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Jan Murphy, helps her son, Mac Murphy, 7, with his skates last week at the Point Mallard Ice Complex.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Jan Murphy, helps her son, Mac Murphy, 7, with his skates last week at the Point Mallard Ice Complex.

Hitting the ice
Rink draws more skaters, but staffers say many residents unaware of facility

By Melanie B. Smith
msmith@decaturdaily.com 340-2468

Rachel Landers, 17, guided young children on ice skates, some taking only their second lesson.

A teaching assistant, she was helping coach Charles Bernhard on Friday afternoon at the Point Mallard Ice Complex during a home school session.

At the rink five days a week, the Hartselle girl has been skating since she was 6 and started taking lessons at the original pavilion rink.

"I absolutely love it. There's no greater thrill than stepping on the ice and gliding around and around," she said.

Landers isn't the only athlete hooked on skating at Point Mallard.

Attendance at the rink was almost 27,600 during the last fiscal year, up from 18,582 the year before, said Julianne Lowman, marketing consultant for Decatur Parks and Recreation.

It's the only rink between Franklin, Tenn., and Birmingham, and between Huntsville and Little Rock, Ark.

More people need to be aware of what the ice complex offers, said Jackie Landers, Rachel's mother.

"We think the facility is great, and more people ought to know about it," Jackie Landers said.

She and manager Barry Smith said skaters come for lessons or sessions from across North Alabama and southern Tennessee, but other potential users seem uninformed.

Lowman said budget constraints have limited advertising, but she hopes to expand marketing for the rink.

"So many people have told me that it's the best kept secret in Decatur," she said.

Attracting skaters

One of the Friday skaters came from Huntsville, even though his family lives only five minutes from the rink there, said his mother.

Shawn Bednarczyk of Huntsville, sitting rinkside to watch her son's lesson, said part of the reason for her 30-minute drive to Point Mallard is the early afternoon availability of lessons, which accommodates their home school schedule. Her son dreams of playing hockey one day, she said.

A longtime Point Mallard skater at age 10, Susan Purvis of Decatur said skating is fun and challenging.

"You get to try new things and go to new places," she said.

Her mother, Kate Purvis, said she likes the supportive environment at Point Mallard's rink and skating school.

"There is competition among skaters, as in any sport, but they look out for each other here, both skaters and staff," she said.

Susan placed third in her first regional competition two years ago, but broke her foot just before last year's regionals.

Kate Purvis said her daughter is able to get training in Decatur from highly qualified coaches.

Variety

Berhnard, skating director, said the Point Mallard Skating School has five coaches and 150 students who take classes or get individual instruction. Berhnard was a United States International team member and gold medal winner in pairs competition, he said.

Children as young as 4 take classes, and adults skate, too, Berhnard said. One local skater in her 70s is on a synchronized skating team, and a man who drives from Pulaski, Tenn., is a competition figure skater, he said.

"You don't have to be Olympic bound to compete," he said.

Hockey teams and classes use the Point Mallard Complex. The rink offers "Learn to Play Hockey" sessions, with helmets, skates, gloves and sticks provided. Four adult pickup teams play on Wednesday nights, Smith said.

Hockey league play for all ages is associated with the Huntsville Amateur Hockey Association.

Some groups regularly rent the facility. WFIX-FM radio in Florence drew more than 500 skaters and another 200 onlookers on a recent Friday night for its Big FIX Chill Out, said Steve Craig, operations manager.

Jeff Dunlap, director of Decatur Parks and Recreation, said a skating complex is important for Decatur because not all youths like such sports as baseball or basketball. The community needs to offer options so a youth isn't just sitting in front of a TV or a computer for recreation.

He said he often hears from newcomers and visitors from northern climates commenting, "Wow, you have a rink we can use?"

On the Web: www.PointMallardPark.com

Point Mallard Ice Complex revenue

2006 fiscal year, $369,968

2005 fiscal year, $363,043

Source: Marketing Consultant Julianne Lowman

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