, and I’ve taught for like 40 years,” said Shelburne. “The Empires is a big one. It includes all of the State of New York and some Canadians can come down and qualify. I was proud they had worked very hard at getting themselves trained for this. They were trying new jumps, like double jumps.” Shelburne explained double jumps involve different take offs with two rotations in the air and then a backwards landing on one foot. She said it takes years to perfect. “I practiced four times a week leading up to the game,” said Aibel. “I worked on all of my jumps, my landings, and doubles. I really like learning new things and seeing improvement. I’ve always wanted to be able to do what I’ve seen on TV, like watching the Olympics and older skaters at the rink. I guess I just enjoy being there in Lake Placid. It’s really inspiring. The Olympics were held there and it’s a really nice town.” Shelburne said that one thing figure skaters learn well is that they are going to fall, and they are going to fall often. “You are also going to learn to get up and keep going,” she said. “You are going to experience failure and you’re also going to set a goal and achieve it. Figure skating is a fabulous lifetime lesson. You are not always going to be a winner and not always going to be perfect. They learn to get up and keep going and persevering and that’s what life is all about.”
Friday, 17 February 2017 15:03

PTA Brings the World to Division Street

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Friday night, before the weekend snowstorm, the Saratoga Music Hall at 474 Broadway was enjoying a storm of its own, a Karaoke battle, all in good fun, as a highlight to a gala raising funds for an Earth Balloon® for the Division Street Elementary School in the Saratoga Springs City School District (SSCSD). The “Around the World in 8 Dances” Gala held February 10 was part of a dedicated fundraising push led by the Division Street School PTA to purchase the $20,000 learning tool, and just before print deadline, the goal was reached – Division Street will shortly be the proud owner of an Earth Balloon. A list of the donors is available on the Division Street PTA’s website. “We are so grateful to our volunteers and donors,” said SSCSD Division Street PTA President Connie Woytowich. “We highly encourage our school members and the whole community to support them - whether they be a business, individual or organization. Without them - none of this would have been possible.” Woytowich is a chemistry and biology teacher at Colonie Central High School in Albany, and a NYS Master Teacher. She is also a Committee Chairperson for the STEM Lab - Earth Balloon Initiative, and a mother of four children, three at Division and one at the middle school. The initiative started when Woytowich had reached out to STEM Lab committeeperson Evelyn Hefner, a 5th grade teacher at the school with a masters in science education, and asked her what was her biggest wish for the STEM Lab and school? “Initially I thought about the Starlab® portable planetarium as well as the Earth Balloon, but it started around $40,000, which is somewhat unrealistic,” Hefner laughed. “So we decided to go for the Earth Balloon. I was able to rent one before at Lake Avenue, and the observations the kids made were fantastic. It is 20 feet in diameter when inflated, and the detail is so accurate – it’s from satellite photography. The back half of the Earth is all Pacific Ocean, and you can’t experience that unless you are walking around it. You can’t get that from a flat map or globe.” Moreover, Division Street is a receiving school for the English Language Learners in the district, and currently has students from the following countries: China, Germany, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Italy, and France. “I have an Indian student in my class,” said Hefner, “and he was so excited to show everyone his airplane ride over here, and he was able to share with his classmates the geography of the area, he knew the Teutonic plates under India, the Himalayas…I can’t wait until these kids - who may feel a little out of place - can show where they are from. The Earth Balloon connects with so much for the students – geography, weather, trade routes, biomes, literature – all these things that run through every level of curriculum.” Woytowich researched it through the vendor, Earth Adventure, and found that the total cost, including shipping, would be $20,900. “The problem with just renting it is the required $5,000 deposit, which is hard for a school to scrape up. So when