Before there was the United States of America, there was England.
Before there was the Professional Skaters Association, there was the British Ice Teachers Association (BITA). And before there was the British Ice Teachers Association (BITA had numerous names before it settled on its current one), there was the 1908 Winter Olympics in London, where ice skating debuted as an Olympic sport.
The British Ice Teachers Association is almost 80 years old, and remains a vibrant part of the figure skating community in the United Kingdom. Its certifications for five levels of coaching acumen remain an impressive mark of achievement for coaches working in England.
But before you read the story of the history of BITA, here is a very truncated history of ice skating in England, thanks to www.iceskating.org.uk.
In the mid-1600s, Charles II, heir to the throne of England, fled to Holland with other members of the Royal Family amid the Cromwell Revolution that led to his father’s execution in 1649. There, family members were first introduced to ice skating, and when they returned to England to reclaim the throne in 1660 they brought ice skating with them.
In 1830, the Skating Club of London became the first English club of its kind. In 1840, Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg, who had a personal passion for ice skating. In 1841, he apparently nearly died in an ice skating accident, as the ice on the lake at Buckingham Palace cracked, and he fell in. According to Queen Victoria’s diary, she saved him from the icy waters, and also thus saved the monarchy, because Victoria and Albert had not yet produced a male heir at that point.
In 1879, James Drake Digby of Cambridge formed the National Skating Association in an attempt to bring some order to the burgeoning sport, which now included competitions. In 1898, the International Skating Union allowed London to host the World Championships, which were held at the National Skating Palace.
At the beginning of the 20th century, London again hosted the World Championships in 1902, which was a noteworthy event because it was the first time a woman entered the competition. Matched against the men, 20-year-old Madge Syers of England finished second to Ulrich Salchow.
Ice skating became an Olympic sport at the 1908 Games in London. There were four competitions, Men’s (won by Salchow), Women’s (won by Syers), Pairs (won by Syers and her husband Edgar) and Special Pattern, a competitive predecessor to figures.
In 1910, the Manchester Ice Palace opened, and for several years it was the only rink in England. However, in 1930, several more rinks opened. By 1936, figure skating was a national pastime.
In 1936, the Winter Olympics were held in Germany, and golds were won by Karl Schafer of Austria for the men’s competition, Sonja Henie of Norway for the ladies’ title (her third and last Olypmic medal), and the German pairs team of Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier claimed the title for the host country. Finishing second to Henie in the women’s competition was England’s own Cecilia Colledge.
Amid that atmosphere, a group of the top coaches in England decided their profession needed some guidance, and formed the Ice Teachers Guild (ITG), which is the original predecessor to BITA. The Ice Teachers Guild is credited with being the first professional association in the world specifically designed to regulate skating coaches. (The Professional Skaters Association claims its origin date to be 1938).
The founding members of the ITG were Jacques Gerschwiler, Gladys Hogg, Howard Nicholson, and Eric Van De Weyden. The first official meeting was held at the Queens Ice Club in London. Membership in the club was open to any coach working and teaching in the United Kingdom.
One of the purposes of the ITG was to administer a Teacher’s Test so that coaches were working toward a similar goal for competitions. The initial test covered both figures and free skating, and because the organization was new and without foothold in the ice skating community, the test was voluntary and non-binding.
After World War II, the Teacher’s Test was updated so that it covered more of the then-modern skating styles and competitions, but the test remained voluntary.
As often happens with skating organizations (including the PSA), the ITG underwent a name change to become the Imperial Professional Skating Association, which allowed membership for coaches from the United States. (On the BITA website, it says it allowed “coaches from the Colonies”). Many years later the name was changed again to the International Professional Skating Association, and allowed membership for all foreign coaches.
In the late 1960s, committee members Roy Callaway, Joan Hawkins, Don Crosthwaeite, and Peggy Tomlins worked together to stage the World Professional Figure Skating championships, which were held at London’s historic Wembley Stadium.
In the mid-1980s, the association changed its name once again, and for the last time, to the British Ice Teachers Association. The change was in response to other countries forming their own coaching associations, but BITA did still accept foreign coaches.
BITA continued to test coaches until 1995, when the National Ice Skating Association (NISA), which is the national governing body for ice skating in the United Kingdom, assumed the education of coaches. A Coaching Committee of BITA members was formed and were eventually elected to the NISA Coaching Committee.
Today, BITA remains active in coaching circles in the UK, and provides a grading system for coaches to recognize achievements in the field of figure skating coaching. The grades are Qualified, Advanced Qualified, Senior, Advanced Senior and Master. BITA also annually selects the Joyce Taylor Award winner for Services to Coaching, and the Young Coach of the Year award.
For more information about BITA, visit www.bita-uk.com