The kids picking up stuffed animals off the ice shine too at figure skating championships

·2 min read
Five-year-old Ruby Briley, one of 64 sweepers from Nashville area, skates on the ice during the Championship Ladies Short Program event during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022.
Five-year-old Ruby Briley, one of 64 sweepers from Nashville area, skates on the ice during the Championship Ladies Short Program event during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022.

Move over, world champion figure skater Nathan Chen — a 5-year-old might steal the show from you at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

At 3 feet 10 inches tall, Ruby Briley is the smallest — and youngest — of 64 children and teens picking up the stuffed animals that are tossed onto the ice after performances at Bridgestone Arena.

Called "sweepers," the young volunteers sometimes get as much attention from the crowd as the performers because they're so darn adorable.

Ruby got hearty cheers and applause when she picked up her first stuffed animal Tuesday afternoon following a junior men's performance.

Sweepers skate across the ice to collect gifts thrown on the ice for competitors in the 2022 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Bridgestone Arena Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022 in Nashville, Tenn.
Sweepers skate across the ice to collect gifts thrown on the ice for competitors in the 2022 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Bridgestone Arena Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022 in Nashville, Tenn.

"Oh my gosh, she is so stinkin' cute!" gushed several female teens in the audience.

Ruby took it all in glide, smiling and waving to the fans waving at her as she skated by.

"I'm excited!" Ruby said before competition started, mostly about the dress she and other sweepers wear.

"Mine is black with pretty sparkles," she said, beaming.

Like most of the sweepers, Ruby takes classes with the Scott Hamilton Skating Academy at the Ford Ice Centers, one in Bellevue, the other in Antioch.

Philip Baker collects a gift off the ice from a fan after his performance during the Junior Men Free Skate Competition in the 2022 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Bridgestone Arena Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022 in Nashville, Tenn.
Philip Baker collects a gift off the ice from a fan after his performance during the Junior Men Free Skate Competition in the 2022 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Bridgestone Arena Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022 in Nashville, Tenn.

The academy director, former Ice Capades performer Paula Trujillo, said she chooses sweepers based on three things — skating ability, teamwork, and, most important to her, the kid's joy in skating.

The first sweepers' practice didn't go particularly well. The kids broke formation and started darting all over the place, chasing down the stuff animals, Trujillo said.

"It was hilarious!" she said, laughing. "We eventually got better.

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"And we feel strongly about letting them shine. Whether there’s a tossee [stuffed animal] or not, we’re still gonna send out at least four kids. They’ll go out and take a round, and the crowd usually goes wild for them."

Some of the older sweepers are psyched for the chance to be near their figure skating heroes.

A sweeper collects a doll thrown on the ice for a competitor during the Junior Men Free Skate Competition in the 2022 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Bridgestone Arena Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022 in Nashville, Tenn.
A sweeper collects a doll thrown on the ice for a competitor during the Junior Men Free Skate Competition in the 2022 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Bridgestone Arena Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022 in Nashville, Tenn.

Layla Ewin, 10, of Antioch, is excited to see her role model, Starr Andrews, a 2019 International Challenge Cup silver medalist, Layla's mom, Tywaska Ewin, said.

"She may not be able to talk to Starr, but even to be on the same ice will be so exciting," Tywaska Ewin said.

Reach Brad Schmitt at brad@tennessean.com or 615-259-8384 or on Twitter @bradschmitt.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: U.S. Figure Skating Championships: Look out for cute kid 'sweepers'

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