Hedy Tung, Contributing Photographer

Over the past semester, any passerby of Ingalls Rink, also known as the Whale, would see its boarded up sides and quiet parking lot, a ghostly reminder of thrilling weekend hockey games, eager crowds and the hum of the Zamboni that used to fill the rink.

As Yale Athletics returns to Phase I and intramural sports restart this week, free skates at the Whale remain in limbo. Yale’s open skating times not only create more leisure opportunities for students, but also allow for the re-creation of some favorite pre-pandemic pastimes. Ingalls is currently closed following the COVID-19 cluster associated with the Yale men’s hockey team and its reopening date is unclear.

“This fall’s season open skate times are Monday through Thursday from 11:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. [and] we have a limit of five skaters on the ice at any one time,” Director of Third Party Rentals and Events for Yale Greg Zullo said. “As of right now, Ingalls Rink remains closed out of an abundance of caution.”

Zullo works with all external rental groups who use Yale’s athletic spaces and oversees the entire facility schedule and recreation operation for Ingalls Rink and the Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center.

According to Zullo, the recreation skate is only available for students and staff with access to campus, and skating time slots can be reserved through Bond Sports. The Bond Sports webpage, which has been temporarily taken down, stated that the free skates do not welcome any other Yale affiliated groups or guests and participants are required to wear face masks when moving around the facility. They can be removed only when the skater is on the ice.

“Some of our rules include face coverings at all times, no bags and no locker room access [and] hand sanitizer upon entry [and] exit of the facility,” Zullo said. “Our attendant at the main entrance only allows users with reservations into the rink after presenting their Bond Sports receipt and scanning their ID.”

In a normal year, Ingalls Rink would be open to the public and the Yale community for recreational skating and hockey during the lunch hour, but because of the current health conditions, accessibility to the rink is limited. 

Professor Albert Ko, department chair and professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, said that there are many unique mitigating factors during decision making about accessibility to hockey rinks. Ko said that various factors could either increase or decrease the risk of spreading COVID-19 on the ice.

“It’s indoor, it’s colder — that could potentially allow droplets to spread farther,” Ko said. “There are ways to of course mitigate that. One is face masks, the other is social distanced ice skating [if] there’s a lot of ventilation.”

Ko continued to explain that the state of Connecticut has not yet closed down ice-skating rinks, but some doctors are concerned, more so for the risks involved in playing contact hockey than free skates with social distancing. An additional concern of these medical professionals is the interaction between congregated skaters before and after their time on the ice. 

“As of right now, Ingalls Rink remains closed out of an abundance of caution,” Director of Third Party Rentals and Events for Yale Greg Zullo said. (Photo: Courtesy of Yale Athletics)

Late last week, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced a two-week shutdown of all ice rinks and skating facilities in the state because of cases connected to indoor ice hockey, while the Northford Ice Pavilion in Branford, Conn. is closed for at least this week with over 20 cases tied to the rink. 18 of them, the New Haven Register reported, represent the outbreak on Yale’s men’s hockey team.

Despite the risk, Tom Migdalski, director of club sports, the Outdoor Education Center and intramurals, said that Yale will likely approach free skates in a similar manner to that of intramurals — with adaptations in response to the pandemic.

“Intramurals have been very well received this semester,” Migdalski said. “We have reconfigured all our activities to meet safety guidelines, primarily by introducing new two-on-two lawn games and court sports and eliminating the large team sports … And all the participants have been following safety policies.”

Although the club sports program is not active this fall, the Yale Athletics administration is open to reviewing club sports proposals and protocols for the spring semester, according to Migdalski. 

In the meantime, intramural sports have created communities for students on campus this semester even throughout various phase changes and the 13-day pause following the COVID cluster stemming from the men’s hockey team.

“Club sports and intramurals offer unique competition and bonding experiences, but the safety and wellbeing of our students is the primary concern,” Migdalski said. “Out of an abundance of caution, all intramural sports were cancelled during Phase 0 [but] we are back in action and anticipate being able to make up all delayed contests.”

At this point in time, students also have access to other forms of exercise outside of intramural sports and varsity teams — which they can access through reserving times in the fitness center to use cardio equipment or swimming in the third-floor pool. 

According to Duke Diaz, senior associate athletic director of Payne Whitney Gymnasium administration and physical education, the administration has developed plans for a wide variety of COVID-19 related scenarios and is ready to adjust to the health needs of the community. 

“I feel that our athletics and campus recreation teams have worked well with our university partners and health and safety professionals to develop safe and creative ways to offer recreational programming to the Yale students,” Diaz said. “We will continue to offer as much [programming] as possible.”

Although the Whale will be unable to offer the same 110 hours of lunchtime hockey and 114 hours of recreation skating it did last year, Zullo said that limited access to open skating still has its benefits.

“Skating is a great exercise and [it feels] very therapeutic, and with a bonus break in the middle of the day, you cannot beat it,” Zullo said. “However, everyone’s safety is most important.”

Ingalls Rink has a capacity of 3,500 people and has welcomed Yale skaters since 1958. 

Sydney Gray contributed reporting.

Amelia Lower | amelia.lower@yale.edu

Amelia Lower covers football, men's ice hockey and men's lacrosse. She is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College from Rye, New York, double-majoring in Spanish and the History of Science, Medicine and Public Health.