I called Earth Adventure and told them we would like to buy one, they waived the deposit fee so we could expose people to it and fundraise.” They raised enough funds last year to pay for the week’s rental. The school held a STEM-tastic week, with a STEM Expo on Monday, February 6. The students and school community were able to explore the balloon throughout the week, and the successful fundraising culminated in the gala that Friday that left them shy nearly $4,000, but some additional phone calls and generous donors made up the difference within a few days. Moving forward, an added benefit of the Earth Balloon is that it would be a continuing fundraiser for the STEM Lab. The Division Street STEM Lab would be able to make it available to neighboring schools for a fraction of the start-up cost as a rental (with proof of insurance). Schools in the district would pay a further reduced fee. It has little maintenance, and is very low-tech. A large fan inflates it in under a minute, and it rolls up like a sleeping bag for storage. For more information about the Earth balloon, visit www.earthadventure.org. Additional details about donations and the benefits of the Earth Balloon for Division Street Elementary can be found at www.divisionstreetschoolpta.com.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Springs Blue Streaks seized their 16th consecutive win at the Section 2 Gymnastics meet held at Shaker High School in Latham on Wednesday, February 8. Julia Van Horne, 17, a junior at Saratoga Springs High School, won her fourth consecutive all around title – a section record – competing in all four events: vault, bars, beam and floor. In all, 8 SSHS gymnasts are heading to the State Championships at Cold Harbor Springs on Long Island March 3 and 4. “These girls are amazing,” said Blue Streaks Varsity Gymnastics Coach Deborah Smarro. “My team is very tight knit, and because they have that family attitude it helped these girls achieve that next goal.” “We’re always cheering for each other,” said Van Horne. “We’re there to support each other and give each other advice. Our team is really tightly bonded and it’s great to know that if something happens, your teammates will be there for you.” The Saratoga Springs gymnasts heading to State Championships are: Julia VanHorne - All Around; Sophie Hrebenach - All Around; Felicity Ryan - vault, bars and beam; Laura Eberlein - beam and floor; Abby Zabielski – bars and alternate on floor; Kate DellaRatta – vault; Emily Fischer – bars; and Maddy Ryan - alternate on vault. Results February 8 Sectionals Team Competition Saratoga 173.95 Guilderland 164.025 Shaker 156.325 Bethlehem 147.00 All Around 1 Julia VanHorne- Saratoga 36.95 2 Sophie Hrebenach- Saratoga 34.85 3 Rachel Drislane- Guild 34.45 Vault 1 Julia VanHorne- Saratoga 9.15 2 Sophie Hrebenach- Saratoga 8.65 3Emma Drislane- Guild 8.475 Bars 1 Julia VanHorne- Saratoga 9.15 2 Sophie Hrebenach- Saratoga 8.35 3 Felicity Ryan- Saratoga 8.1 Beam 1 Julia VanHorne- Saratoga 9.3 2. Rachel Drislane- Guild 9.2 3. Laura Eberlein- Saratoga 9.125 Floor 1 Julia VanHorne- Saratoga 9.35 2 Rachel Drislane- Guild 9.2 3 Laura Eberlein- Saratoga 9.1
SARATOGA SPRINGS — In a landmark tie-breaker, the controversial appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary for the U.S. Department of Education has been confirmed. What this means for education nationally is yet to be determined, but it is one of many headlines bringing national politics into local classrooms, including in Saratoga Springs. Such current events are among many that are used by educators to facilitate learning. According to Freya Mercer, Director for K-12 Humanities Integration at the Saratoga Springs School District, current events are used in social studies, English, and other subjects, to enhance critical thinking and analysis, reading comprehension, and other skills. Given that the news cycles have been unusually politically charged since the November elections, how do school districts handle class handouts and assignments on current events to a student body widely diverse in political viewpoints, culture, socioeconomic status, and a host of other factors? And when do current events cross the line from topical news to personal opinion? For example a video that went viral in January shows a Dallas teacher, shooting a toy water gun at a video of President Trump on Inauguration day, in front of her class. She has since been suspended. Locally, a number of fifth grade parents were unhappily surprised when their children recently brought home a handout of an