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Tracy Briggs, Published March 14 2013

Skating sisters: Sisters who rose through ranks now run Moorhead Ice Show

If you go

What: Moorhead Ice Show “All Around Town” featuring 200 local skaters and guest skaters, U.S. Championship Pairs bronze medalists Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay

When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday

Where: Moorhead Sports Center, 324 24th St. S.

Tickets: $6.50 for adults, $4.50 for children ages 4-12 and free for children age 3 and younger

Info: (218) 299-5340

Somehow, it just makes sense that sisters Dawn Frisch-Franklin and Shelly Frisch-Schreiner would have birthdays just one day apart.

Their lives have been intertwined from the time they were kids – so different in personality but the same in their commitment to the figure skaters of Moorhead and Fargo.

The older sister by three years and a day, Dawn is the director of Moorhead Parks and Recreation skating. Shelly is the assistant director. Both are also coaches with Red River Valley Figure Skating Club.

But they perhaps are best known by the community as director and assistant director of the Moorhead Ice Show, which begins tonight in the Moorhead Sports Center.

The show features hundreds of skaters, along with Olympic-caliber guest skaters. The show packs the house every year, and much of the success can be credited to the Frisch sisters.

Despite their devotion these days, it’s not like the Frisches started out as a skating family. Mother Judy Frisch, of Moorhead, says she only brought 4-year-old Dawn to skating lessons because a neighbor girl invited her. But Dawn took to it like a fish to water.

“She especially liked it when she got her first dress – full of sparkles,” Judy said.

A couple of years later, Shelly began lessons, too, and fell in love with the sport just like her big sister. It was a love that got them through missed sleepovers and ski trips, early bedtimes and long days on the ice.

Both Dawn and Shelly rose to the top of their field – gold medalists in five different areas of figure skating – a rarity when many skaters specialize in just one area. But they knew it would make them more well-rounded skaters.

“I knew when I was in high school I wanted to coach. I even remember being in eighth or ninth grade and cutting programs on an old cassette player,” Dawn said.

Dawn got the chance to coach right after graduating from Moorhead High School in 1988. As a college freshmen at Minnesota State University Moorhead, she accepted her current job with Moorhead Parks. Tough for an 18-year-old to balance everything.

“That’s why it took me so long to graduate,” she laughs.

After her graduation in 1991, Shelly joined Dawn on the ice as coach and assistant director while also attending MSUM. (Both sisters graduated with mass communications degrees.)

The full-time jobs have them working side-by-side in the office, on the ice and at international skating competitions. (They were at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 1994 when Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed in the knee by an attacker hired by rival Tonya Harding.)

But how is all the family togetherness? Not bad. They said because they’re sisters they’re able to say things to each other that they might feel uncomfortable saying to just another co-worker. Plus, it helps that they’re complete opposites.

“I’m so much more high strung than Shelly. She’s so laid back,” Dawn said.

Without missing a beat, Shelly explains.

“She’ll come into the office freaking out about something, and I’ll say ‘Really, you’re getting worked up over that?’ ” Shelly said.

Shelly has gotten even more perspective on what not to worry about after an accident that left husband, Mark, a farmer, with a serious head injury.

“I learned what is out of my control and what is not. I don’t have time to worry about things that aren’t that important. I’m able to put things aside. The skating community has been so supportive, and that means a lot,” she said.

Judy said parents have written her letters telling her how much their children have learned by watching Shelly go through this. But complimentary letters about her daughters are nothing new.

“They write and say, ‘We think the world of Dawn and Shelly. Aside from skating, we know they love our girls,’ ” she said.

In fact, that might be what drives the Frisch sisters. They both said they get the most satisfaction watching young skaters grow up and blossom on and off the ice.

“I love when they come back and say that we’ve somehow affected their lives,” Dawn said.

“Our skaters tend to do really well. They learn so many things in skating that help them later in life. They’re self-motivated and focused, and they learn not to give up after failures,” Shelly said.

They said it’s always sad to say goodbye to their senior skaters, but as they head into this weekend’s show, there’s too much to do to dwell on it. But Dawn said it goes well largely because of the great volunteers and coaches with whom they work not just during the ice show, but all year long.

The sisters figure this is somewhere in the neighborhood of their 39th ice show as either skaters or coaches. (Judy has been a volunteer just as long.) They’ve come a long way from that first show, which Judy says was held right after lessons with just a few girls and black garbage bags as curtains. This year, about 200 skaters will take part.

Tara Ekren is the special events coordinator with Moorhead Parks and Rec. She says the Moorhead Ice Show is one of the best around because of Dawn and Shelly’s patience and hard work.

“They go after everything with all they’ve got. You know when they set out to do something, they’re going to do it well. We love them and never want them to leave,” she said.

Fortunately, it doesn’t look like the sisters are going anywhere. They said they like the flexibility their jobs afford as they try to juggle their busy families. (Dawn is married to husband Brad Franklin, principal of Jefferson Elementary in Fargo, and they have three sons, Joey, 14, Johnny, 11, and Jake, 6. Shelly and Mark have a daughter, Sammy, 10, and son, Tommy, 6.)

Their coaching resumes could boast of their star pupils. Dawn coached Olympian Mark Ladwig and U.S. Junior Champion and professional skater Matt Evers. Shelly has had three skaters – Erin Rustvang, Kira Stenehjem and Kayla Brown – join “Disney on Ice.”

But the day to day commitment to figure skating in their hometown might be their most enduring legacy.

Shelly said, “I think because we grew up in it, we have a love for Moorhead Parks and Rec. We saw where it was and where it can be now and in the future.”

Chances are those black garbage bag curtains are never coming back.

Tracy Briggs is a mother of two and is an employee of Forum Communications Co. and can be reached at tracy.briggs@fccinteractive.com.