Parrish figure skater gives all in 'tough' Sunshine Games

rdymond@bradenton.comMay 13, 2013 

ELLENTON -- Parrish's Amanda Longnecker threw everything she had at the judges during the weekend's 2013 Sunshine State Games Figure Skating Championships at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex.

Wearing her "cool" purple skating outfit, the 9-year-old, a star student in Margaret Davenport's third-grade class at Virgil Mills Elementary School known for her showmanship on ice, performed dazzling swizzles, Mohawks, spins, spirals and lunges.

But when it was over, Amanda finished in sixth place in the free skate portion of her beginner age group and

seventh in compulsory.

For Amanda, who had scored three first places in her career, it was a bit of a jolt.

But her coach, Morgan Boutwell of Bradenton, mom, Kim Gunn, and nervous grandpa, Gary Gunn, said it just goes to show how competitive the Figure Skating Championships of the 34th Sunshine State Games were.

Amanda was one of 360 skaters statewide who competed in Ellenton as part of the "Bradenton Area Festival" of the Sunshine Games, which also included rugby Saturday in Lakewood Ranch, said Michael Washington, ice skating and rugby coordinator for the Sunshine Games.

Washington had high praise for the Lakewood Ranch Premier Sports Complex, where 23 rugby teams fcompeted.

All in all, 10,000 athletes will compete in 27 sports before the Sunshine Games conclude this year, said Nick Gandy, spokesman for the Florida Sports Foundation, a division of Enterprise Florida, a private company whose mission is to bring jobs to Florida.

"This was tough competition," Boutwell said of the skating event, which ran Friday through Sunday and included upwards of 20 Manatee County figure skaters from Bradenton, Parrish and nearby communities.

For a girl as talented as Amanda to come in sixth and seventh place shows just how bright the future of American figure skating is, said Bradenton figure skating coach Vikki Lampros, whose student, Maggie Gambone, 9, of Valrico, came in fourth and sixth in her two divisions, respectively.

"Very deep at all levels," Lampros said of the new wave of young American skaters.

The event also shows Florida is the center of the new wave of young talent, Lampros said.

"Florida and ice skating," said Maggie's mother, Melanie Gambone. "Who would have thunk it?"

Amanda first got excited about figure skating when she saw her cousin, Michaela Epi, now 13, skate in Ellenton in a state competition in September 2011.

What really gave her "the bug," as her mother puts it, was being able to compare notes with Olympic pairs skater Mark Ladwig, who finished 10th in the Vancouver Olympics with partner Amanda Evora, and who now works at the rink,

"Amanda knows Mark and she also knows Felicia and Nate and Danny and Tarah," Kim Gunn said.

Gunn was speaking of the 2013 U.S. National bronze medalist pair skating team of Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay and upcoming pairs stars Tarah Kayne and Daniel O'Shea, all of whom train at Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex.

It was O'Shea who helped Amanda really get going in figure skating.

"My first two weeks I was so scared because the rink seemed so big," Amanda said. "Danny taught me some moves and I stopped being nervous."

Now, Amanda is growing like an Aztec lily in rich skating soil, her coach said.

"Amanda has grown beautifully," Boutwell said. "She is a great little skater. She is a true performer. She loves to entertain people. She can do anything she sets her mind to in this sport."

Now, if only Grandpa Gunn could get his hockey-playing grandson to move from Birmingham, N.Y., his life would be perfect.

Inrugby, the University of Florida won the men's open division. USA Rugby South, a team of 19- to 25-year-old women from all over Florida, won the women's open division. Orlando Iron Horse, a club team, won the high school division.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411.

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