article about the new U.S. President that seemed to the parent to be inappropriately slanted. One section read, “His victory was a blast of fresh air for millions of people. For millions of others, it was a disgrace.” Another section mentioned people refusing to attend the inauguration. Other handouts spoke of protestors and a concern of the lack of diversity in his cabinet appointments. These handouts were from NewsELA, one of a handful of generally accepted sources of current events news for primary and secondary education, and an often-used source for teachers nationwide. Whether these are the only materials handed out, or whether there were any that were unfavorable to the President’s former opponent, is unclear in this case, but it raises the question, how do schools regulate handouts and assignments on current events? According to Mercer, the Saratoga Springs City School District is clear that the current events must be fair and balanced. “Teachers have a lot of leeway when it comes to supplemental reading,” she added. “Obviously, it has to be age-appropriate and relevant to the curriculum, but there’s no way anyone would want to micromanage every piece of text that gets used in a classroom. Most of our buildings use Scholastic materials, but NewsELA is an Internet resource that all teachers will use to pull things to support student learning and reading.” Mercer’s office is responsible for state and local English Language Arts (ELA) student assessments. In addition, the office is responsible for academic intervention services (reading), enrichment and gifted and talented programming, arts-in-education, and implementation of the Common Core literacy standards. “The fifth grade curriculum includes studying the rain forest, and then the next unit is the universal declaration of human rights,” said Mercer. “They will also look at whether migrant farm workers are legal or illegal, and they will be learning how to relate it to literature and sometimes current events. They will also be going into Jackie Robinson and figures in sports history. There’s a lot of meaty content that our fifth graders are wrestling with. We have to be fair and balanced.” But defining how to meet that standard has been a longstanding educational concern still under debate. In the New York State School Boards Association’s (NYSSBA) “On Board Online” September 24, 2012 edition, there is an article by Cathy Woodruff titled, “Political Expressions in School Can Be ‘Gray’ Area.” In the article, Woodruff paraphrases NYSSBA General Counsel Jay Worona as saying, “Even if a teacher does not intend or expect to influence the developing political views of students, the expression of a partisan political view can raise legitimate concerns about the neutrality of the educational environment.” On the other hand, according to a summary of court cases provided in an ERIC Digest through the U.S. Department of Education on “Academic Freedom in the Public Schools,” teachers are generally allowed to “express (but not promote!) their personal opinions on controversial political and social issues. Primary constraints on these academic freedoms are that they must be exercised within the confines and relevance of the course and subject matter being taught.” [The Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) is an online library of education research and information, sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education, now run by DeVos.] Basically, students develop necessary critical thinking and other skills by being exposed to controversial topics that are age-appropriate and relevant to their curriculum, but educators have to do so in a way that recognizes these young minds are a captive audience and provide multiple views to ensure balance. Mercer emphasized that materials have to be taken in whole when assessing whether it is balanced, that a sentence or a handout can be pulled out of context. If that’s not the case, or anytime there is a concern the district wants to hear from parents. She said the best thing for a concerned parent to do is reach out to the teacher and get all the facts. “If they don’t feel comfortable talking to the teacher,” she said, “then go straight to the principal, and then I will be looped in.” What are your thoughts on teaching current events in the classroom? Saratoga TODAY welcomes your letters to the editor, Facebook comments and Tweets. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or comment at www.facebook.com/SaratogaTODAY or @SaratogaTODAY on Twitter.
Friday, 10 February 2017 20:42

