Builders’ Category ~ Class of 2017
America’s entertainment industry has its share of on- named celebrities such as Elvis, Cher, Ringo, Sting, Prince, Tiger, Bono, Babe, and Beyoncé to name just a few. However, since 1974 the Illinois ice hockey community has been home to a young man with his own mononymous identity who would mature to become one of Chicagoland’s most beloved coaches and mentors. His name is Rafe.
Rafael “Rafe” Aybar was born in 1953 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Four years later in 1957 the Aybar family immigrated to the United States and called Alexandria, Virginia and Miami, Florida home until permanently settling in Chicago. As a youngster Rafe was a talented athlete excelling most in soccer which he went on to play at a semi-professional level.
Unexpectedly, at the age of 17 a serious knee injury sidelined Rafe from his soccer career and oddly it was an intensive rehabilitation program which included an ice skating regiment that eventually convinced him to give up soccer’s warm and forgiving turf for a chance to pursue a lifelong career on a much cooler and harder surface. During this rehab period Rafe closely studied the figure skaters, hockey skaters, and speed skaters with whom he shared the ice surface and soon developed a unique understanding of the physical, technical, artistic, and emotional ingredients required to achieve successes in each of these distinctly different forms of skating. Armed with this newfound wealth of knowledge and a desire to share what he had learned Rafe developed lesson plans that personally engaged his students in a learning process that was fun, challenging, and rewarding. It was this recipe that Rafe would successfully turn into a forty plus year career devoted to personally and passionately teaching his craft.
Over these years thousands of ice hockey enthusiasts of all age levels have endearingly called Rafe their coach, or their child’s coach. This number includes current and former NHL professionals, Juniors, Collegiate athletes, and Olympic athletes, and Coach Rafe is very proud of the role he played in each of these many successes. But as important to Rafe are the subtle milestones he sees daily on the ice at the entry levels of ice hockey and he often emotionally describes his triumphs as those he sees through his students – “that little look they all get, whether in their eyes or in their body expressions” which signify that a young player had just mastered a brand-new skill, and was eagerly ready for the next challenge! Or the fact that in recent years Rafe now counts a handful of sons and daughters of previous students as his second-generation students, and fondly calls them his “grandstudents”. It is no surprise that to this day Rafe remains as excited about working with new “Learn to Skate” three and four year-olds as he is with his long-time highly skilled students.
Coincidentally, in 1985, Rafe met the lovely Jill Robbins, who at that time was coaching figure skating students at the Skokie Park District “Skatium” Ice Arena. A year later Rafe and Jill were married and together raised two children, Harrison and Madeline, both skaters. The Aybar Family calls Wilmette, Illinois their hometown and frequently can be seen driving to and from the local ice arenas in their “Aybarmobile” adorned proudly with the vanity plate “RJHMSK 8”, which is an abbreviation for: Rafe – Jill – Harrison – Madeline – Skate…and they all most eloquently and certainly do!