Community Building at The Skating Club of Boston

The following transcript was taken from an interview with Joe Blount, the President of the Board of Directors for The Skating Club of Boston. Joe was instrumental in bringing Team Excel to The Skating Club and feels strongly that synchronized skating is an important program for the club. Joe was interviewed the night of the Nationals send-off for Team Excel.

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The Skating Club of Boston has a long and storied history in which community building has always been a goal. Please tell us about the importance of community building and how The Skating Club has been so successful at it.

Our goal at The Skating Club of Boston is to encourage positive communication, cooperation and camaraderie among the skaters, coaches and families. One of the biggest contributors to community building is Ice Chips. I call it the big melting pot, where all the new skaters get to know the existing skaters.

The Junior Activities Committee is also important. Tonight for the Team Excel Nationals send-off, there will be seven to eight servers and they are all skaters. The Junior Activities Committee (JAC) operates on it’s own but is monitored by a Board liaison. They set their own agenda and do they own thing with the support of the club. They handle the Halloween party, the Christmas party and the own event in honor of Mary-Louise Wright.

I also feel strongly that these send-offs get people together so they get to know one another – so the skaters get to know one another – because they all skate at different session and different times of the day. Over the years, I’ve observed that these things are beneficial to the club.

We hosted our largest ever Basic Skills competition two weeks ago. The competition went from 6:00am in the morning to 9:30pm at night. And we were monitored by U.S. Figure Skating. The USFSA monitor sent a nice email to Paul Crugnola (the local organizing committee chair), Susie Wherli and myself. He asked one of the skaters who was volunteering in the accounting room, how long she’d been there and how long she would stay if asked. And she said that she would stay all day. That’s the kind of thing you get when there’s a sense of community at the club.

We also see a lot of camaraderie among the skaters. I constantly get feedback from competitions, the people who know me in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts, who say, we knew your team was here because they were all supporting one another.

And I’m starting to see it from the Team Excel teams too. As a matter of fact, the best thing that could have happened to Team Excel was Skatefest back in February. Because I had a lot of feedback from club members who saw the skaters and were very impressed with their performances. And that was very positive.

Readers may be surprised to hear about the wide variety of programs at The Skating Club. Please tell us about them.

A lot of people are surprised by the number of programs that The Skating Club has. In fact, someone from US Figure Skating recently asked me if we were overwhelmed by it all. And while I jokingly answered yes, the truth is that the Board views all these programs as critical to keeping the club going and building membership. If we don’t have membership, we can’t really do what we want to do with competitive skaters and teams. We’ve been really fortunate that the synchronized skating and theater on ice programs have been so popular.

Basic Skills is another program that is a high priority with us. While it brings revenue to the club, it also creates a base of skaters who are acquiring skills necessary to participate in our other programs. And the Basic Skills program has grown in leaps and bounds since September, both in Brighton and at Metrowest. We even added a new session on Sunday night in Brighton.

The only program that has not received sufficient attention is our ice dance program. It is an integral part of long range plan and we are in the middle of interviewing candidates to direct that program.

Synchronized skating has been offered at The Skating Club for a number of years. Can you tell us what it adds to the mix at The Skating Club?

Ben Wright can give you a little more history about synchronized skating at The Skating Club of Boston. We had a synchronized skating program years and years ago. The coach, I believe, was Bobby Black who has since passed away. He was a top-level singles coach but he loved to coach synchronized skating. They called it precision skating at the time.

If we could have a team at every level, that would be ideal. I’m sure that someday that will happen. But I’m very impressed with the way that Team Excel is organized and the way that Merita directs the program. The structure that her training program brings has been a very positive thing for the club. And at the Board meeting last Wednesday night, everybody was very positive. As I said, I’m really impressed and think that Team Excel had an excellent inaugural year.

Merita Mullen articulated her vision for Team Excel that included a strong developmental program, volunteerism, mentors who are passionate about the sport and, of course, training national and international competitors. How do these ideals fit in with those of The Skating Club?

Merita’s vision is directly aligned with what we want to do at The Skating Club. And as a former club member, I think she understands that. So it’s a positive thing. And in the long run, her vision will match what we are trying to do beautifully. I am pleased as is the majority of the Board.

As the club president, you are directing a number of important projects for the future. Can you tell us about one or two of them that might interest the synchronized skating community?

The long range plan is in process and a new facility is the goal. We are trying to get it up and running for 2012, which will be the 100 th anniversary of The Skating Club of Boston. I am not sure we can make that happen but it would be nice if we could. That program has taken a tremendous amount of time from several people over the last six months. We have identified a site but haven’t brought it before the membership because we are waiting to see the financial implications. The site is six miles from the club as are our other two options. Our first choice is being diligently pursued and we hope to have a major announcement soon.

Then we have a tremendous interest in what we are doing with our programs and with our satellite location at Metrowest. Even with the new facility, we will continue to build Metrowest to the best of our ability because it feeds the main club and gives beginning skaters a place to learn closer to home. I anticipate that the skaters who really become very competitive will want to slide over to the main club and practice at the main club.

We have another new program recently proposed by the coaches, Mark Mitchell, Peter Johansson, Bobby Martin and Carrie Wall. They proposed a high performance program that includes off-ice training, nutrition, on-ice, scheduling and basically anything to help skaters through the entire process of preparing for championships at the end of the long skating season. They hope the program will help skaters stay strong and healthy, cut down on injuries and help with overall wellness. That’s the goal but we’re starting slow with a pilot.

As I said, we are also trying to re-energize the ice dance program. We are considering getting it started at Metrowest and that’s still a possibility but at the moment, the Board has too many things on our plate. But we are not going to drop it because it is a critical part of our long-range plan.

We are also trying to help the skaters develop the Junior Activities Committee and increase overall participation in the club. We have a group of young high school students and some good parents who are helping.

I’m very pleased that I have the Board that I have. But the Board has been dealing with too many day-to-day operational details. To help with this, we are also investigating adding an Executive Director to help. That Director would prepare us for the new facility and get us in better shape operationally.

The future seems bright.

Absolutely!

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Joe Blount is the President of the Board of Directors of The Skating Club of Boston.

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