2023 Sunshine State Games Begin with Open Water Events in Cocoa Beach
CLICK HERE for the schedule of events on Sunday, May 14
Flashback to 1983 and the Semoran Skateway in East Orlando is one of the hottest places to gather for skaters of all ages. It provides an indoor outlet for youth to gather and show off their skills, under the flashing lights and if they were lucky, a disco ball.
In June of 1983, the Semoran Skateway hosted the Sunshine State Games with not only the Artistic theme but Speed Skating. Games records show that nearly 800 athletes competed in the 1983 Roller Skating Championships.
Through the years, the Roller Skating craze has calmed but facilities like the Semoran Skateway hang on while rinks have closed throughout Florida. The Sunshine State Games, now in its 44th year continues to provide Artistic Roller Skating to Florida’s amateur athletes.
The sport thrives with over 100 skaters registered to compete on Sunday, May 14 at the Semoran Skateway, a venue that was recently featured on “Hit Me With Your Best Spot,” a streaming tv show featuring local getaways.
Over the years some big names have emerged from the Sunshine State Games Artistic Roller Skating Championships. Winter Olympics speed skating bronze medalist in 2004, Jennifer Rodriguez, of Miami, got her start in SSG Artistic Roller Skating. Caydee Denney, of Ocala, learned how to maneuver on the four-wheel skates before advancing to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Pairs Figure Skating, with Jeremy Barrett. Her younger sister, Haven, also a Pairs Skating U.S. National Champion, were trained by their parents, both roller skating coaches.
The 2014 Sunshine State Games Athlete of the Year, Jessicah O’Rourke, of St. Petersburg, advanced to National competition like many others in recent years. In fact, several regular competitors in the Sunshine State Games will miss this year’s event because they’re competing in Paraguay.
One of the originators of Artistic Roller Skating in the Sunshine State Games, in 1981, was Pam Gerig, from Palm Beach County, who later became the Executive Director of the Palm Beach County Sports Commission. Because of her dedication to the sport and the sports industry in Florida, she was inducted into the Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame and the SportsETA Hall of Fame for Sports Tourism.
The meet director of more than 30 years, Janet Pavlonis, of West Palm Beach, has been involved in the SSG Artistic Roller Skating Championships since its inception in 1981 as a coach and administrator. Her mother, Iris Britt, and Gloria Manning, worked alongside Gerig in the early years of the Games.
With over 40 years as an administrator of Artistic Roller Skating events, Pavlonis, is a member of the USA Roller Sports Artistic Sport Committee and Finance Committee. She now continues the tradition along with co-meet director David Hankerson, and Artistic Roller-Skating Sport Director, with Tony Berger, owner of Semoran Skateway and Skating School of Central Florida Casselberry
While Artistic Roller Skating continues to thrive at the Casselberry venue, Pavlonis can attest to the challenges being faced by four-wheel skaters. Her rink, the former Atlantis Skatway, in West Palm Beach closed in August of 2022 and her club, the Atlantis Skating Club was forced to skate on outdoor rinks, constructed primarily for roller hockey teams.
“It was difficult to get into the city parks,” Pavlonis said. “The parks and recreation officials thought I was trying to run a business. We’ve managed to keep 18 club members active, when we once had about 50. They’ve been out on their own skating in these outdoor rinks. It’s amazing we’ve been able to keep 18 active.”
Recently a benefactor to the Roller Skating world, Chris Maganias, has bought rinks around the state and renovated them to keep programs like Pavlonis’ alive. The Astro Skate Rink of West Palm Beach is scheduled to open this month and the Astro Skating Club of West Palm Beach will continue its training.
“By next year, we should be back on track and building up many more youth skaters for years to come,” Pavlonis said.
This weekend eight members of the Astro Skate Club of West Palm Beach will be participating in the Sunshine State Games: Danielle Wood, Sabrina Cruz, Tina Jackson, Robert Hudson, Kimberly Kaufman, Marco Bjishkian, Stan Leibowitz and Charli Leibowitz.
“These skaters have overcome many obstacles like rocks and rain to compete this weekend,” Pavlonis said. “They will be competing next month in the Southern Region Championships with the hopes of Qualifying for the USA Roller Sports National Championships (in Lincoln, NE in late July).”
Come Sunday, the skaters will be on the Semoran Skateway, showing off their skills, dressed in colorful costumes with lights accenting their moves. The music may have changed from the 1980s but the performance level will be the same. And maybe even involve a disco ball.