Essex Skating Club of New Jersey celebrates 60 years!
Essex Skating Club was founded in 1954 by a group of skaters residing in and around Essex County. On January 22, 1954, The Newark News announced the possibility of an indoor ice-skating rink to be built in Essex County. A letter inviting skaters to meet and discuss the organization of a skating club for the future indoor ice rink was composed by Dr. Clarence and Mrs. Florence Kern and mailed to Essex County United Skates Figure Skating Association members on January 25, 1954. At that time, many skaters were limited to skating on frozen bodies of water or outdoor ice rinks in the winter. An indoor facility in their county was great news to the skaters. It promised extended seasons and a more controlled skating environment. The prospect of an indoor rink was also exciting for the more serious skaters that had to travel to and become members of the Skating Club of New York (including Dr. and Mrs. Kern). This would give them an opportunity to skate in a facility that was much closer to home.
The objectives of Essex Skating Club as stated in the minutes from a March 9, 1954, meeting were as follows:
(a) To improve, encourage and advance amateur skating
(b) To bring together congenial families and individuals interested in skating for pleasure, recreation and physical benefits
(c) To endeavor to provide suitable ice and sufficient ice time for this purpose
(d) To meet at the earliest possible date the requirements for admission to the USFSA and to other national amateur skating associations.
Before the indoor facility was built, the newly formed Essex Skating Club rented ice time at Shadybrook, an outdoor ice rink in Livingston, NJ, every Monday from 4:00-9:30 pm for $150. Their first session was held on January 10, 1955, and offered ice time to all of their members. At the time members were not only interested in practicing dance, figures, freestyle, but also hockey. The members of Essex Skating Club gathered together for social events off ice as well, including a yearly birthday celebration of the Essex Skating Club, Christmas parties, and spring parties. It quickly became a prestigious club to join, and skaters wishing to join needed a recommendation from a current member as well as board approval.
Essex Skating Club’s final session at Shadybrook was held on April 25, 1958. The newly built South Mountain Arena opened their doors later that year on November 20, 1958, and Essex Skating Club held their first session in the new arena on November 21, 1958. The first year Essex Skating Club purchased 13 hours of club ice a week at $35 per hour. There were sessions designated for dance, patch, figure skating and hockey.
On Friday evenings the club held junior achievement tests called “Star Tests.” There were five levels of stars. Green Star was the first in which the skater needed to skate once around the rink and stop. Gold Star was the highest test in which the skater had to perform back outer and inner edges, forward outer and inner eights, a waltz eight, and either a mohawk or choctaw. Hockey players would achieve the gold star by playing a team from another club.
In the winter of 1959, South Mountain Arena hosted an ice show, “Ice Carnival.” Essex Skating Club and its members participated in this successful event. The show raised money by selling admission tickets for $2 to purchase an electric organ for the ice rink that would be played during skating sessions.
In 1960, Essex Skating Club’s president, Dr. Kern, paired up with Alexander B. Lyon, Jr., Vice President of Chemical Bank in New York City. Mr. Lyon was also the Chairman of Funorama events for The Hospital Center at Orange, NJ. Before 1960, the Funorama events raised money through things like tennis exhibitions to expand the hospital. Together, Dr. Kern and Mr. Lyon created the Funorama On Ice events. Tickets were sold at $5.50 a piece. From each ticket $4.50 was contributed to the hospital. The first show in 1960 raised over $10,000. Over the nearly 20-year partnership, these shows raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the hospital. Funorama on ice, which began as a one-night event, turned into multiple sold out performances. The Funorama ice show was a premier event with skating numbers that included all of the members of Essex Skating Club including an exhibition game from the club’s hockey team, The Rangers, as well as performances by the Essex Eight, and Essex Icicles. The club also invited future stars including Carol Heiss, Peggy Fleming, and Dorothy Hamill to name just a few! It was an honor to be invited to skate in these shows.
After the deadly plane crash in 1961, which took the lives of the World Skating Team and other figure skating officials, the Funorama shows also raised awareness and money to donate to the USFSA Memorial Fund. Some of the founding members of ESC had personal losses from the plane crash. Dr. and Mrs. Kern and others were friends with passengers such as Mr. and Mrs. Harold Hartshorne. Dr. and Mrs. Kern skated with the Hartshorne couple when they were members of the Skating Club of NY. Mr. and Mrs. Hartshorne and three others that were on that plane were scheduled to skate in the Funorama 1961 ice show with the rest of their dance group from The Skating Club of NY. As noted in that year’s program, it was a sad time for many people who were involved with the ice show.
