Dance party: Before the ice dance final, Hubbell, Bates’ families gather for Little Caesars Arena-style tailgate

Colton Wood/NBC Sports Figure Skating
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By Colton Wood

DETROIT – Madison Hubbell’s uncle Steve Dedoes played “We Are the Champions” on his trumpet, embraced the frigid Michigan weather and chanted “Defense!” Saturday afternoon in a parking lot just blocks from Little Caesars Arena.

After all, who could blame him; he was having a celebration that was a year in the making.

Dedoes was geographically restricted to watching his niece win the 2018 U.S. ice dance title with Zachary Donohue from his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, so when nationals came to Detroit this year, it gave Dedoes the opportunity to have a long-overdue reception with family and friends.

When it was announced in September nationals was coming to Detroit, Dedoes’ son, Mattie, without thinking twice, proposed the family attend Hubbell’s title defense and host a tailgate during the hours leading up to her skate.

“It’s not a thought,” said Mattie Dedoes, Maddie’s cousin who grew up attending tailgates for University of Michigan football games. “It’s just what you do.”

Mattie Dedoes admitted he was, in a way, joking about the tailgate, but when his family gathered together for Christmas, he realized his idea was actually going to come to fruition.

“For us, it’s not that we’re lunatic sports fans, it’s just an opportunity to have fun,” Steve Dedoes said. “Our family, I wouldn’t say we do everything together. We’ve never been to one of Madison’s events now that she’s on the top rung of the ladder.”

Steve Dedoes is a big fan of Michigan sports, so supporting his niece reach skating stardom has brought the fan of a city struggling to become relevant in sports again great relief.

“We get to root for a winner for a change!” Dedoes shouted Saturday.

The scene at the tailgate before Saturday’s free dance. Colton Wood/NBC Sports Figure Skating

Maddie’s mom, Sue Hubbell (also known for creating her daughter’s on-ice costumes), reached out to Donohue’s and Evan Bates’ family about the tailgate, hoping to collaborate to form one immense tailgate. They instantly agreed.

“I love being outside,” said Dee Eggert, Donohue’s mother. “I don’t like being in the stress of the arena, so I’d rather be outside just having a good time and not thinking about the stuff to come.”

Eggert said she often tailgates for football and other popular events but has never thought about tailgating for a figure skating competition.

“Nobody has ever done this that I know of,” she said. “It’s mainly the big sports – football, baseball. We do them at those, but skating is more of sitting in a lounge and drinking a glass of wine.”

MORE: Figure Skating in Detroit unites Olympians, opportunity and life skills for young girls

Michaela Kearsey, Hubbell’s best friend who lives in Scotland, learned of the tailgate and Hubbell’s family’s plans to attend her title defense, and decided to come home from Scotland earlier than planned.

Kearsey met Hubbell when she moved down from the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and started skating at the Lansing Skating Club.

Though she no longer skates with Hubbell and despite the Atlantic Ocean stationed between the two longtime friends, they still keep in touch.

“Thank goodness for technology,” she said. “We just text and send voice messages through WhatsApp. I got married last summer. Her and my sister were co-maids of honor, so we did a lot of wedding planning via WhatsApp.”

On Saturday, Kearsey ate, drank and enjoyed the company of Hubbell’s family and friends.

When Steve Dedoes brought together everyone to pose for a picture during the tailgate, Dedoes brought out the iconic D-fence sign and started chanting “Defense!”

“Defense!” Colton Wood/NBC Sports Figure Skating

Kearsey watched as Dedoes referred to Hubbell and Donohue’s title defense and began to laugh.

The ability to experience her best friend carve her own path through the figure skating realm, Kearsey said, has been incredible.

“It’s been really fun watching her journey,” she said. “When I was over in [Scotland] studying, I was able to go see a few of her competitions in Europe, which was really cool. It’s different coming from skating myself; I’m getting the sense now of how our moms used to get so nervous watching.”

Nancy Bates, the mother of Evan Bates, said the tailgate felt like a family reunion.

“We have 50 family members here, and they came from all over the country,” Nancy Bates said. “They’ll come once a year somewhere – usually nationals. It’s like a family reunion.”

Nancy Bates said she rarely gets to see her son, who moved to Montreal with partner Madison Chock, because of his hectic skating schedule, but said she goes to the majority of his competitions.

The families stood for hours in sub-freezing temperatures, prioritizing family and friends over warmth and celebrating their loved ones’ success in figure skating.

“We’re going to be drinking until midnight and miss the [ice dance] event,” Steve Dedoes said. “Just kidding.”

MORE: Skaters’ ties to Detroit add local flavor to U.S. Championships 

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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