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Bringing Olympic speed and craft home to students

Posted February 28, 2018 by Liza Frenette

student 'luge'

While the closing ceremonies may have just wrapped up the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, medals are still up for grabs in Saranac Lake where students of physical education teacher Samantha Betters-Ano are mastering Olympic competitions.

Betters-Ano taught silver medal luge winner Chris Mazdzer when he was a middle school student here, and like many others in this Olympic-fevered region, she is always enthused about every winter Games.

She turned that zeal into a two-and-a-half week unit on Olympic competition, where students have been using scooters to zip through luge tracks on the gym floor, as well as competing in skeleton races. They have played floor hockey and been cross-country skiing, racking up points for medals.

In luge, students lay on two scooters that are attached as if it was a sled, and someone pushes them through the track. Their feet have to be off the floor and their hands have to be firmly down at their sides, just as lugers are positioned. The wooden gym floor is slick enough and students are quick enough to generate some speed, though they are missing the downhill rush of banks and curves on an icy track. Of course, people over the age of 13 can actually take a real ride on the luge run at the nearby Mt. Heisenberg complex one town away, and bobsled rides are available for a thrill there, as well.

Mazdzer was a goalie in soccer, Betters-Ano recalled, and in gym class she remembers him as a “really nice, well-rounded kid, mature for his years” who already started traveling for luge events. After middle school, he left the Saranac Lake school system for the National Sports Academy because he already started competing.

Knowing an Olympic medalist scuffed up the gym where they go to work out and learn sports skills can provide a direct inspiration to these students. In this unit, they are learning techniques of Olympic sports and discussing the athletes.

Saranac Lake TA physical education teacher Samantha Betters-Ano. Photo provided.

“The Olympic challenge has been really nice to incorporate,” said Betters-Ano, a member of the Saranac Lake Teachers Association who developed the physical education unit with the help of colleague Jim Thomsen, also a member of the SLTA.

Still to come this week— curling.

“The kids are the stones,” Betters-Ano said.

She then explained that students sit on the scooters, while another student pushes them just as curling competitors push the 40-pound granite stones they aim toward the “house,” or targeted area.

“We have six scooters on the court,” she said.

Once the curling is completed, the results of the entire unit will be tallied, and gold, silver and bronze medals will be awarded. “We will tally the team scores from all events and the teams that earned the most points will win gold. We will have a ceremony at the beginning of the class for each period. Each member of the first, second and third place teams will be awarded a medal,” said the creative physical education teacher who goes by the name “Betters.”

“This is our second time we have taught the Olympic unit,” Betters-Ano said. “The last Olympics had so many local athletes, we felt it was so important to incorporate into our classes.”

She set the first unit into motion during the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The Saranac Lake and Lake Placid region honored athletes from the area, including Mazdzer, Olympic medal skier Andrew Weibrecht, Olympic medalist cross-country skier Bill Demong (son of retired music teacher Helen Demong, SLTA), Olympic ski jumper Peter Frenette (son of school teacher Peter Frenette Sr., SLTA, whom Betters-Ano also taught), biathlon Olympic competitors Tim Burke, Annelies Cookie and Lowell Bailey, and bobsledders Jamie Greubel, Nicholas Cunningham, and Justin Olsen.

Students relate to the athletes, and get into the physical education class that parallels what they are watching on the televised games.

The community hosted a live morning screening of Mazdzer’s team during the luge relay, beaming the event on the ice palace constructed each year for the village’s Winter Carnival.

“We had kids bussed there, and teachers met the kids there. We watched (part of a) hockey game and the luge. Then we walked back to school,” said Betters-Ano.


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