$2.7m Headed to Saratoga Schools

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Springs City School District is one of 65 districts across the state most recently sharing in the $2 billion Smart Schools Bond Act fund that was approved by voters in November 2014. The district is receiving $2,738,126 to provide infrastructure, security, and classroom information technology updates for both public and non-public schools within the District. According to Joseph Greco, K-12 Director of Math, Science, and Technology Integration, the person really behind the win was David L’Hommedieu, Assistant Superintendent for Information Technology and Operational Innovation, who oversaw the application process, but overall it was a team effort. “It’s a pretty grueling process, as with any grant,” said Greco. “It took a couple of turns to get state approval. Lot’s of t’s to cross and i’s to dot, and a strong team led by Dave making sure all necessary stakeholders were involved.” The District has begun the ordering process of the selected items and is looking forward to the positive impact this plan will have on our school community. “These technology updates will improve the District’s wireless network and security systems, as well as provide a significant number of student technology devices to support best practices of instruction,” said L’Hommedieu. Greco said the security includes an increase in internal and external security cameras and shatterproof glass at the main entrance, for example. The vast majority of the funds, however, is for instructional technology. “We want to make sure as we get more devices with Internet in the classroom,” said Greco, “we are upping the game, to improve skills in the classroom such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and problem solving. Enhance what’s going on in the classroom, not just digitize it. Really, what we’re looking for is teaching students not just to consume, but also to create.” Greco also has perceived that “digital natives” who have grown up with technology don’t have a large understanding of it because they are naturals at consuming it. “It’s similar to me with cars,” he said. “Yes, I can drive a car, but if something went mechanically wrong with it, I would be at a loss. The technology has changed so rapidly that we haven’t been as responsive as we could so students can become self-sufficient.” So the district will be introducing more devices and tablets into the elementary schools. For secondary, there will be more tablets and Chromebooks with the idea there to start working toward individual devices for each student through middle and high school. Part of the learning will include teaching students to use technology responsibly, learning how to be a digital citizen so they can take those devices home. Additionally, the downsizing of the desktops would enable the district to eliminate most computer labs and repurpose the space; provide places for the students to be able to tinker and create at some point down the road. “We’re already starting to replace smart boards with smart flat screen TVs, so you won’t have the projector any more,” said Greco. “There’s still a touch screen interactive flat panel, and the student devices will be able to interact with the smart screen devices. We could both edit the Google doc together and project their stuff out into a presentation and lead class discussions based on information they are creating.” According to Greco, the district is currently in the process of following NYS regulations regarding quotes and bids for purchasing various devices, with the hope that by Fall 2017 they will be in the hands of students. “There is a portion of the funds, too, that is being spent on infrastructure,” added Greco, “making sure there is wireless throughout the district, increasing some of our server size, and making sure our infrastructure can handle the additional traffic.” According to a statement released by the district, additional thanks go to the Board of Education, SSCSD staff, and the community for their support throughout this process. For more information about the district’s specific Smart School plan, visit www.saratogaschools.org/smartschools.
Friday, 10 February 2017 20:31

