Those who have birthdays during the holiday season get cheated. Face it: if you get the brand new bike on your December birthday, don’t count on that puppy for Christmas. Bet on an Etch-a-Sketch under the tree and maybe some Silly Putty in the stocking. Whether these poor oppressed souls get most of their presents on their birthdays or on Christmas, they typically get a raw deal either way.
But, enjoying a 10-year anniversary of its successful transition to Orange County ownership – and maintaining its regular holiday fare – the Orange County SportsPlex is having it both ways and spreading the cheer.
In the decade since the county acquired what was up to then known as the Triangle Sportsplex, the transition has been an unqualified success, which will be recognized with a plaque dedication ceremony and lighting of holiday displays on Friday, Dec. 11, beginning at 11:30 a.m.
“We’ll be running specials that will be part of the celebration,” said Robin Zwilling, the SportsPlex’s Director of Membership and Marketing. “It will all run basically from Dec. 11 through that weekend and into the following week.”
Zwilling said the Sports-Plex would likely be offering several promotional specials, including free swimming and ice skating, a family wellness day, an individual fitness day with free classes, and even some gifts.
John Stock, owner of the facility’s management company and the executive director of the Sportsplex, said that over 700,000 visitors attend events and programs at the facility, including collegiate hockey games, Triangle Youth and Adult Hockey leagues, swimming by Duke Aquatics and Hillsborough Aquatics Club, Carolina Skating Club activities, plus pre-school, camps and an afterschool program. The complex also accommodates a 15,000 square foot Senior Center.
“Ten years ago, there were 900 fitness members, and today it’s 5,700,” Zwilling asserted. “Revenues have tripled, which means it pays all of its own operating costs and generates surplus funds to support capital expenditures. Not a penny of taxpayer dollars are spent.”
While swimming at the SportsPlex may be a nice diversion during the holidays, nothing paints a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting like a family skate, and the SportsPlex offers several special events on ice beginning this week.
This Friday, visitors can bring two cans of non-perishable canned goods and receive free skate rentals at public skating sessions. Open skating sessions on Nov. 27 are 1-3:15 p.m., 3:45-5:45 p.m., and 7:30-10 p.m., so that families can take a break from “Black Friday” shopping and skate away some of those Thanksgiving calories.
After the Nutcracker on Dec. 18-19, the Sportsplex will host public skating sessions with Santa Claus on Dec. 20 from noon until 2:15 p.m. Then comes hockey “Slapshots with Santa” from 2:45 through 4:45 p.m., said Zwilling, who added that Santa would be in full goalie equipment. “We’ll also have that on Monday, Dec. 21 from noon through 2 p.m.”
“We’re running a special on massages – it’s a buy-one, get-another for $15 off – just for the holidays,” Zwilling said.
Zwilling noted that the ice rink would be open again on New Year’s Day from noon until 6 p.m. for public skating.
Public skating rates are $6.50 for adults and $5.50 for children, with skate rentals for $3.50. Groups of 20 or more can skate for $6 per skater, including skate rentals.
A holiday tradition
Now in its 22nd year, the Orange County Sports-Plex presentations of the Nutcracker on Ice has become a holiday tradition. Shows will be presented at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18, and noon on Saturday, Dec. 19.
Tickets for the Nutcracker are $10 for adults and $8 for children aged 3-17.
“The role of Clara will be performed by Ellen Fisher on Friday and by Carley Bryant on Saturday,” said Jamye Gaster, the longtime Nutcracker director and SportsPlex figure skating director. “Carley Bryan is 16 and she’s actually competing with her dance partner Ewan McKinley at the Eastern Sectional Championships in hopes (qualifying for) the national championships.”
“Carley has a great story,” Gaster added. “Her father in the military, and she drives from Fayetteville to Hillsborough to train. When her father was transferred to a base in Kentucky, she stayed in North Carolina to train with her dance partner.”
Stock also noted that everyone at the SportsPlex was extremely excited for next year’s ground-breaking on a comprehensive field house addition. It will feature multi-sport indoor turf fields and courts; a children’s center for expanded pre-school; room for afterschool and all-day-care programs; and additional fitness space for strength training, specialty senior and yoga programs, plus full-sized lockers in a changing room for fitness classes.
“This would be 34,000-35,000 square feet, and that’s what we’d need for the indoor turf,” Stock said in an interview last year. “That playing surface would have a three-lane walking track running around it.”
The Orange County SportsPlex already is one of the state’s largest recreational facilities and one of only a few in the USA offering an ice arena, aquatics center and a fitness center under one roof.
Located south of downtown Hillsborough, near the center of the Orange County, the Sportsplex is less than 30 minutes’ drive from 95 percent of the county’s population.
Leading up to expansion, the SportsPlex will be busy with plenty to celebrate, and whether staff and members are blowing out birthday candles or lighting Christmas candles, it certainly seems fitting to say, “Merry Birthday.”