ALONG THE WAY: David Dix

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Two little girls in the row in front of where Janet and I were seated were keeping themselves amused between figure skating performances.

"Is that a Boogie Board?" I inquired as their parents turned around. "It's made in Kent. Ohio where I live," I said to explain my interest.

"It says here it's made in China," one of the parents said, looking on the back of the device.

Puzzled, I later telephoned Al Green, president of Kent Displays, the manufacturer of the liquid crystal paneling that goes into the Boogie Board. Its plant is actually in Brimfield Township just off Mogadore Road.

"The liquid crystal paneling is made here," he explained. He said his plant then ships the paneling to a contract assembler in China where it is inserted into the board.

The scene of those two youngsters with their parents watching figure skating occurred last week inside Boston's TD Garden, a multi-use arena named for a bank controlled out of Canada. It's where the Boston Bruins play hockey and the Celtics play basketball.

Last week, TD Garden hosted the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, the competition that largely determines who represents our country in figure skating in next month's Olympics in Sochi, Russia. I accompanied Janet, a figure skating fan, and our neighbor, Paula Snyder, the educator, who's a figure skating expert, to see the finals.

I'm a novice at watching figure skating and couldn't tell a triple flip-triple toe from a triple axel even if you asked me. But with Paula's expertise and her willingness to explain, I figured I'd be OK. Besides, the idea of spending a few days in Boston with Janet sounded like fun.

Those two little girls, sitting with their parents in front of us, I quickly realized, were typical. Figure skating is a family sport and families made up a good portion of the audience watching the competition.The really great skaters start out young and benefit from the dedication of their parents who pay for coaching and equipment and end up spending hours in the car and at rinkside so their children can practice.

The Skating Club of Boston is the organization in that city in which youngsters grow up to become great skaters.Last week, when a skater in the competition finished his or her routine, fans would throw bouquets, single roses, and even teddy bears out onto the ice in appreciation. Young skaters from the Skating Club of Boston, the young girls in cute skating dresses, the boys in tuxedoes, would then skate out on the ice to collect the throwaways so the next competitor could perform. Those youngsters, ages 4 to 10, already seemed accomplished skaters to me and, I thought, there was probably a future Olympian among them.

Janet reminded me that in the more typical sports in middle school and high school, the participants usually receive their uniforms from the school as part of the package. Not in figure skating. Figure skaters wear costumes, some simple, others elaborate, usually stitched together by dedicated mothers or their hired seamstresses, all for the benefit of the young skaters.

The years of devotion bond skaters and their parents. Last Sunday, for example, U.S. Figure Skating Champion Jeremy Abbott, 28, who will represent us in the Olympics next month, broke down after his triumph as he skated to the edge of the rink to hug his mother, a testament to her devotion and support. He'll no longer skate competitively after this year, he says.

Another pattern, I discerned. Because figure skating does not enjoy the huge fan base that many major spectator sports do, its big stars really appreciate the attention fans give them. Our first day breakfasting at the hotel where Paula had arranged for us to stay, she recognized Jeremy Abbott walking by and wished him good luck. He immediately turned and thanked her.

A polite sport

A Boston Globe reporter referred to figure skating as a polite sport. That, the reporter said, is because the parents are not as pushy as some with children in more aggressive team sports. The article added that in figure skating, it is not uncommon to have a class on how to behave at games or to have e-mail reminders sent out regarding being a good sport.

The skaters I saw all had beautiful smiles, a sign of a heavy investments in orthodontia. One newspaper story indicated some of the women's skating costumes had original designers. All contestants were physically in peak condition. The women skaters, mostly falling between the ages of 16 and 28, were dazzling and if they were lucky, like U.S. winner Gracie Gold, they had personalities to match. The men had to have spent time in strength building, especially those in pairs and dance skating, which require the men to hold their female partners overhead, flip them around, or rotate them as they skate in a circle, parallel to the ice.

I usually turned to Paula after most performances for the benefit of her expertise. I am more knowledgeable about music, however, and noticed that most of the performers prefer the accompaniment of recorded gorgeous movie scores or the sound tracks of the great Romantic composers. One young lady skated to music that resembled grinding metal. If she had been my daughter, I would've probably had words with her coach about that.

On the other hand, there's Khatchaturian's lush ballet composition, "Spartacus," the musical theme Kirk Douglas borrowed for his epic movie about the Roman slave rebellion. It's incredibly beautiful, but after listening to it accompany skating performances for what seemed like the fifth time, it was a relief to watch U.S. men's runner-up, Jason Brown, whose joints must be made of rubber, skate to an Irish reel.

Jary Crandell of Bowling Green, who has judged figure skating for years and has done so at Kent State, was seated two rows down from us with his wife, Rosalinde. I saw him scribbling pages of notes about each performance and asked him how our skaters will fare in the Olympics.

"We have some wonderful skaters, but there's plenty of great skaters from other countries, too," he said. "Sometimes, the pressure is too much, but sometimes our skaters do the wonderful things you always felt was in them."

The U.S., he said, is deepest in ice dancing, but even in that event, the coach of our best dance team, Charlie Whitees and Meryl Davis, who train in Detroit, is also coaching a Canadian dance team that will be very competitive. Japan, Korea, and Russia, he said, will be strong. Yuna Kim, the Korean who left all others far behind in the Vancouver Olympics, sat out most of the season with an injury so how well she'll do is unknown, he added.

Career change for Liz Sidoti

Elsewhere, Liz Sidoti, who has been national political editor for Associated Press, has changed career paths and accepted a position with British Petroleum as head of communications for its U.S. operations, based in Washington. The daughter of educator Roger Sidoti, the retired Roosevelt principal, and his wife, Mary, Liz, we are proud to claim, interned at the Record-Courier when she attended the Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. Since graduation, she's had a meteoric rise in the world of journalism.

Her father said Liz was looking for a new challenge and the opportunity with BP arose.

A British Petroleum memo says her, "deep understanding of the way the news media operate on a national and local basis, her first-hand knowledge of digital and social media and her innate understanding of the way successful campaigns operate will serve her and all of C&EA well."

When Roger and I spoke this week, he said Liz was in Houston getting to know some of her team. A London visit to BP's word headquarters is probably in the works.

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