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SUPPORT SEEN FOR CHANGING RESIDENCY RULES FOR SKATERS

Some Amherst Town Board members would like to change a residency rule to allow people who live outside Amherst to join the Amherst Skating Club.

With more members, the club could afford to rent more ice time at the town's $18.3 million four-rink complex now under construction, they say.

"We want revenues," said Supervisor Susan J. Grelick. "They want the ice time. We want to work out something for the skaters."

Ms. Grelick asked skating club members to present a proposal to the town.

The town attorney has previously warned the Recreation Commission that relaxing any part of the residency rule could invite legal challenges that could undermine the whole policy.

Recreation Director Jeffrey Bloom said officials from other amateur sports associations have threatened legal action if the town exempts only the skating club from the residency rule. The residency rule was instituted by the Recreation Commission to ensure Amherst youngsters do not get bumped from sports team rosters by an outsider. So far, the commission has refused to make an exception for the skating club.

In figure skating, however, nobody would be bumped from the club to make room for an outside resident because it is not a team sport.

That may justify an exemption for the club, Ms. Grelick said.

"They seem to be making a different case" she said.

The town's elite travel sports teams -- hockey, soccer and softball -- would like to accept a limited number of outsiders to improve their competitiveness and keep Amherst youths from joing better teams out of town. Fielding some talented outsiders could mean winning a championship or being invited to a tournament.

"I have a problem with the fact the commission is lumping us in with softball and hockey," said Joan Schmitt, whose 12-year-old daughter, Tricia, is a member of the figure skating club. "My son has been in hockey for eight years, and I don't want anyone taking his place on the Amherst hockey team. But I understand figure skating. Nobody will be losing a spot in Amherst if the town opens this up to non-residents."

The town has effectively barred the club from allowing non-residents to skate on the Amherst ice the club rents. If outsiders skate with the club, the club would lose its coveted place in line to book the town's ice rinks. The club would have to wait until all resident groups reserve ice time, and that could mean the skating club could be left without a place to skate.

Ms. Schmitt said figure skaters would book time during non-peak hours, which would help ensure the new ice facility is used all day.

"You've got four ice surfaces that are going to be sitting empty all day," she said. "You have to sell the ice. You're not going to do it with just hockey. Hockey will just not utilize that ice in the afternoon. We will, but we can't do it restricted with this current policy of just residents."

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