Gliding Through Naval Academy History
When the first few skaters touch their blades to the freshly-groomed ice in Dahlgren Hall, they will be sharing the same floor where ladies in elegant ball gowns and men in tuxedos and dress uniforms danced to the waltzes of an era gone by. The site of graduation ceremonies for the 53 years from 1903 to 1956, Dahlgren Hall served as an armory for 70 years until its award-winning renovation and transformation in 1973 to a student union, skating arena and restaurant.
Named for Rear Adm. John A. Dahlgren, a noted 19th century naval leader and inventor of naval ordnance, Dahlgren Hall construction began in 1899 and was completed four years later. In 2003, Dahlgren Hall celebrated its 100th birthday and continues the tradition as the center for many of the Academy's social events.
It also provides a very special space for the Learn to Skate Program which begins each October when the ice goes down and ends in March. This year is General Manager Bonnie Settle's third season with the program. Says Settle of her experience thus far, "Time flies when you're having fun," and it is this perspective that has helped bring the ice and all that it offers to so many children and adults in the community.
Settle is at home around the ice, and her enthusiasm for skating goes way back. "I remember when I was in grade school and lived across from the park.
"In the winter we'd carry our skates to the pond, shovel the snow away, build a bonfire on the bank and bury our sodas in the snow because when we skated we'd get very hot." Settle says she started lessons in high school, continued in college and began to compete in her senior year. When she married and became a young mother she took her young son to the rink "in diapers."
Of course, there were times when the skates got packed away for moves, but she dug them out whenever she could find ice in her new community. When they came to the Annapolis area, her husband read about a synchronized skating team in the newspaper. Unable to find her own skates, Settle says she went to the open house in rental skates. She soon discovered that synchronized skating provided the security of other people, "and anonymity. Everyone looked the same, and if you fell, no one would notice it was you. It's very daunting to step out on a big sheet of ice."
Settle's team, the Metro Blades, went to the Nationals every year, but she admits, "As an adult, it's not hard to make Nationals." Later, she helped form a new synchronized skating team, now called the Ice Force One. For two years Settle skated on the team. But, she says, "I tired of the impact that it had on my personal skating. So much focus and energy went to the synchronized skating that I didn't have any time to work on field moves: jumps, spins, connecting steps, the 'tricks' as some people call them."
Eventually Settle brought her skill on the ice to Quiet Waters Park, where she managed the outdoor skating rink, serving first as assistant manager.
Then she brought her experience and several of the people she worked with at Quiet Waters to Dahlgren Hall. She has recently raised her technical skills to a new level of expertise. As a Certified Ice Technician (CIT), Settle has been trained in basic refrigeration, ice making and painting technologies, ice maintenance and equipment operation, and programming, marketing and promotions.
One needs only to arrive before the first skaters touch the ice to see the result of her efforts. The ice looks bright, smooth, even. When Settle is asked about the improvement, she says, "I look at old pictures of the hockey teams on the ice. Some of them show the concrete floor showing through. Of course, at the time those pictures were taken, they used old technology. Now we have the tools to measure the ice and the refrigeration equipment is computerized."
Not only is the ice surface a work of art, but underneath the ice, Skating Director and "resident" artist Cindy Fletcher-Holden has hand-painted the lines and logos in a mirror image representation of Dahlgren Hall and its beautiful arches and windows.
The ice gets a lot of use these days. In addition to the Learn to Skate Program, there's community youth hockey group practice and games, the Navy A & B club team practice and games, figure skating competitions, hockey tournaments, birthday parties, open skates, men's hockey leagues, learn-to-play hockey leagues, school groups and home-schoolers.
With all that activity, the ice requires expertise in re-surfacing, so the old Zamboni has been replaced with a new Olympia and a skilled driver. The art of making a good surface, says Settle, "lies in maintaining just the right speed, [adding] the right amount of water, [using] the right angle of the blade, and maintaining a proper pattern so nothing is missed and the exit is graceful."
When it's time for Bonnie Settle to make her own graceful exit from this elegant old building, she has a little routine: She closes up the mechanical room and makes sure the Olympia is all cleaned up. "Then I'll turn out the lights, walk up on the second deck and look down on the ice. It's quiet, with only the ambient night lights reflecting off the clean surface. It's a sight to behold, one of those peaceful moments in great contrast to the hockey puck flinging off the boards - and I think, wow, this is my responsibility."
For information on the Learn to Skate Program and other activities at Dahlgren Hall Ice Rink, call 410-293-2350.