By Rick Romano

The Pettit National Ice Center knows what is ultimately important.

Upon its 25th anniversary on December 31, there will be no formal celebration to commemorate the silver anniversary milestone. Instead, the facility at 500 S. 84th St. will have been closed for most of December and will be into the new year as the organization readies itself to host the U.S. Olympic Long Track Speed Skating Trials Jan 2-7 prior to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

“We are what we are,” said Pettit Executive Director Randy Dean.

Which is to say the Pettit concentrates on a sport that planted the seeds of its existence. A group of volunteers with the financial help of Jane Pettit Bradley built the Center and opened it in 1992 as an enclosed version on the site of its outdoor oval predecessor. It remains only one of two Olympic-sized ovals, the other in Salt Lake City.

Dean said his organization hopes to leverage the exposure of televised Olympic games.

the PettitMore than meets the eye
“A lot of people think we are primarily for lead athletes to train,” Dean said. “That is part of what we do, but we are also a community center with other amenities.”

The oval and the hockey rinks are building’s the heart and soul.

“Yes, we are an ice facility,” Dean said. “We opened as a training site and we continue to host those who are training for competition. We are a place for leading athletes to train for their sport. But we don’t receive funding from the USOC (United States Olympic Committee. We also are a community center, so we provide opportunities for many others.

Those opportunities include open skate times as well as a Skate School for those from 3 years old to older adults who want to learn the basics or hockey. Classes also are offered for children and adults with developmental or physical disabilities. The Center also offers a rink for those who want to pursue curling.

While the ice is a centerpiece, the Pettit also serves as a place for other sports and activities.

“When we normally take out the oval from April until the fall,” Dean said, “we have other activities. They are a great way for us to connect with our community for the community to find out more about us.”

For example, the Center hosted the 16th Annual Badger State Feis Irish Dance competition in July.

For the long run
Probably Pettit’s most enduring relationship off the ice is with the Badgerland Striders, the state’s largest and best known running organization. The organization’s members regularly run on the 443-meter track that is designed for runners and walkers. The organization also holds an annual 20K competition and they hold many of their monthly meetings at the facility.

President Pete Abraham said the relationship was cemented years ago when his organization wanted to improve the original track.

“The track was narrow and not in good shape, not much better than running on cement.” he said.

Badgerland was able to get an original estimate of $140,000 down to $90,000 and the organization’s board decided to pick up the tab, he said.

It normally costs $4 to use the track for running or waling, but our members get a discount of a $2 fee,” Braham said. “It’s a good arrangement. Our members seem to like it, especially if they want to run indoors on a longer track in winter.”

That kind of relationship has helped sustain the nonprofit over the past 25 years. The expensive cooling and compressing systems that keep, the ice in great condition have been donated by Rockwell Automation in Milwaukee and Vilter Manufacturing in Cudahy.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have their support.” Dean said.

Team oriented
He also noted it takes a good team of people to run the Center, people like Marketing Director Kevin Butler and Office Manager Jan Lawson. Butler came to the Pettit nine years ago, shortly after Randy Dean. The two worked together when Dean was Athletic Director at University School and Butler was coaching there. Lawson precedes both of them.

“We hope our customers understand this year’s schedule around the holidays because it really is a good thing,” Butler said. hockey-playersIt’s another opportunity to showcase what we are all about.”

Lawson said it is gratifying to see skaters, hockey players and others come through over the past 16 years.

“I’m kind of a mother figure,” Lawson said. “You see people grow up and then bring their own children. We have worked hard to become more welcoming for the entire community.”

Visit for a detailed look at the regional amenity.

A Perspective of Olympic Proportion

Think Pettit National Ice Center along with Olympic speed skating and the name Bonnie Blair immediately comes to mind. Bonnie Blair Cruikshank (she is married to fellow Olympian Dave Cruikshank) now sees the sport and the arena that helped her achieve athletic glory in a whole new way. The Delafield resident who won gold in 1988, 1992 and 1994 is on the Pettit’s board of directors and is mom to an aspiring Olympic speed skater, 17-year-old Blair.

Bonnie recently responded in writing to a few questions posed by Tosa Connection:

Tosa Connection: What does the Center mean to you as an Olympian?
Bonnie Blair Cruikshank: “When I was skating, it gave a place to train that was consistent. Meaning weather was not gonna play a part. Now as an athlete all competitions are on enclosed rinks so it really is a necessity for our sport and we are lucky to have two in the U.S.(one at altitude in Salt Lake City and the Pettit at sea level). As a retired Olympian, it sure does make skating more enjoyable when you are out of shape .”

TC: What does the Center mean as a member of the Pettit Board of Directors?
BBC: “Im glad to be able to stay involved in the sport via another avenue. I knew when I was skating that once I finished I would want to give back to the sport that gave my family and me so much. This is just one of the ways I am able to give back.”

TC: What does the Center mean to you as a mom of an aspiring Olympian?
BBC: “My daughter Blair (who is 17) is now skating and this is a great place for her to chase her dreams. She had been a high-level gymnast and had to give the sport up about four years ago so she is very new to the sport (and never skated that much). She is 0.4 seconds off the qualifying (Olympic trials qualifying time) so we are guessing she is going to reach her goal and compete in January at the Pettit. Her goal is to make the qualifying time, also hopes to make a spot on the Jr. World Team and ultimately the 2022 games. However, she knows it has to come from within her and she is the one who has to do it. Her dad and I are here to help in any way and will give her the best possibility, but it is up to her.”

TC: How should the community and southeastern Wisconsin regard the Pettit?
BBC: The Pettit Center is a place where world class speed skaters train and race, but anyone can come use the facility for public skating, learn to skate, recreational hockey, travel hockey, figure skating at various levels as well as speed skating. There is also a running track where you can (get out of bad weather year round). Not many places where you could see an Olympian or even a medalist and watch a hockey game or public skate at the same time.”

TC: Any other thoughts?
BBC: “Twenty-five years has gone fast and we are excited to host the Olympic trials.”