Skating with a hero: Local youth take to the ice with first responders

Aaron Womer, a New Castle Police Department officer, skates with his girlfriend’s niece, Ella Scott, 7, and her friend, Alexandra McConnaughy, 7, at Skate With a Cop night on Saturday at the North Street Pole ice skating rink in downtown New Castle.

It was a weekend for Hometown Heroes on the ice at the North Street Pole skating rink.

On Saturday, everyone was invited to skate with a policeman, fireman or first responder. On Sunday, the invitation was extended to skate with veterans and active duty military.

“It’s a way or recognizing our very own Hometown Heroes,” said Angie Urban, executive director of New Visions for Lawrence County. “It gets them recognition and it lets the children know these are good, friendly people, not someone to be afraid of.”

Opening the ice for special occasions, she added, encourages more to use the facility situated at the corner of Mill and North streets.

The rink, Urban said, opened on Nov. 23 and more than 100 skaters turned out.

“We like to see a lot of people using the rink,” Urban said.

The 40-by-80-foot rink comes equipped with areas for people to change into skates, tents for warming, a fire pit and concessions provided through donations, sponsorships and grants.

“We’re still accepting donations, still looking for sponsors,” Urban said, adding, “We’re at about 90 percent of our goal. Last year all volunteers were used to run the facility so our hours were limited and we needed serious commitment from the volunteers.”

This year, three workers are being provided through Lawrence County CareerLink for work experience.

Urban said the Skate with a Cop plan was proposed last year by Joy Trott, but it never got on the ice.

“The night we were supposed to do it, it was 62 degrees and rained,” she said. “This year is much better.”

With Saturday night temperatures nearing mid-40s and no rain, it was a perfect night to ice skate.

Although only one officer — Aaron Womer of the New Castle police department — actually skated, chief Bobby Salem was on the ice overseeing games and scraping the ice.

Two firemen — Marco Bulisco, skating with his daughter, Allegra, and Antonio Romano, with his infant son, Antonio Jr. — skated, as did an EMT from Noga Ambulance, and other police, firemen and EMTs were on hand. They brought with them the tools of their trade, a city police car and the department’s giant Mine Resistant Ambush Protection vehicle, a fire truck, chief’s car and a Noga Ambulance were all parked on Mill Street and open to curious children and their parents to tour them.

Christmas music played on the sound system and a limbo game encouraged youngsters onto the ice.

Salem and his son, Bobby, oversaw a limbo contest among the young skaters with winners limbo for a quarter.

Trott, who proposed the Skate-With-a-Cop program last year, said she was pleased it could happen last weekend.

“They have Shop with a Cop, this is an extension,” she said.

Trott said she learned that cops are good people, since her daughter is dating officer Womer.

“He’s the nicest guy and the kids know him,” she said. “He was the officer in the school and Lockley and George Washington schools.”

She added that Chief Salem “pours his heart into the project” and is on the ice from opening to closing on most days.

She said she was disappointed last year when the event was rained out.

“It rained and the area around the rink was flooded,” she said. “You couldn’t even get to the ice, it was so bad.”

All levels of skaters typically come to the downtown rink from small children using cones and cages to help with their balance to experienced skaters.

Cole Keister, a CareerLink worker, who is a senior at Westminster College, said a 65-year-old man, equipped with a helmet and elbow pads, showed up early on Saturday.

“He was all over the ice doing spins and teaching others how to do them,” Keister said. “He was with a woman who could also skate. They were her for about an hour. He said they had already been at Hess earlier in the day.”

Another skater out on the ice on Saturday was 75-year-old Jackie Johns, chief Salem’s mother. Skating for the first time last year, she relied on her daughter, Diana Crable of Bellefonte, and grandchildren, Courtney Crable and Bobby Salem Jr. to keep her upright on the ice. All performed their job well and she never fell.

Taking a break, Johns urged her son to put on some skates and join her.

“I don’t skate,” was all the chief said.

Officer Womer was dressed for his 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. shift wearing his badge, bullet-proof vest and service revolver when he stepped onto the ice at 5 p.m.

“I called some of the others, but they didn’t come. Maybe they’re afraid of falling,” Womer said.

He kept his smile throughout the evening skating with his niece, Ella Scott, 7, and chasing youngsters over the ice.

Several adults stood and watched as the youngsters skated. One was Assistant Fire Chief Tom Bulisco, who declined to put on skates.

“I have enough injuries,” Bulisco said. Another firefighter noted that he too has fallen on ice too often while working to chance another fall for fun.

Antoinette Work said she was making her second trip to the rink with her son, Lucas, 11, and nephew, Mason, 14.

“We got here about 1:30 p.m., left at 3 p.m. to warm up then returned,” she said. “This is the only place my younger son will skate,”

She noted that her older son, Joshua, 15, plays hockey at Hess Ice Rink in Neshannock Township.

Work liked the idea of skating with police officers.

“It’s nice to get to know the police and to respect what they do,” she said.

She also praised the officers and officials for creating the ice rink.

“It gets bigger every year and better,” she said.

Now in its third year, the rink has grown and relocated from its original location in Riverwalk Park on East Washington Street. Started in 2017 by Lawrence County District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa’s office, the rink was only 20-by-30-feet. It was moved and expanded last year to its current location. An estimated 2,000 skaters participated in 2018.

Urban said the rink is so successful, she would like to see it permanently located in a city park area.

“We could offer a longer season, through most of the winter,” she said. “And, the site could be a giant splash pad through the summer.”

The rink is open from 4 to 9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and 1 to 9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The cost is $5 per person with children ages 14 and younger skating for free.

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