There weren’t many people inside the Civic Auditorium on Thursday to watch the young figure skaters practice their routines.
After all, the big show — the United States Figure Skating Championships — was going on a few blocks away at the CenturyLink Center. The skaters at the Civic, some as young as 7, were taking part in the juvenile/intermediate competition that begins Friday.
That event for the stars of tomorrow — 23 of the skaters competing at the senior level this year won juvenile or intermediate championships — usually is held separate from the seniors championships. The two are being held simultaneously this year.
Among the parents patiently watching Thursday’s practice were Kevin and Carol Hubbart of Tampa, Fla. Their 15-year-old son Will and 13-year-old daughter JoJo will be competing in the juvenile pairs division.
Also there to cheer on his brother and sister was 12-year-old Nicholas, another skater in the family.
“They started skating when they were about 4,” Kevin Hubbart said. “Will and JoJo began skating together about 20 months ago.”
Athletes have come from all over the country to compete in skating this week, even from the unlikely state of Florida.
“About the only time people think about ice in Tampa is when it’s in someone’s drink,” Hubbart said. “But skating has been a very positive experience for us.”
Hubbart said the family’s participation in the sport can be traced to Will’s birth. He was born eight weeks premature and weighed just 3 pounds, 10 ounces.
“As he grew up, our pediatrician said it would be a good thing to find him a sports outlet,” Hubbart said. “We foolishly tried basketball and that didn’t work. But when he tried ice skating at the mall, he was zipping around the rink.”
Will’s siblings also got involved in skating, and the family’s participation has been growing ever since. Will began teaming with his sister on the advice of a skating coach.
“I think it’s definitely an advantage to be skating with her,” he said. “We spend a lot of time together so it’s something that comes pretty easy.”
JoJo said she also enjoys competing with her big brother, adding that they get along “pretty well.”
“I like getting thrown during our routines,” she said. “Even though that can be a little scary.”
Kevin Hubbart, a native of Des Moines, said his family is still trying to make the adjustment from toasty Tampa to frigid Omaha.
“We had to go buy coats and gloves and hats,” he said. “It’s cold, but I can’t say enough about the hospitality we’ve enjoyed since we’ve been here.”
Those added clothes are just part of the family expenses. Extended family meant the purchase of 10 airline tickets. And motel rooms. And coaches’ fees. And food. And anything else that gets purchased during the stay.
Chasing the Olympic dream over the years is not cheap. Hubbart estimated the family has spent close to $100,000.
“It’s not inexpensive, that’s for sure,” he said. “But the kids have been very dedicated and we want to be supportive of them.”
The Hubbart children, who are home-schooled, spend six hours a day six times a week at the Tampa Skating Academy. All of that hard work hopefully will come to fruition at 3 p.m. Friday when the juvenile pairs event is held at the Civic Auditorium.
“They’ll compete for 2½ minutes, and that’s the agonizing part,” Kevin Hubbart said. “A year’s worth of practice comes down to that.”
After Thursday’s practice, the 12 juvenile pairs teams and their families took part in the official draw for Friday’s competition. When Will and JoJo’s names were called, they stepped forward and drew the No. 7 out of the little bag. Competing seventh is OK with JoJo.
“Seven is my favorite number,” she said. “I was hoping we didn’t get the number one because I didn’t want to go first.”
The Hubbarts are hoping that Friday, which is JoJo’s 14th birthday, they’ll have something else to celebrate.
“We hope they do well,” Kevin Hubbart said. “We’ll have our fingers crossed.”
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