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Student starts youth skeleton program

Adia Waldburger, Of the Record staff

As a teenager in Park City, Christopher Croce is surrounded by peers involved in youth developmental sports programs. Yet, in his own sport of skeleton, there was no such program either locally or nationally.

So, when it came time for the Treasure Mountain International School student to complete his International Baccalaureate program, he knew exactly what he wanted to do.

And thus, the Young Sliders program was born. Croce, who has been sliding for the past two years, knew that such a program would have national and even international implications. So, he enlisted the help of elite skeleton veterans Brady and Felicia Canfield, to create a program that would fall under sanctioned guidelines for the sport. The Canfields had wanted to start such a program before, but had never found the time to do it.

With extensive help from the Utah Skeleton and Bobsled Association (USBA), the trio has designed a program that is both safe and fun for young children interested in taking to the track.

"I always wanted to do something about skeleton and it’s my favorite sport," Croce said.

Croce’s undertaking is no small feat. With no model to follow, he wanted to make sure all facets of the work were introduced to youngsters. He designed his project to unravel in three parts. First, to introduce the sport to the youth of Park City. Next, a summer program at the push track practicing the sport on wheels. This winter the official final installation will be the official Young Sliders program at the Utah Olympic Park (UOP). Felicia Canfield determined a youth start at curve 12 that will ensure everyone’s safety and enjoyment.

The first step was to introduce the program to the community. Croce approached Park City elementary schools and asked to hold a skeleton presentation in physical education classes. McPolin Elementary’s physical education teacher Cathy Hinshaw promptly responded and allowed Croce, his parents and skeleton officials two days of class to teach the children all about the sport.

Croce thought the best approach was to teach the kids in stations.

The class started with Olympic footage of Olympic gold medallists Jimmy Shea and Tristan Gale, which immediately caught the children’s attention. They were then broken down into three small groups that rotated about the gym.

At the first station, Croce personally led a presentation on the history of the sport and then explained the equipment.

At the second station, the children were strapped into helmets and laid on the sleds to get a feel for the sport. The children then lifted the sled to get a feel for its weight. The 80 pounds overwhelmed most of the seven-year-old small bodies.

At the next stop, children simulated a push start. They started on wooden blocks with an imaginary sled and then raced toward a pile of gymnastics mats and threw themselves down as if jumping on a sled.

The final stop was an actual ride as kids were pushed back and forth across the gym floor on wheeled versions of the skeleton sled. This station was clearly the most popular one.

"You get to go as fast as they can push you," said Alex Kintner, age 7. "You can see what a real skeleton sled is like."

"I talked with Cathy about what we wanted to talk about history and gear. She wanted exercise so we added start blocks and mats," Croce said.

Croce is hopeful that his project will become established as a long-running program at the park. As it grows, he will eventually turn the reigns over to the USBA and hopefully one day as a model for the track at Lake Placid and as an official development program for the United States Bobsled and Toboggan Federation.

On Feb. 25, all kids in the area are invited to the UOP track for a "Young Sliders" open house. Participants will receive a free introductory skeleton training session. Croce says the buzz is already growing.

"All the kids are super excited," Croce said. "Almost all wanted to try it."

"It could be really fun and it could be a sport you do for your country," said an eager seven-year-old Joseph Fogarty.

Croce is hopeful his small dream can help skeleton as a sport in the U.S. In general, European youth grow up on the icy track, while Americans often happen onto the sport much later in life.

"A lot of kids in Europe are going from the top and we wanted to keep up with them and that’s why we created it," Croce said.

With an established program, Croce envisions, one day, the Americans being on more level ground, or ice, as the case may be.

"It would be awesome to know that they went from the program that me and the USBA came up with," Croce said.

The "Young Sliders" program will host a free introductory lesson on Sunday, Feb. 25 at 1 p.m. Kids will be guaranteed at least one run down the track from Curve 12. Call the Utah Olympic Park’s sports services desk at 658-4208 or e-mail sportservices@olyparks.com for more information or to register for the event.


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