With the Winter Olympics just weeks away, symbolically, it couldn't be a better time for the Fairfield Ice Academy to debut at the new Sportsplex on Mill Plain Road. The Olympics could be the reason for the rush of lesson signups, as enthusiasm for the sport is bringing an overwhelming response to registration for skating lessons.

Classes are under way at the academy that sports two rinks (36' by 70' and 29' by 52) and hosts learn to skate programs, hockey, public skating, birthday parties and special events.

Recently, Meadowbrook Road resident Robin Hetherman, mother of a 6-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son stopped by the Ice Academy to check on clothing requirements for skating lessons. She had recently signed up her daughter for lessons.

Hetherman expressed excitement about the academy's opening and the opportunity it would offer and her family, which includes her husband, an assistant coach at Darien High School. Her husband, a former "coach of the year" for NYU's club hockey team, is the skater in the family.

Commenting upon her own ability, Hetherman said, "Oh, please, I take them [her children] and they hold me up. It's time for them to learn, so they don't have to be with mommy any more."

Academy Managing Director Tamara Guarino expressed surprise and enthusiasm at the outpouring of support for the Fairfield Ice Academy, noting during a recent interview that she had received over 40 email messages just in the hour that she had sat down for the interview. Guarino is a skating instructor and former ice arena director. The daughter of a former assistant ice arena director, she literally grew up on the ice. The 35-year old mother of three competed from the age of two until her teens.

Now, with the Fairfield Ice Academy opportunity before her, Guarino said, "It's very exciting to build a rink from the ground up." Not only is she excited about the opportunity, but also the fact that she is working in an industry that she loves.

Guarino said structuring the academy with two smaller rinks instead of one large rink allows groups to have a more personalized setting. For example, with hockey it's important "to break down into smaller areas for game work...for multiple skills and situation drills that provide creativity and experimentation."

The Fairfield Ice Academy, which follows the United States Figure Skating Association's guidelines and standards, offers a variety of programs including: pre-school lessons for children ages 3 to 5; learn to skate lessons for ages 5 to adult, with groups based on age and ability; beginning hockey for ages 5 to 12, grouped by age and ability and intermediate and advanced lessons for children and adults. In the academy's hockey league program participants will be formed into 12 teams. In addition, stick and puck sessions will be scheduled on Saturdays for two hours.

Guarino speaks enthusiastically about hockey, a sport program that keeps gaining in popularity. "It's a team sport. Everyone works together to achieve a goal. There's no `I' in the word team," said the director, citing the academy's mission for hockey players to develop the proper skating skills and game strategies to make better decisions.

For the beginning skater, the goal is to enjoy learning the fundamentals of ice skating. Guarino emphasizes the great fun the sport brings to families when parents and their children have opportunity to skate together. In addition, ice skating is a healthy exercise.

The learn to skate program offers weekly instruction. Session I began Jan. 25 and continues through to March 20. Session II begins March 22 and runs through May 15 while Session III begins May 17 and runs to June 26. The learn to skate class is 50 minutes long, composed of 25 minutes of instruction and 25 minutes of organized games that reinforce skills.

The beginner hockey program focuses on the proper technique of skating, stick handling, shooting and small games situations. Due to the size of the rink, the classes will be smaller and more personable. The beginner hockey class is for those who can skate already. The class is 50 minutes long and every class ends with a game. Classes run weekly for eight-week sessions.

The Fairfield Ice Academy offers public skating, teen skating and stick and puck sessions. Interested parties should check the Ice Academy Web site for days and times.

All sizes of hockey and figure skates are available to rent for only $4. Helmets are required for all children (bicycle or ski helmets are acceptable). Skaters should wear comfortable and warm clothing and it's important to wear gloves or mittens.

All skaters will receive a practice pass when registering for a learn to skate class. This pass allows the skater to attend a public session at no charge. The passes are valid only during the duration of the class session and good for up to eight uses.

In addition to the scheduled lessons, team practices and league play, the Fairfield Ice Academy is available for school and church groups, corporate events and parties.

For further information, visit www.fairfieldiceacademy.com, call (203) 610-8155, or send an e-mail to info@fairfieldiceacademy.com