80 New Jobs in Malta

MALTA — Arnoff Global Logistics/Arnoff Moving and Storage, Inc., is beginning operations in its new Malta location and expects construction and renovations to be fully complete in time for a grand opening in mid-May. “Construction is in its final push, not phase, getting ready to move in,” said Mike Arnoff, president of the company. “We’re starting to wind down; the office furniture was delivered last week – that was very exciting. Something as simple as the paper towel holders arriving on a big pallet – everything is exciting. It’s been a dream starting to come to fruition.” The 93-year-old, five generation company began the relocation process last year to the former Racemark International location in Malta. (See “More Jobs Heading to Saratoga County” on the cover of Saratoga TODAY’s May 27, 2016 issue.) The company expects to add another 80 jobs to its payroll this year, with future growth expected. Arnoff’s provides logistical services, moving and storage for everything from dietary supplements to auto repair parts to semiconductor components to fine art. The company can move anything from a small box to an entire Fortune 500 firm. They have a substantial direct consumer focus, and can move a family from Clifton Park to Wilton, or out to Aspen, Colorado, for example. The new business center will operate as an Upper Hudson Valley counterpart to Arnoff’s longstanding headquarters location in Dutchess County. The new 100,000+ square foot warehouse and state-of-the-art distribution facility is the first building on the 40-acre land, and it features eight loading docks, two drive-in doors, 40 trailer parking positions, 30 straight truck and tractor parking positions, temperature and humidity controlled storage areas, and high security. In addition, nearly 20,000 square feet of class A office space will be available to serve customers with temporary and/or permanent work space, close to their logistics or fulfillment operations. “They are a good company,” said Dennis Brobston, president of the Saratoga Economic Development Corporation (SEDC). “Arnoff was looking at future growth on those 40 acres, to not only develop a property for themselves, but also ancillary businesses that complement their work. For a family-owned organization that really stresses good partnerships with their employees and good benefits, they are the class of company you like to work with. To do what they do in the world is great, but they are also good community members and good employers.” Arnoff takes deep, personal pride in the company’s reputation as a good employer. “We’ve been in a hiring mode to build staff for the new facility,” said Arnoff, “and we recently hired the granddaughter of a very long-time employee. That is the cultural root of our company, not only looking at the Arnoff blood family, but the family feeling that has evolved to our employees. It’s a culture we’re very proud of, and it makes us who we are. There’s just that one little bit of more pride in the job we do, in each task we get from each customer. What would grandpa say? It’s not just me asking that question. Now this young woman in our finance department is asking it, too.” Arnoff had nothing but praise for Brobston, as well. “I see him as a major asset to the county and the community, and I know firsthand how he has helped us. He has great knowledge of the people and the components of economic development.” And there’s plenty of that in the company’s future given its ability to develop several facilities on those 40 acres. Arnoff said companies have already been in touch with him, interested in the property. “Here’s our dilemma and what our team is evaluating now,” said Arnoff. “Our business is growing at a substantial rate, and there’s no crystal ball. We can’t sell off land that we might need in future. It’s an exciting problem to have, and this 100,000-square foot building is not a lot of room for growth, so what’s the next building that Arnoff is going to need to effectively service our customers?” Arnoff does have one answer to that question that is currently in the works. Although he was not prepared at the time of the interview to give all the facts about it, he did say that the company is planning to introduce out of this facility a very specific storage for people’s personal affects. “We call it the Arnoff vault,” said Arnoff. “We do it now in the lower Hudson Valley, and this building will allow us to introduce this service to the Saratoga County community. “It’s an alternative to traditional self-storage. A secure, temperature-controlled, insect- and rodent-controlled environment. Look for more information by end of April. “Our goal is to have a grand opening, ribbon cutting mid-May. Our family likes parties, and Dennis has been great to us, the community has welcomed us with open arms, so we want to do something really nice.” For more information, visit arnoff.com.
Thursday, 02 February 2017 19:04

Entrepreneurs Welcome

SEDC to Launch Innovative Incubator

SARATOGA COUNTY – Polish up those ideas because, come Spring, the Saratoga Economic Development Agency (SEDC) is launching an incubator that models innovative entrepreneurial support systems straight out of Silicon Valley, partly by looking at failure and eligibility a little differently than most.

Executive Director of the Clarkson University Shipley Center for Innovation Matt Draper said an entrepreneur who has experienced failure, or an entrepreneur with an idea that would never head to the stock market, is just as eligible for Advance Saratoga Startup as the one who invents the next big tech gadget. 

“It’s a huge part of the model,” said Draper. “Everyone points to Silicon Valley and what they are doing, but if you break down what they do better than anybody else, it’s recycle talent. Whether a startup is a success or fails, there is a tremendous amount of experience gained. We want to maintain the investment and engage it in a new way. Rather than making bets on 1 in 10 entrepreneurs, which is the national success average, this model makes sure the other 9 are engaged somehow.”

Dennis Brobston, President of SEDC, agrees. “If you’ve been a good CFO but the startup failed,” said Brobston, “it’s a badge of honor and you always try to hook those people up with people you know because you know their quality. All that talent that they’ve got in their brain combined with what they’ve learned shouldn’t go to waste.”

