A special performance for special kids

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published March 25, 2015

 Kailey Matkin and Justin Highgate-Brutman perform for special needs students at St. Clair Shores Civic Arena during an event sponsored by Shorewood Kiwanis.

Kailey Matkin and Justin Highgate-Brutman perform for special needs students at St. Clair Shores Civic Arena during an event sponsored by Shorewood Kiwanis.

Photo by Sarah Purlee


ST. CLAIR SHORES — With plans starting more than six months ago, it’s a show that rivals most others in the Midwest.

And when the skaters take the ice for their first performance of the weekend each year, it’s for something special.

The St. Clair Shores Figure Skating Club’s “Reflections on Ice” production is an annual performance now in its 44th year. Each year, however, the weekend’s worth of shows kicks off with a performance for those with special needs, so they can get a taste of the pageantry and production.

Jacqueline Goosen teaches at the Keith Bovenschen School in Warren. She has been taking her students to the show for at least eight years. And while some of her students have ice skating as part of their curriculum, a lot of times they only have the opportunity to watch hockey, not figure skating.

“It’s a great experience in their community to be able to go out and see events like this,” Goosen said. “The dancing, costumes and just fitness part of it is something they would like.”

She said her students appreciate all the extras, from the food to fun treats like balloons or stickers, that the Kiwanis provide.

“They’re very accommodating and help us with any needs our students have to be able to enjoy the show in the manner they need to,” she said.

Shorewood Kiwanis member Bill Pellegrino helped the event get off the ground more than 40 years ago. He was working as the director of special education in Lakeview Public Schools at the time and happened to visit the St. Clair Shores Civic Arena to meet with a friend. There, the head of the figure skating club mentioned that they were having a dress rehearsal for their show but had no audience.

“I said, ‘I’ll get you an audience,’” Pellegrino said. “I contacted other (special education) directors in the county, and they sent the kids over. After awhile, they decided maybe we ought to start feeding these kids as they came in.”

So now, the night before, Kiwanis members get together to make sandwiches and snacks for the students to enjoy while they watch the show each year.

And now, Pellegrino said, students come from all over Macomb County, and even some from Wayne County, to see the show.

“They love it. They cheer and they react,” he said. “It turned out to the point where the biggest problem we had was wheelchairs. And so we ended up putting up a ramp, and the whole thing’s getting bigger and bigger, and we’re pretty happy with it.”

“Reflections on Ice,” put on by the St. Clair Shores Figure Skating Club, is one of the largest amateur shows in the Midwest, said Marisa Marrocco-White, who co-directs the show with Elizabeth Daly.

And skating with those in the club — including big names Kailey Matkin and Justin Highgate-Brutman, who just returned from the United States Figure Skating Nationals — are children in the learn-to-skate program and, also, three special needs skaters.

“It’s like therapeutic for them,” Marrocco-White said. “They are also a highlight of our show. It’s a joy to have them. They’re always smiling.”

The theme for this year’s show, held March 19-22, was “Reality TV,” with productions like the “Real Housewives of St. Clair Shores” and “Dancing with the Stars.”

And while the club now holds its dress rehearsal on Wednesday night, the Thursday benefit production for special needs students put on by the club and Shorewood Kiwanis is something the skaters always look forward to.

“It’s another way for the club to give back to the city and the area. They’ve supported us all these years,” Marrocco-White said. “It’s a rewarding show because those kids and adults appreciate it more than anybody. They love the music; they stand up and dance; they’re amazing.”

There are about 110 skaters, including alumni members, in this year’s production.

Karen Biafora, community chairperson from Shorewood Kiwanis and coordinator for the event, said her mother, Betty Siladke, began helping with the event more than 30 years ago.

“It was always a family affair. Whatever my mom did, we all did together,” she said. And though Siladke died in 2012, Biafora said, “We didn’t skip a beat.”

Last year had one of the biggest turnouts for the event, with 1,169 special needs students and adults coming to the show. This year, just under 1,000 were expected to attend.

“Carrying on this family tradition, for me, it’s not just about Kiwanis — it’s what my mom loved best about her club,” she said.