January 13, 2004

Ice skating on the Midway remains valued pastime

Snell and Hitchcock residents have long considered themselves members of the most chic houses on campus. They proved that on Friday night when they attended a private skating session at the Midway Rink, continuing the long-standing Hyde Park tradition of ice skating on the Midway.

Although the rink, as it stands today at 1130 Midway Plaisance North, wasn't completed until February 2001, people have been skating on the Midway in portable rinks for over a century.

From the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 to the activities of today—skating, broomball, and rat hockey in the winter and sports camp, roller skating, and festivals in the summer—the Midway has remained the Park District's community "place-to-be." The building facility accompanying the rink includes a skate rental area, a café, a rooftop observation deck, and a warming house. The facility has been used for banquets and was once even rented for a wedding. Employees say the most popular activity is adult rat hockey.

The Olympic-sized rink provides skaters with excellent amenities: parking in the evening hours and a variety of music. "We play everything from classical to rap; from Frank Sinatra to Elvis to Earth, Wind, and Fire," said special recreation activity instructor at the rink, Mack Smith, a Hyde Park native who began skating at age six.

Smith added that the rink's location on the Midway makes it safer than other rinks in Chicago. "The security is superb—there's no crime. It's top-flight—very professional."

Jordan Paterra, the fourth-year R.A. in Hitchcock who planned the Friday night event, said that the right to have a skating party isn't exclusive to his own dorm and that any house can take advantage of the opportunity. "The University and housing office are really great in allowing houses to get together to have [parties] at the rink," Paterra said. "I would like to emphasize how great housing is," he added with a grin.

Becky St. Clair, a first-year at the event, said that she probably would not have come to the rink if it had not been for the house trip.

Meanwhile, some of her housemates were practically seasoned veterans of the ice. Jake Xuyang Song, also a first-year, said that he had skated several times prior to the house event. "I think it's a great activity, and a great way to bring people together," he said.

First-year Hitchcock resident Phoebe Duncan summed the evening up nicely with a simple, albeit, cogent remark, "Ice is nice."

Employees at the Midway Rink said that some members of the outside community see the rink as exclusive to the University, even though it is run by the public park district and has an open-door policy.

However, the University played a significant role in planning and lobbying for the rink, which came into existence via a joint effort with the Chicago Park District.

Smith maintains that the University "has been doing a lot to reach out to the community, and, through our facility, the University has an excellent opportunity to bring out diverse culture and economic stability."

Pushing aside different perceptions of what the Midway Rink may represent, those who are actually gliding on the ice agree that it brings the community together. "On weekends you see a lot of university students. [Throughout the week] there's usually a mix of gender and people in the age range of six to sixty. I like the fact that we get a cross-section of people here. People are very happy to come. It's a fun, ‘happening' place," Smith said.

Snell-Hitchcock certainly tore up the ice on Friday, but they weren't the only ones who took advantage of the rink. Steven and Logan Kee, brothers ages six and seven, respectively, also had a blast. They say that Friday night was their second time there.

Though Steven received help from Mom and Dad, he insisted that he likes to be independent and skate on his own. He exuded a unique blend of confidence and humility that only a six-year-old could possess. "Next time, I hope to skate faster," he said.

When asked if he knew what the U of C was, Steven replied with a curt, "No."

Like Mack Smith and Steven Kee, several Snell-Hitchcock students say they started skating at age six.

But many University students still do not know that they can experience the rush of their first time on the ice conveniently in Hyde Park. And although the Midway Rink remains an enigma to many, there are some who truly understand its magic, and even a few who take it too far. Confessed one student: "I applied here just because of the rink."

With addional reporting by Cady Susswein.