In 1964 The Essex Eight was formed. The Essex Eight was a group of 16 adult dancers that skated on the Monday evening adult dance session. They formed eight pair teams; many of them were husband and wife teams. They not only practiced compulsory dances as a team, but all eight pairs practiced dance elements in unison to music in block-like formations around the ice. The Essex Eight performed their routines in Funorama Ice Shows as well as exhibitions at other ice rinks including the opening of Mennen Arena in Morristown, NJ.
In 1975 Essex Skating Club formed the Essex Icettes. This was ESC’s first precision team that would not only prepare to skate in the Funorama ice shows and other exhibitions, but also compete across the country. Precision was a new trend at the large clubs in the country that had enough talent to recruit anywhere from eight to 24 skaters to form a team. At that time there were no USFSA standards and no USFSA qualifying competitions for precision skating. As a result, regions differed in creating “drill-type” and “show-type” routines which made the event difficult to judge. The Icettes ranged in age from 13 to 18 and trained to skate in unison while stroking, and performing moves like swing rolls and mohawks to kick-lines, spirals and forward and backward pinwheels.
In 1980 Essex Skating Club was no longer partnering with the hospital and changed the ice show name to Essex Edges. They changed it one final time in 1981 to Ice-O-Rama. The proceeds benefited other charities including New Jersey Special Olympics and Deborah Hospital Foundation while still raising awareness and money for the USFSA Memorial Fund.
The Ice-O-Rama shows continued to host future stars including Scott Hamilton, Elaine Zayak, Brian Boitano, and Nancy Kerrigan. As years passed, successful single and pair competitive skaters emerged from ESC and were featured soloists in the shows or highlighted in group numbers. Skaters were achieving higher test levels, and competing in more prestigious events across the country. Essex Skating Club was and is home to dozens of regional, sectional, and national competitors. Two of the members, Lisa Spitz and Karen Courtland, were World and Olympic Athletes. Lisa Spitz competed in ice dancing with her partner Scott Gregory in the 1984 Olympics. Karen Courtland competed in Pairs with her partner Robert Davenport in the 1994 Olympics.
In 1982 a group of the adult women skaters in Essex Skating Club assembled to form another precision team, The Essex Blades. These ladies performed in the Ice-O-Rama ice shows as well as traveled to compete around the country and at a national level. The Essex Blades are still competing today. In fact, several of the ladies on the current team are former Icettes that competed in the 1980’s.
Throughout the years there have been a tremendous number of talented skaters that have skated on Essex Skating Club’s ice. In order to accommodate the needs of the club’s skaters, the club, like the sport of figure skating, is always evolving. When figure tests were separated from free skate tests in competition, there was no longer a great need for patch sessions. In 1994, moves in the field tests were instituted and Essex Club adjusted their sessions again in order to accommodate the skaters’ needs to practice these new patterns on the ice.
ESC also became part of the rise in popularity of synchronized skating, which was formally called precision team skating. In 2001 Essex Skating Club founded The Synchroettes, which have been a growing and competitive force since then. They have been competing across the country, regionally, and nationally for the past decade. In 2010 the Juvenile team won gold at the U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships. The entire Synchroette program includes 15 teams and over 200 skaters.
With the addition of USFSA Theater on Ice competitions, ESC founded team BRAVO! in 2007 to represent the club at exhibitions, shows, charity events and competitions. Essex Skating Club is the first and only club in New Jersey to have a Theater on Ice team. In 2011 team BRAVO! placed fourth at Nationals with their Beauty And The Beast performance. It was their third year at Nationals. Currently there are 25 members consisting of skaters of all skill levels and ages.
Essex Skating Club will host their Tenth Annual Winter Escapade Competition January 2012. The event not only includes basic skills competitors but also events for special needs skaters. Essex Skating Club hosts a weekly free program for skaters with special needs. Some of the club’s skaters volunteer their time to work one on one with the Essex Special Skaters. The Special Skaters take part in a yearly spring show along with professional skaters to benefit the Special Skaters program.
From Essex Skating Club’s start, the goal of the founders was to provide a good environment and more ice time for skaters to improve their skating skills. The founders also wanted to have a club for families to enjoy the sport and their time together. Throughout the years, the club has managed to fulfill these goals and more. Essex Skating Club has adjusted to the latest skating trends and remains a prominent club in the USFSA. It continues to be home to well over 300 members. Some of these members have been with Essex Skating Club for over 30 years, skated in numerous Funorama and Ice-O-Rama shows, and remember the founders of Essex Skating Club who started the club nearly 60 years ago.