Hundreds of fans from across the suburbs flocked to the Centennial Ice Arena in Highland Park to watch hometown favorite Jason Brown compete in Olympic figure skating Friday.
A giant TV screen set up on the arena's indoor ice rink broadcast the event. Smaller TVs in the lobby and other rooms showed the competition, too.
When Brown took the ice in Sochi, the crowd marveled at the first-time Olympian's performance. Loud applause erupted with each complex jump and with each spin.
"I think he should be very proud of himself," said Molly Anderson, a friend from Northfield. "I'm so proud of him."
Brown finished out of medal contention in ninth place, but the 19-year-old skater -- who'd already earned a bronze in the team figure skating event -- didn't disappoint the crowd.
"Four more years! Four more years!" people chanted as they left the arena, a reference to the next Winter Olympics in 2018.
Brown learned to skate at the arena, run by the local park district.
Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering was among the dignitaries in the arena to watch Brown perform.
"He's inspired all of us," she told the crowd at the start of the rally.
That's certainly the case for 11-year-old Robyn Knight, who came to watch with her mom, Debra. The fifth-grader from Lake Villa has been figure skating for about four years, and she said seeing Brown perform shows "anything is possible."
"That could be me someday," Robyn said.
Highland Park resident Jodi Mariano attended the party with her 5-year-old daughter, Lily. Mariano is a former figure skater, and her daughter is a novice in the sport.
"It's exciting," she said of the gathering. "It's really wonderful to see how the community has rallied around him."
Brown's parents and other relatives are with him in Sochi. In an email to the Daily Herald, his dad, Steve Brown, said they're overwhelmed by the support from family, friends and the community.
"And we are so moved by our friends and neighbors in Highland Park and the North Shore who have gone way beyond in celebrating Jason's achievements," Steve Brown said. "We are thrilled tonight."