Ski team a summer tradition in Fremont
By Holly Neumann
What started out as part of a Bicentennial celebration at the Fremont Water Carnival has turned into a summer tradition.
More and more people became involved and the Webfooters Water Shows were born.
The tradition of free water-ski shows began in 1981 and continues at 6 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays throughout the summer.
Greg Smedema, marketing director for the Webfooters, said the theme for this year is “Shipwrecked.”
“It is Gilligan’s Island with a Webfooter twist,” he said.
The story begins with a fishing trip where Carl and his nephew, Conner, get caught in a horrific storm and they find themselves washed ashore on an uncharted desert island. Although unsure of where exactly they set aground, they quickly discover two iconic hats. One was a mighty sailor’s hat and the other belonged to a Skipper.
“Carl instantly knows that they had landed on Gilligan’s Island,” Smedema said. “Conner, being young and curious, and never before hearing the tales of Gilligan’s Island, quickly experiences the quirks and mysteries this historic island holds. As the story unfolds, Carl and Conner encounter a tribe of Webfooters who draw them deeper into the island with their unique pyramid climbing abilities, amazing barefoot tricks, mind-blowing jumps and, of course, the mesmerizing tribal women.”
The team is made up of roughly 130 performers, ranging in age from 2 to 53.
“This is a great show,” said Kathy Brown, who comes to watch her three grandsons perform. “There are generations of families here. You have kids on their parents’ shoulders, grandparents working in concession stands and families coming to watch free entertainment. How much better can it get?”
Show skiing is a unique sport that allows people of all ages, talents and abilities to participate, according to show director Alyssa Bellile,
“Every family member can come together and be a part of one team in many different ways,” she said. “A dad can drive, a mom can spot and a kid can ski, another kid can announce and act on stage or any combination of activity. No other sport can have a team comprised of people ages 1 to 100.”
Gina Gerrits performs in the shows with her children Zayda and Ethan.
“I was looking for something for us to do for the summer,” she said. “We went to an indoor Webfooters practice and my daughter jumped right in and started climbing pyramids, so we decided to join.”
It is evident that the kids love to participate.
“I love to ski,” 10-year-old Zayda Gerrits said. “I love climbing to the top of the pyramid.”
“Zayda started climbing pyramids in the shows last year, but has been climbing in the gym with the team for 4 years,” Gina Gerrits said. “I am very proud of her braveness and skill to be able to perform such an act with the team. When you think about how many feet above she is, it can be scary. There is always a sense of relief and success after you watch her reach the bottom again.”
Ethan Gerrits, 8, is working on mastering his wake boarding skills and proudly shows off the stickers he has earned for dock starts, jumping and crossing the wake.
“I am still learning, but it is a lot of fun,” he said.
The Webfooters are definitely a unique group, Bellile said.
“A majority of the members have been on the team since they were born,” she said. “There are groups of families where the parents started on the Webfooters when they were kids and are now sharing their passion for water skiing with their children 20-plus years later.”
Many of the other members who have joined the team learned how to ski from the team’s Learn to Ski events throughout the summer.
There have been may fond memories throughout the years and some have even found love while being a part of the team.
“The Webfooters president, Sam Benjamin, and his wife Stefanie (Mogensen), met on the team and skied together for seven years before getting married,” Bellile said. “They will be married 10 years this June and now have two children, Calla, 7, and Marcus, 5. The co-show director, Melissa (Mogensen) Hanser and her husband, Matt Hanser, met when he joined the Webfooters in 2006, They were married in 2010 and their first daughter, Kennedy, is turning 1 this June.”
Kennedy already stands, smiles and waves like she’s on the top of the pyramid.
The most recent Webfooters marriage was last October, when Bellile married her husband, Brian.
“He had been skiing with the Webfooters since 2006 and we met in 2010 when I joined,” she said. “Melissa was the show director and put us together in a few pyramids. We instantly became friends.”
In true Webfooters style, they built a three-high pyramid with their wedding party on their wedding day.
“Brian based in the center, with his best man and a groomsman as the corners,” she said. “Both were prior Webfooter members. Melissa Hanser and Stefanie Benjamin were the two second tiers and I climbed all the way to third tier in my wedding dress.”
The Webfooters are a nonprofit organization that brings the joy of the water to the Fox Valley and surrounding communities through membership or simply through their free shows.
“As an organization, we strive in developing the youth, family bond and friendships, as well as promoting teamwork, personal confidence, health and well-being,” Bellile said.
All performers do so, on a volunteer basis.
“We are able to run this organization through the generous support of our spectators and fans through donations, as well as raffle ticket sales or working concession booths at Lambeau Field and other surrounding concerts and events,” Bellile said.
The Webfooters are always open to welcoming in new individuals and/or families, Bellile said.
“We have many different roles that we are always looking to fill with great people,” she said.