As seen throughout the country during the last 15 months, many things have drastically changed. Many sheltered in place only going out for necessities, while others worked to keep some sense of normalcy for their families. To say it has been a trying year; well, that would be an understatement. For the families in our youth hockey program, skating club and local high school teams, there was an additional added stress. It was during the pandemic, that our home rink at Kent State was abruptly shut down with no advance warning leaving us scrambling to find additional rinks who could support an organization of our size. 7 local high school teams, a youth hockey organization and a skating club were all displaced when Kent State made the one sided decision to close the rink. This left the community at a loss. What you need to understand from the outside looking in is that this facility is more than just a university ice rink. It’s a hub of our community, especially for those participating in any type of ice skating activities. It literally becomes a second home from August to April every year. 

The closure of the rink left many teams and families scrambling to find ice available to have hopes at managing a season for many local hockey players and skaters. Remember the part where I talked about maintaining a sense of normalcy? That’s what we were all trying to do for our kids who were already pulled away from school and friends. My email to Kent State President Todd Diacon was left unanswered, and the Kent Health Department cited two cases of COVID within our organization as the reason to close the ice rink; knowing full well the cases were not contracted due to participation in hockey. Many families were happy to follow the rules and guidelines set forth by the university to use the rink. The closure felt like a punishment after many families followed the guidance to get their kids on the ice knowing the positive cases had no connection to our use of the facility. Several Northeast Ohio rinks stepped up to the plate and gave us as much ice time as they were able to. This led to many families driving all over Northeast Ohio (literally one night in Youngstown and the next in Euclid!) to support their children in sports they loved. That’s just what we had to do. That is how the hockey community steps up. It is a community like no other that I have been a part of. 

With the closure we toed the proverbial line, hoping the ice arena would reopen this fall for the return of hockey. Many families were hopeful for a return to normal, albeit a new normal. However, that hope has been dashed yet again. Kent State is seeking to re-purpose portions of the ice arena, specifically the recreation rink, into a marching band practice facility with an estimated cost of 5.5-6.5 million dollars. This all coming from a university who just last year cut budgets across departments in response to the pandemic. The decision to re-purpose the recreation rink was not made publicly known through an announcement, but rather placed inside the classified section of the local newspaper seeking bids for the job. Taking away the recreation rink cripples the ability for all teams and the skating program to have access to ice times for their individual team needs. Several local high schools have already had to find alternative locations for their hockey seasons this upcoming school year due to limited ice availability. In their ad seeking bids, the university highlighted a goal to recruit future musicians, all the while leaving a bad taste in the mouths of potential future students and hockey players from the local communities. Kids that grew up in this rink have come to know this place as a second home, and some have even decided to attend the university following the completion of high school. 

Not only does this affect families, it truly affects the local Kent community. Families who come to Kent for hockey games from other northeast Ohio communities who are Kent state alumni often talk about visiting local restaurants and stores while in Kent that they once frequented during their time spent here. We have also hosted players and their families from Canada bi-annually in a friendship event that started almost 50 years ago, bringing revenue to the city. During this event we utilize local business to provide food and beverages to families. Prior to the pandemic, we had even reserved a block of hotel rooms at the Kent State Hotel for this event.  Local high school tournaments do the same. The loss of the recreation rink will undoubtedly affect the whole community. I can safely say as an alumni this will also affect the university when it comes to donor funds. Alumni who are avid hockey fans may see fit to take away current and future donations based on this decision by the university. 
Most recently, in March 2021, the university published an article about their partnership with the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League. This partnership has been ongoing since it’s inception in 2018 drawing students to Kent State from the Southwestern PA area. The article stated that the partnership was formed based on shared commitments of developing young professionals and having a positive impact on the community. Repurposing the recreation rink at the university certainly will not have a positive impact on the local community, especially those participating in figure skating and ice hockey. For those of us in Kent and the surrounding communities, there are no other local community rinks for us to relocate to without an added burden. This decision has the devastating potential to take kids away from the game of hockey and figure skating. 

Please join us in solidarity by showing the Kent State Board of Trustees and University President Diacon what this facility truly means to the local and adjoining communities by signing our petition. Please also visit our website at skatekentstate.org (it may still be a work in progress) to leave words of support and for additional information relating to this cause. #skatekentstate