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These kids are skating for the gold

John Brantley, 14, practices speed skating at Kate's Skating Rink in Rock Hill. He is part of a group of area skaters going to Omaha, Neb., for a national speed skating competition next month.
John Brantley, 14, practices speed skating at Kate's Skating Rink in Rock Hill. He is part of a group of area skaters going to Omaha, Neb., for a national speed skating competition next month.

Donny Allen walked to the DJ booth and called the name of 7-year-old Jacob Anderson. "Two," said Allen as he motioned with his hand the number two.

"Give me two," Allen said.

Jacob proceeded to break away from his skating partner to skitter two laps around the rink with the haste of a roadrunner. And for good measure, he added a hop at the end.

When asked about his precociousness on the skating rink afterwards, Jacob looked blankly.

"It makes me feel happy," Jacob said with youthful innocence.

Jacob will be one of four members from his squad, South Carolina Speed, in the 7-and-younger division to compete for the gold medal on July 15 in Omaha, Neb. Donny Allen, the coach of S.C. Speed, is not assuring victory just yet.

"If they skate like they can, then I feel good about our chances," Allen said about his team. "It all depends on whether things fall into place."

The other three skaters on the squad are Aiden Murphy-Booth, Deja Johnson and Sarah Western. All four skaters are from Rock Hill. All but Deja have been inline skating for less than a year, Allen said.

This will be Deja's second time participating in the championships. Last year, she finished third in her age group. Tammy Johnson, Deja's mother, called her a natural.

"This has been a pleasant surprise," Tammy Johnson said.

Jacob has made a similar impression on his parents. He started speed skating last December and now eight months later will be competing for a gold medal in the national championships.

"He's a natural, phenomenal even," said Bobby Anderson, Jacob's father. "I am proud of him."

So is his mother.

"He doesn't even realize how much of an accomplishment this is," said Holly Shadoan, Jacob's mother. "The thing he is most excited about is that he will get to ride on another airplane."

Coaching 'em 'football-style'

Allen leads 45 children ages 6 to 16 with S.C. Speed. He has been coaching for 13 years, winning his first national championship in 1994. Skaters come from Gastonia, N.C., High Point, N.C., Rock Hill and elsewhere.

For Allen, building a championship squad is about conditioning and hard work. His teams practice four times a week, two hours a day. He's a tough drill sergeant.

"I coach a football style," Allen said. "Run till you puke, and then you run some more."

Allen was a skater growing up. He was passionate about it, but wasn't quite as good as others. Nevertheless, he stayed with it. Bad knees and impaired vision finally derailed him, he said.

He now approaches his duties as a coach -- which he does for free -- like a man who is lucky and obligated to do what he does.

"If I don't coach these kids, who else will?" Allen said. "I know kids that quit skating and (have) gotten into trouble. So, I am keeping kids out of trouble and giving them good exercise in the process."

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