Brobston added that business networks all know who needs people, and making matches of complementary strengths is a good way to retain talent in Saratoga County, an important component of SEDC’s mission.    

Advance Saratoga Startup, (a working title), seeks to accelerate entrepreneurial business growth, and is incorporating prominent members of the business community and local leaders to provide traditional methods of support such as business planning and market research assistance, as well as access to professional expertise to help overcome challenges. SEDC will work through area entrepreneur networks and student organizations in the coming weeks to develop an official name for the initiative.

The incubator was shaped over the course of 2016, culminating in an initial teaming agreement with Clarkson's Shipley Center for Innovation, which operates six business incubators and will provide support services to new entrepreneurs and early stage project teams and companies for Advance Saratoga Startup.

Draper attributes much of the success of the Center and its involvement in this new incubator to the University’s president.

“This all stems from the vision of our president, Tony Collins, who recognizes economic development can’t be successful without a thriving community around it,” said Draper. “Without a president as open as he is to us – none of this could happen. It is very much because of him that we are able to do this.”

Advance Saratoga Startup is set to open its virtual doors sometime in March, and entrepreneurs at any stage of business development are invited to apply.  

“One of type of entrepreneur is the gazelle, the traditional high-technology fast-paced startup that we are looking to target with an IPO or acquisition,” said Shipley. “But the second – and often overlooked – is the relevant entrepreneur. These are people who bring value to the region – service providers, people who are one piece of a value chain, maybe a high school student who has an interest in something that sparks an idea. Our model is very much for everyone; we don’t ask people to self-aggregate which type of entrepreneur they are. Too many incubator models focus on one or the other. We are looking for more balance. It’s a really cool ecosystem that builds on itself and supports each other.” 

Draper said the key to a successful incubator is not the location, but the programming that attracts and builds entrepreneurs. “The goal is not to duplicate or replicate what already exists. We are filling a niche for something not yet being met, and that makes the entire ecosystem that much stronger.”

Draper explained the entrepreneurial ecosystem is defined as the community or value chain. “Anybody that contributes to the overall success of a startup idea is part of that ecosystem,” said Draper. “It is the teacher that sparks the idea, the web developer that builds the website, the marketing talent that develops the brand working with a graphic artist developing the logo, and the machine shop that builds the first product sample.  This model is meant to be inclusive not exclusive. The more we can leverage human capital, the faster we can get up and running.”

According to Brobston, SEDC and its incubator partners have embraced creating this accelerator in part because of the appeal and quality of life that Saratoga County offers. The County is already attracting talent who want to live here; who are seeking to live a quality work-play balance.

“Part of our byline is ‘promote, retain and grow.’ If we have people in Saratoga County working out of their home looking to start a business, we definitely want to work with them,” said Brobston, “but we’ll also be promoting the area to lots of places through our connections to universities and groups outside the area. We want to retain whoever is here, and there is quite a bit of talent here, and grow by providing opportunity for people to consider moving here from somewhere else.”

Dr. Kenneth J. Rotondo, 
President and Founding Partner of Mind Genomics Advisors said he was very excited when he learned about this project and is delighted to be a part of it. He serves on the Advance Saratoga Startup Advisory Team.

“I think this is definitely needed,” said Rotondo. “From what I’ve gathered living in Saratoga and having an office in Saratoga, I think there is a lot of creativity in a variety of disciplines from the arts and sciences to retail and business development. But there’s not something that allows easy entryway for advice or ideas. It will be very worthwhile and an obvious extension of SEDC’s mission. I turn down more of these things than you can imagine because I want to spend my time on something that has merit and will do some good. I think they are on to something here.”

Brobston recognizes that Advance Saratoga Startup is a startup in and of itself, but demand is high for entrepreneurial support in the region and the level of professional expertise available is an asset ready to give back.

