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A Wonderful Show

The Wonder Lake Water Ski Show Team does more than produce mind-blowing performances – it’s a 50-year-old team with a focus on family.

If you’ve never been to a water ski show, you’re missing out. With music, skits, dancing and more on the shore, it’s hard to believe there’s even more action on the water. Wonder Lake goes from a peaceful lake with waves gently lapping the shore to an action-packed entertainment venue when the Wonder Lake Water Ski Show Team takes their aquatic stage.

Twenty skiers perform a water ballet, jumpers turn as helicopters and do flips, wake boarders show off their skills, pyramids up to five high form, couples dance on water­—and that’s not even the finale. The “big show” involves five boats and more than 65 skiers on the water. Needless to say, it’s hard to think of a better way to spend a summer’s Friday night.

They Are The Champions

The Wonder Lake Water Ski Show Team was formed in the late 1950s by a group of ten teens. Since then, the group has grown to more than 150 members.

The team, which began competing in 1986, holds the titles of 1996, 2000 and 2001 National Champions. They have finished in the top five at the national level since their first win in 1996 and have placed in either first or second in the region for the past 10 years.

“With our emphasis on show skiing and constantly training and raising the bar in our sport, we have seen many of our skiing youth gain professional experience, moving on from our community organization to perform in professional ski shows including Tommy Bartlett’s in Wisconsin Dells, Indian Beach in Indiana, Six Flags Darien Lake in New York, Marine World in California, Cypress Gardens in Florida, Universal Studios in Japan and Sea World in Ohio,” said Patti Hartmann, the team’s president and member for more than 20 years.

The team includes more than skiers. For each skier on the water during a show there is someone on shore or boat getting them there. The team has nine boats it their fleet, including five ski boats, two safety boats and two floating starting docks. This fleet requires 23 team members. The team also needs dock and equipment people, sound and safety people, and members to handle costumes and props used during the shows. Fortunately, there is no shortage of help.

A Family Affair

“Show skiing is a very family-oriented sport and always has been,” said Hartmann. “In our case, moms and dads often do more than just carpool the kids to the events. They are also participants. We have many families where mom is skiing with daughters, mothers and fathers are skiing with children and toddlers are playing on the beach.”

The Nelson family is an example. Kelly and her husband, Steve, act as a spotter and boat driver, respectively, while their kids, Tyler, 19, and Brooke, 16, share the spotlight on the water. “As a mom of teenagers, it is great to be a part of something that my kids want to spend time with their parents for,” Kelly said. “Their friends are our friends, and with a multigenerational team, they have relationships with very young children as well as older members.”

The oldest skiing members are in their 50s, while the youngest are six or seven. “They all are just as important to the team because it takes everyone to do what we are doing as part of our show,” Hartmann said.

The Junior Club offers children 6 to 14 the opportunity to train and learn various aspects of skiing, from beginner to advanced in addition to show ski stunts. Many who join the Junior Club have never had the opportunity to ski before. The club practices through the summer and typically display their achievements in two ski shows. At least 80 percent of the current tournament team came up through the ranks of the Junior Club. Because of the teaching requirements of the Junior Club, this is the only part of our organization with limited membership.

Community Support

The team relies on fundraising dollars and sponsorships to make their practices, shows and community support efforts possible. The team gives back through their “Haunted Hayride” event in the fall of each year. Many local organizations, including food pantries, youth groups, adult and senior support groups and other local organization have received financial support from this event.

“We as an organization feel that, although our spotlight is on competitively skiing, our most important focus is the team mission to teach and give back to the community through the skills we’ve achieved through our sport and organization,” said Hartmann.

2008 marks the third year the group will work with the Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association. The team offers “Learn to Ski” through NISRA’s regular programming in June. “This program has been hugely successful, and we have all experienced a huge feeling of accomplishment during the program,” said Hartmann. “Not only did the young people participating attain their goal to water ski, but our members who acted as their trainers got to applaud their success.”

On the last night of training, participants get to perform a special ski show, wearing ski team costumes. It is a great chance for their friends and family to see what they have learned.

The team will celebrate their 50th anniversary on Labor Day 2009. In the meantime, check out their schedule and experience the action for yourself.

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