Uphill battle for downhill skiers
Not that the score wasn't important, but the fact that Thursday's Holland Patent Invitational ski event even existed was a triumph in itself.
“The adrenaline rush is insane,” said Erika Bradley, a Holland Patent freshman skier after coming down the hill.
Last year, Holland Patent didn't have a downhill ski racing team after having one for many years. However, the efforts of parents, members of the community and skiers resurrected the team and now it's back and bigger than it was before.
“In a way, fighting to save it actually helped it,” said Brian Freeman, Holland Patent's coach.
The plight of Holland Patent's ski team isn't unique. Old Forge and Lowville are the only other schools in the area with downhill racing teams, and there are just five in Section III. Whitesboro and Rome Free Academy are among the schools that have had to discard their programs.
“It seems like every year we lose another team from our section,” Old Forge ski parent Karen Mitchell said.
Holland Patent gave three reasons for the sport's termination last year - funding, time missed from school and interest, according to Holland Patent parent Karin Meola.
So the team itself conducted chicken barbecues and a battle of the bands among other fundraisers in order to get the money to help fund its existence. Local businesses also donated money to help the team out.
“Not many people knew we even had a ski team,” Bradley said. “Once they found out about it, I think they wanted to help out.”
Woods Valley, the host of Thursday's meet, did its part by lowering some of its prices to make practices and races more affordable.
“We want to encourage skiing at every level,” said Joe Olney, co-owner of Woods Valley. “All of us that work here are avid skiers, and we love the sport.”
For Holland Patent, interest also was an issue.
If the team had run last year, it would have had roughly 11 members, according to Freeman.
This year, it has 16 members, and Freeman said more students wanted to join after practice had already started. Therefore, Bradley said, the campaign to keep the team going helped grow the team by sparking interest.
To maintain that level of interest, some Holland Patent parents have started a program to help grow the number of skiers in the district by offering ski lessons to students starting at the elementary level.
Right now, Meola estimates that 20 kids participate in the program.
“We live in Central New York where there are feet of snow every year,” Meola said.
In the past, ski teams have had to miss a fair amount of school because of the distance they have to travel and the times they used to compete.
However, Thursday's races took place in the late afternoon and early evening. In addition, many events have been moved to the weekend so the students miss less school.
With all obstacles met, the racers have been taking to the slopes for the Golden Knights. Freeman said there's a variance of gender, age and skill on his team, but the best part is - it's a team.
“We've got all different level of kids,” Freeman said. “But as part of the team, they can all enjoy the success of one.”