“We’ll keep costs down by leveraging all these assets of staff time and mentors – marketing experts, legal experts  – all willing to donate their time,” said Brobston, “as well as operating out of our facilities here in Saratoga Springs. The expertise from Clarkson, which has such a reliable network of undergrads and grads for research and three-D printing, is invaluable. In future, we envision a facility where these people can meet or work out of shared spaces, but much depends on how many applicants there are, their quality, and how quickly we can get them up and running.”

For more information or for those interested in becoming a mentor, contact Ryan Van Amburgh This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit www.saratogaedc.com.

 

 

 

Friday, 27 January 2017 16:24

Figure Skating: The Path to Gold

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Lillian Bergbom, 11, of Maple Avenue Middle School, has been ice-skating for 5 years. On Saturday, Jan. 21, she passed her first free skate test and also leveled-up by passing an ice dancing test called the 14 Steps, passing at pre-silver level. “It was a little nerve-wracking,” she said. “I get very nervous the night before a test, but as soon as I get on the ice, and then halfway through the program, I get very relaxed and I usually come off the ice laughing.” Lillian was one of about 25 skaters who participated in Saturday’s skating test sessions hosted by Saratoga Springs Figure Skating Club at the Weibel Avenue Ice Rink. Lillian’s father, Bart Bergbom, is a parent volunteer and treasurer of the skating club. He explained that the testing is similar to earning a black belt in karate. Skaters must achieve certain levels before they can compete with peers at that level. “The tests are all pass or retry,” said Bergbom. “All are shooting for gold medal status. There are four different disciplines to do that in, so you can become a double gold medalist or go up to quadruple. Skaters find the field they are most comfortable with and stay focused there, but some know right off the bat they want to be quads. There’s no requirement; it’s all self-imposed.” According to “All About U.S. Figure Skating Tests” provided by U.S. Figure Skating, the test structure is the “backbone of U.S. Figure Skating.” It is the national standard by which all skaters are measured on their path to become a gold medalist nationally, and even on to the Olympics. “We have had a handful of girls make the U.S. Synchronized Skating Team,” said Bergbom. “We’ve had people qualify and compete on national levels, and one of our dance coaches went up through the ranks to compete at national levels as part of a pair.” Bergbom said usually the testing group is much larger than 25, but that it is currently the peak of the competition season, and most kids are working on their routines right now and focusing on the upcoming Empire State Games in Lake Placid. “I compete in free style and synchronized skating, on a skating team,” said Lillian. “It’s hard at first, but once you figure out how to lean your foot and keep them narrow and parallel, then you don’t have to think about it. You can put on music and just go for it and see what happens. I just started using music from the movie La La Land – well, it was good music!” Lillian said she really appreciates the encouragement that comes from her friends and coaches. “You’ll try something by yourself and you think you just can’t do it, and they help you and you try it again and do it perfect – it makes you feel accomplished.” For more information about skating competitions or lessons, visit saratogalearntoskate.com.
SACANDAGA LAKE — No reality TV show can compare to watching an extreme sport live, and locals will get a chance to do that the weekend of February 18 through 20 at the Great Sacandaga Lake Snowkite Rally. “It makes me feel alive,” said Jean Dunoyer, who has been snowkiting for 8 years. “I think the feeling of going out into the great outdoors and finding a way to propel myself at high speed across a frozen landscape in a controlled and safe fashion is an immense challenge.” Presented by Kite Club NY, experienced snowkiters from hundreds of miles around will gather to showcase their skills traveling at heart-pumping speeds across the icy lake and snow, trying to break records reaching past 70 miles per hour. They will launch and land near the Lanzi’s on the Lake restaurant, where spectators can also gather to warm up. Beginners are welcome, but lessons are required. Christo Vetar, owner of Kite Club NY, is an instructor and will be providing lessons for those who arrange them in advance. He warned that this is not a sport the people can randomly show up to try. “And no one will give them their equipment to try it, either,” said Vetar. “It would be like giving someone an airplane to try.” Dunoyer, who is a cofounder of MassKiting.com, agrees. “It’s an extreme sport,” he said, “so it’s not something you can do casually like kicking around a soccer ball. When we’re kiting, we tie ourselves to the kite, and you can get dragged to places you don’t want to go and endanger people around you if you don’t know what you are doing.” But Dunoyer says for those who have kited, this event would be a great place to try out a new spot, connect with peers, make new friends, and meet old friends. He said the sport is very community-minded, which increases safety because everyone looks out for each other. “There’s an element of danger, and I say that to ward off people who think it’s pretty simple, and it looks like it is, but it takes many years and seasons to practice and get to the point of being proficient. It’s important to take stock of the conditions, assess the dangers, and take steps to mitigate those dangers. The result is an incredible day outdoors, with wind and gravitational forces pulling you this way and that way. It can be about speed or just going on a ‘stroll’ or achieving some tricks.” The kite functions like a sail, he said, but unlike a sail, it can be manipulated in radical motions so snowkiters can suddenly jump up to 20 feet in the air. He said the biggest thrill for him is realizing that snowkiting is one of the best ways to explore the wilderness, and plans to snowkite through mountains soon. “I heard this began when people were traveling in Antarctica to get to the South Pole and wanted to do it without motor assistance,” he said, “but hiking is exhausting, too, especially with all the weight of supplies and such. Employing a kite was a beautifully elegant solution.” Local snowkiters and those coming from as far away as North Carolina are gathering for this event, which Dunoyer said is the only snowkiting event this winter in the Northeast, other than in Quebec. A banquet is planned for Sunday night. For more information, or to sign up for lessons, visit www.kiteclubny.com or www.facebook.com/SacandagaSnowkite.
Friday, 20 January 2017 16:24

