Skating judge aims for gold

Volunteer: For an Ellicott City resident, rating young figure skaters is a test for them - and for her.

Howard At Play

December 14, 2003|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Wendelyn R. Jones, A young figure skater glides across the ice, concentrating on the moves required to go up in skill, while three judges make notations, watching for a wrong edge, an incorrectly placed toe.

This isn't a competition in which marks are awarded and a winner declared. This is more technical, behind-the-scenes stuff. It is a test. It is a series of prescribed elements that determines at which level a skater is classified.

Actually, it is two tests occurring simultaneously. And one involves a volunteer who wants to officiate what sometimes seems to be the most arbitrary of sports, figure skating. It is a sport that has seen controversy in recent years at the international level involving national favoritism and politics.

Like the skaters, who work long hours perfecting their moves, judges, too, must impress their older peers while learning the sport - from the other side of the rink wall. All competition judges must also be test judges, and all test judges have to start somewhere, although not necessarily as skaters themselves.

Ellicott City resident Wendelyn R. Jones was one of three judges during a recent all-day testing session at Columbia Ice Rink. The sessions are conducted periodically, and success or lack of it for youngsters can determine eligibility for some levels of competition.

"There is always a need for judges, and it is immensely rewarding," said Jones, 34.

"Basically, you have to love the sport. Forget prior skating experience or not - you have to love the sport," said Jones, whose friends know her as Wende.

She skated from age 7 to 18. The next decade was spent coaching, which helped pay the bills once she renounced her amateur status. After receiving a doctorate in chemistry and a job with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a scientist, she didn't need to coach and teach.

"I enjoyed coaching, but it was never really what I wanted to do," she said.

However, she is still active in the sport as a volunteer - all judges at every level are volunteers.

"I thought, `Somebody did it for me - I can do it for them,' " said Jones, who has a sister in Parkville who coaches the sport. "It's a way to give back to the sport. ... I know what it's like to be the skater out there, to be the coach on the side standing there - my evaluation counts."

When asked what was the most difficult part of judging, she said, "To be a judge requires a certain temperament, along with technical knowledge of the sport. You have to be willing to be the odd one out. Life would be easier if you passed every child, but are you really doing them a favor?"

Crofton resident Honor Johnson, who has judged skating for 25 years, agreed.

Like Jones, she often tests young skaters locally, often at Columbia Ice Rink, for members of the Columbia Figure Skating Club, as well as other regional clubs.

"I find it very rewarding," Johnson said. "Yeah, it has its difficulties ... . We want them to pass, but we have to do what we have to do sometimes because the skater isn't ready for the next level. It's very hard to have to put `retry' down there, but in the long run, it's better."

Johnson also is an accountant in the figure-skating world - she runs the computer software that tabulates scores of performers in competitions. She will work next month at the U.S. figure skating championships in Atlanta.

Judges, as they gain experience, move up through the levels established by the U.S. Figure Skating Association of bronze, silver and gold, in test judging and through novice, junior, senior and nationals in competition judging.

Whether the type of figure skating is figures, pairs, ice dancing or freestyle, the discerning eye is one that notes the overall presentation while evaluating takeoffs and landings, recognizing if the edges are correct, if the spins are centered and whether there is sufficient power. The judge must also determine if the skaters are in unison, the required positions are achieved and whether the skaters hold their positions.

Jones is working to achieve the gold level as a test judge. She also is judging local competitions to achieve her first level - novice - for competitions of pairs and singles.

Some judges prefer to stick to tests, in which skaters receive feedback and written comments from the judges; others prefer competition judging. Some do both.

Comparing the two types of judging is apples and oranges, Jones said.

"What you can like about both of them is an opportunity to see some really good skating," she said.

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