01/17/2011 9:00 AM
Jan. 17, 2011
Residents of West Michigan are no stranger to Jack Frost and all the perils he brings. Year after year natives endure four months of little sun complemented by an abundance of cold, wind and snow; it’s enough to make even the hardiest individuals long for warmer temperatures. However, the brisk winds bring the opportunity to enjoy sports such as ice skating, dog sled racing and speed skating, and perhaps most importantly for fans of the Grand Rapids Griffins: hockey.
On January 22-23, fans of the Griffins will have a unique opportunity to celebrate winter in Grand Rapids while supporting the Griffins Youth Foundation. Entering its ninth consecutive year, the Great Skate fundraiser will run from 10 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 22 to 10 p.m. the following day, Sunday, Jan. 23.
Coinciding with the Great Skate will be Winterfest, a sponsored festival taking place at Rosa Parks Circle from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.
“Winterfest was started three years ago,” said Randy Cleves, the Griffins’ senior director of public relations. “There wasn’t really a winter festival type event in the downtown district and part of our intention was to fill that void and make this a celebration of winter.”
Over the last three years, a variety of local organizations have become involved with Winterfest; the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the public library, even John Ball Park Zoo have come out to show their support for the event.
“As things have progressed, we’ve been able to add more,” Cleves said. “This year Marhar Snowboarding is going to be performing. In addition to them showing what they can do, members of the public will be able to get out there and use the equipment. Snow Bound Adventures will have a few teams of sled dogs out and if Mother Nature provides about six inches of snow Friday night, we’ll actually be able to have sled dog races right on the streets of downtown Grand Rapids.”
Ice sculpting team, the Ice Gurus will also be on hand displaying their talents.
“The Ice Gurus have gained a lot of notoriety recently and have their own show coming up on the Food Network. They’ve been involved with us since the start of our event, so it’s kind of cool since ‘we knew them when,’” Cleves shared.
For fans looking to escape the chill of January, the Griffins will host the Chicago Wolves at 8 p.m. leading up to the start of the skating marathon. For fans already taking in the fun at Rosa Parks circle, the Griffins game will be broadcast over the sound system.
The real fun begins at 10 p.m. with the start of the Great Skate. Team mascot Griff will be the first skater and after him a Griffins player or coach will be on the ice at all times for the following 24 hours.
“Our guys are fantastic about making themselves available for community events,” Cleves said. “The players who have been through Great Skate before know what it’s all about and really love it, even the ones with the 3 or 4 a.m. shifts.”
The Griffins Youth Foundation, which was established in 1995, provides the opportunity for 300 kids who are under-privileged, underserved or have special needs to play hockey for no cost.
“There is a first through ninth grade program and a girls team. The Grand Rapids sled team is also co- sponsored by the Foundation and the Griffins,” Cleves said. “The Foundation covers their equipment, their ice team, everything.”
Cleves emphasized the importance of every donation by fans, even just a few dollars.
“Every dollar donated provides ten minutes of ice time for one of our players, so it adds up quickly.”
Throughout both the Winterfest and the Great Skate, participants will be able to make donations. Additionally, there will be a silent auction and fans can make pledges for their favorite Griffins player or even set up their own pledge page.
“This event is great because it gives the Foundation a lot of exposure,” Cleves said. “Every year it continues to build and we have a lot of community ‘celebrities’ come down and skate as well. I love that you can come to downtown Grand Rapids and see a bunch of sled dogs, even go up and pet them. Then right next to them there’s an ice sculpture creating a giant hockey player. It’s very gratifying to see how many different organizations have been willing to partner with us and make this the biggest event it can possibly be.”
Information for donating to the Griffins Youth Foundation or making a pledge as well as a schedule of the weekend’s events (including the rotation and times that the Griffins players will skate) can be found at http://griffinshockey.com/greatskate/.
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