Emerald Coast Speed ​​Team breeds speed skating champions in Milton

The ice rink is a familiar haunt for many.

Deeply worn carpeting with a variety of neon colors, the smells of snack food, and the nostalgic click and roar of skates hitting the rink are reminiscent of birthday parties and wasted weekends with family and friends.

Weber’s Skate World in Milton has many familiar sights and sounds, but one look at the group of spandex-draped skaters and speed around the rink in synchronized motion lets you know there’s something different here.

For this group, skating is more than fun and games. It’s about competition, self-improvement, self-growth – and yes, there’s still room for fun.

Kayla Herring, 15, left, and others speed off the floor as the Emerald Coast Speed ​​Team practice at Weber's Skate World in Milton on Thursday August 11, 2022.

David Weber is the coach of the Emerald Coast Speed ​​Team, an inline skate racing team based in Milton.

“I’m a dreamer. I always felt like it was going to happen. I didn’t know when, nobody knows when. But it just started to click,” Weber said.

Weber has built a core of talent – ​​across a wide range of age groups – with the goal of putting Milton on the speed skating map. His team numbers around 100 skaters, and he has hosted a large-scale racing event, the Emerald Coast Inline Challenge, at the venue for nearly a decade now, drawing around 400 competitors and around 2,500 visitors to the Santa County town. Rose.

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He told the News Journal that Milton has a nuanced relationship with the organization of the event, acknowledging that the area lacks the necessary hotel capacity as the event continues to grow. But he also acknowledged that “the city is growing”, and this year the challenge will take place for the first time ever as a four-day event.

The season generally runs from October to July, with several major events, as well as a number of smaller in-house events to keep competition between its skaters going.

In training, heats are broken down by age and speed. Weber keeps the dialogue open with each of his skaters, giving personalized instructions to each of the dozens of people on the Emerald Coast Speed ​​team.

Weber also acknowledged that skating was on the decline, citing the fact that kids typically lose interest — even when talented — in favor of more popular sports. He said he knows that to reach the highest level, he needs to reach the youngest kids in the program and keep them engaged.

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“So at the end of the day, until we have people skating that are young again, you’re not going to get (the top 1% of skaters). So this (program) has been my dream all my life,” Weber said.

And parents and skaters credit Weber with creating a welcoming, yet competitive and challenging atmosphere.

“It’s like a family. From the little ones to the big ones, ”said mother Chantel McClarnen. She pointed out that she is at the rink most days of the week and that Weber coaches the team most afternoons.

Coach David Weber, centre, keeps an eye on the action as the Emerald Coast Speed ​​Team practice at Weber's Skate World in Milton on Thursday August 11, 2022.

The man instead of the skater

Weber was 20 when he discovered inline speed skating. It was a skating rink with a hole in the wall where he was passed by children less than half his age.

He remembers being persuaded to attend a midnight speed training at Fort Walton Beach that was attended by about 100 children. And from there, he was hooked.

“There were a lot of people at the time. More than now. I always get my hair up (thinking about it),” Weber said.

About four decades later, he took ownership of the Milton facility, which he completely renovated in 2018.

In total, Weber has coached around 40 national champions – in their respective age brackets – in inline speed skating. In the past two years alone, his skaters have won 18 national titles.

“I have some of the fastest in the country here,” Weber said, nodding to his team while chatting before practice.

There was a friendly candor in the atmosphere of the team. Weber chatted sporadically with his side skaters while others performed drills. On the track, he sometimes took his athletes aside for individual discussions about their performances. In another instance, he called from across the ice, commenting that one of his national champions was not training up to standard.

Weber also stressed that he knows how to get the most out of them as competitors.

“If you have discipline in your program, you will succeed, and I really believe that. I have discipline here. I have my goals,” Weber said.

Young kids coached by Weber take pride in competing and improving in a sport that most consider niche.

“Well, I just think skating is better than any other sport I play,” said Jaxon, 9, McClarnen’s son.

The Emerald Coast Speed ​​Team practice at Weber's Skate World in Milton on Thursday August 11, 2022.

What does Milton’s skating future look like?

In July, the county lit an outdoor addition to Weber’s operation that features a track site, spectator area and parking spaces.

Weber refers to the outdoor component as Phase 2 of his operation and plans to later build a Phase 3 as an outdoor road course.

With the additional track, the goal is to bring an international speed event to Milton through World Skate over the next three years. World Skate is the international governing body for sports played on skating wheels.

“It’s kind of the new Mecca and (Weber) makes it even more so with this new track,” said Milton City Councilman Jeff Snow. “…Then they will work to bring the world championships to this region.”

Snow added that “we want something for everyone” in Milton.

As Weber watched his team practice, he made his goal clear: he wants Milton to be the capital of the sport.

“If you have a facility they can practice on, they’ll improve,” Weber said. “And we will have one.”

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