Polars on ice

North boys skate in “show of optimism" planned by Southwest resident

Performers were all smiles after an ice skating show April 15 at Parade Ice Garden organized by Southwest resident Jane Barrash. Photo by Nate Gotlieb
Performers were all smiles after an ice skating show April 15 at Parade Ice Garden organized by Southwest resident Jane Barrash. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

You probably wouldn’t expect to see an ice skating show featuring members of the Minneapolis North basketball team.

But that’s exactly what happened last month, thanks to Southwest resident Jane Barrash.

Barrash organized a skating show entitled “Breaking the Ice: A (Skating) Show of Optimism” to bring communities together and bring positive attention to North Minneapolis. She estimated that about 200 people attended the show April 15 at the Parade Ice Garden, which featured ice skating performances from the North boys, a joint performance with an Edina synchronized skating team and a routine by Barrash herself, among others.

“We aimed for inspiration, optimism, and promoting new connections and possibilities,” Barrash said in an email. “This is about creating new more positive and optimistic realities.”

The event had a relaxed feel, with attendees clapping along to songs and cheering as performers completed their routines. The Edina girls joked around with the North boys before the show, leaping up to high five the outstretched hand of the tallest North player.

The crowd laughed as a North player fell while dribbling a basketball through his legs during his routine. They cheered in appreciation as he got up off the ice, a smile on his face.

The girls said the North boys were better skaters than they expected. The boys said their routine went as planned — save for the fall.

Members of the North boy's basketball team and the Braemar Panache Figure Skating team perform a routine during the April 15 show.
Members of the North boy’s basketball team and the Braemar Panache Figure Skating team perform a routine during the April 15 show.

“It’s not so easy crossing sports,” North 12th-grader Jamire Jackson said.

Barrash has served as the North basketball program’s “vision, focus and mindset-development coach” since November 2013, teaching the players breathing exercises and running them through pregame focusing drills. She also taught a curriculum she developed that aims to instill confidence, self-regulation, personal responsibility and positive thinking.

The “Discovery of Self” curriculum provides scientific concepts that challenge one’s basic assumptions about how the world works, according to the Continuum Center, the organization of which Barrash serves as executive director. It uses techniques such as imagery and diaphragmatic breathing and concepts such as paradox and quantum leap to help develop the aforementioned characteristics.

A quantum leap in physics is when an electron jumps to a new level, Barrash said. She teaches participants that they can make that sort of jump if they’re willing to get out of their comfort zones.

They also learn about “right brain” traits such as introspection and holistic thinking and how society has encouraged the development of “left brain” traits such as logical and rational thinking.

Show organizer Jane Barrash performs an ice skating routine as parking of “Breaking the Ice: A (Skating) Show of Optimism."
Show organizer Jane Barrash performs an ice skating routine as parking of “Breaking the Ice: A (Skating) Show of Optimism.”

“If you don’t have strength in those left-hemisphere subjects, you’re labeled dumb at a young age,” Barrash said. “We confuse the breadth of intelligence with intellect.”

Her program, she said, helps people understand themselves emotionally. It’s about helping people assign their own meaning to life and become motivated by their own dreams and passions.

“It’s about getting people to understand that the reality that’s handed to them is not the last word,” Barrash said. “When they get motivated, it’s truly remarkable.”

The program had an immediate impact on the North team, Barrash said. Within five weeks, one player went from being on JV and failing math to being a varsity starter and catching up in math. Another learned to deal with his anger issues.

Jackson said Barrash helps the team stay positive and keep out negative thoughts.

The team was slumping when she began her work, but finished the 2013–2014 season with a run to the Minnesota State High School League Class A, Section 4 championship game. It made another run to the section championship game in 2014–2015 before winning the section, and state tournament, during the 2015–2016 season.

Barrash, who goes to almost all of the team’s games, called that state-championship game one of the proudest moments in her life.

North won another state title this past March.

Odell Wilson, a the dad of two players on the team, said Barrash’s lessons have affected the team members’ behavior and how they approach real-life situations. He said he often hears his sons talk about how they use Barrash’s techniques when they’re overwhelmed or stressed.

Some of the North players face issues with which most teens don’t have to deal, such as having enough to eat and having a place to sleep, Wilson said. Barrash has helped them develop ways of dealing with those issues and helped instill in them the importance of academics.

Out of 30 kids on the team this year, almost all made the A or B honor roll. The team has a 95-percent graduation rate, Barrash said, and all the seniors have gone to college.

That focus has inspired other kids to prioritize school, Wilson said.

Members of the Braemar Panache figure skating team perform a routine at the April 15 show.
Members of the Braemar Panache figure skating team perform a routine at the April 15 show.

“At North, it’s cool to have good grades now,” JV coach Mike Shelton said.

Barrash’s reach extends beyond North, too. She’s taught Fortune 100 executives, families in the slums of Rio, medical professionals and athletes, among others.

The Braemar Panache synchronized skating team worked with Barrash last year as it merged with a rival team. Barrash worked with the girls on their breathing as well as speaking up and speaking together, coach Carrie Drzewiecki said.

“She helped them get the belief that all things are possible,” coach Janet Hoitomt said.

Hoitomt said the North boys were amazed with the girls’ skating ability. The girls, meanwhile, were amazed that the North boys could actually skate, Drzewiecki said.

Three-time Olympic figure skater Surya Bonaly worked with the boys on their routine. She said she was impressed with their ability to grasp the skating movements and their positive attitudes.

“As sportsmen, we really respected each other,” said Bonaly, who is from France but now lives in Minneapolis.

Marianne Yoshida smiles with North High junior Odell Wilson IV, whom Yoshida taught to skate as a young boy.
Marianne Yoshida smiles with North High junior Odell Wilson IV, whom Yoshida taught to skate as a young boy.

The event also honored one of Barrash’s first students in the Discovery of Self program, Careino Gurley, who became the first in his family to go to college. Gurley was presented with the “True North Award” for his efforts in the North Minneapolis community, which came with a $2,500 check.

Gurley has started eight football and basketball teams for youth in the Harrison neighborhood of North Minneapolis.

“It was not a clear path to where he is now, but he stuck with it,” Barrash said.

Proceeds from the event went to the Heritage Youth Sports Foundation, which runs sports programming for kids in North Minneapolis. Barrash and Shelton, the foundation’s founder, launched a youth-sports camp this past summer that teaches kids elements of the Discovery of Self curriculum. Five North players were leaders in the program last summer.

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