Frio Grande Valley Ice Center preps for busy season despite loss of Killer Bees - The Monitor: News

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Frio Grande Valley Ice Center preps for busy season despite loss of Killer Bees

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Posted: Saturday, November 24, 2012 9:55 pm

McALLEN — The heat of South Texas couldn’t be more opposite than the frigid air of the Frio Grande Valley Ice Center, and that’s the whole point.

The ice rink, which claims to be the only year-round facility of its size in the Rio Grande Valley, is prepared for its busiest season as the winter holidays near, despite the hit the business took earlier this year.

Anthony Leitch, manager of the ice rink at 201 N. 26th St., said the end of the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees hockey team had an impact. The team announced in June that it would not play this season, stating operations here were no longer financially viable.

“They spent a lot of time here practicing, so it did affect us a little bit,” Leitch said. “The Killer Bees folding, that kind of hurt us a little bit, but we’re doing good. Business is better than ever.”

The facility opened about six years ago, closing for about a year-and-a-half for remodeling, Leitch said. Besides a seasonal rink during the winter in Hidalgo, there are no other ice rink facilities here, he said.

Frio Grande Valley Ice Center’s busy season begins in mid-November and carries through into March, he said.

“I guess from what the owners thought, they thought they’d bring something new to the Valley,” Leitch said of the facility.

That was part of the fun Saturday for Jesse James Ramon, who went ice skating for the first time during his seventh birthday party.

“I think it’s wonderful,” his father Edgar Ramon said. “I think it’s a good idea having something that’s out of the ordinary here in the Valley: ice. We hardly see ice here in the Valley. Having an opportunity to go ice skating I think is just great.”

Still, there are seemingly few people who know the rink exists, according to Leitch and Erin Berlanga, a coach with the Valley Ice Academy, which hosts its lessons at the facility.

“Yeah, it’s bit of a shock,” said Berlanga, who moved from Oregon a year ago. “It’s definitely different to come to an area where the majority of the people in the McAllen-Brownsville-Harlingen area don’t even know there’s a rink, which is so sad. Especially when it’s so hot in the summer; it’s a great place to cool off when it’s 105 degrees out for three to five months.”

The academy, which has about 40 students, hosts weekly group lessons as well as private lessons. Berlanga said the rink is the only facility they use in the Valley.

For 14-year-old Alexis Bianco of McAllen, it was the Killer Bees that prompted her interest in ice skating after she saw them play. The U.S. Figure Skating member was practicing at the rink on Saturday — another day in her eight years of commitment to the sport. She said the challenge keeps her coming back.

“I want to go to the Olympics,” Bianco said. “It’s my dream.”

The teen, who is homeschooled to allow for her dedication to figure skating, acknowledged that the Valley and ice skating are rarely mentioned in the same sentence.

“They have no idea we’re here,” she said of the general public.

Leitch said the facility offers public lessons weekly and hosts a new men’s amateur hockey league and other activities.

While skating is fun, there’s another attraction to the rink, he said:

“(It’s) the only place in the Valley where you can be under 50 degrees.”

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Jacqueline Armendariz covers law enforcement, courts and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at jarmendariz@themonitor.com and (956) 683-4434.

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