Senate Holds Hearing on Future of NYRA

ALBANY — On Tuesday, January 17, the NYS Senate held a Future of NYRA hearing with invitation-only testimony related to several issues surrounding the New York Racing Association. During the hearing, the senate panel received word that Governor Andrew Cuomo would be including a re-privatization plan for NYRA is his NYS 2017-18 budget proposal. “We had a brief opportunity to restate our position,” said Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus, “which is first, to re-privatize NYRA as a not-for-profit corporation, and second, to make sure the State honors the franchise agreement and doesn’t reduce the revenue from the VLTs. We received an amazingly positive response from the senators who were there. The Legislature was really our partner last year, passing legislation that we supported. This was our chance to reconnect and rebuild on that for 2017.” Shimkus had submitted written testimony, as well, and pictured below is part of his presentation, which highlights the fact the Saratoga Race Course draws more paid attendance in one season than any of New York State’s other sports franchises. Maureen Lewi, chair of Concerned Citizens for Saratoga, said in regards to this piece of the presentation, “I think that the chart and the copy on this one page sums up the essence of the importance of this hearing, not only to Saratoga and the entire Capital Region, but to all of New York and to all of the fans from many states and several countries, that Saratoga draws from, to create its unique fan base.” NYRA President and CEO Chris Kay had presented written testimony to the panel, and later said in a statement, “NYRA is the cornerstone of an industry that employs 17,000 people and generates more than $2 billion in annual economic impact in New York State—primarily in the important areas of agriculture and tourism. Our annual summer meet at Saratoga Race Course is an engine for the Upstate economy, generating $237 million in economic activity and nearly 2,600 jobs across the greater Capital Region. As a private entity, building upon our recent progress and record of accomplishment, we look forward to growing our sport, our fan base, and our economic benefit to the State of New York.” In a written response to the Governor’s announcement about re-privatization, Kay said, “We appreciate the Governor’s support for legislation to return NYRA to private control. NYRA supports this proposed legislation, which is the result of productive dialogue with the Governor’s office over the last several months. We look forward to working with the legislature and all stakeholders in efforts to pass the Executive’s proposal.”
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