PARK CITY, UT – USA Nordic Sport was honored to be presented with the Russell Wilder Award in recognition of service to youth at the recent USSA annual awards ceremony held in Park City, UT. It was the highlight of the night at an event that included recognition for many individuals and organizations in the Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined community.
USA Nordic Sport is a non-profit that is focused on the growth and development of the disciplines of Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined in the US. From humble but ambitious beginnings, USA Nordic Sport has grown into the primary force driving and directing Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined throughout the country. The award reflects a renewed effort, especially at the club level, to increase the growth of the nordic sports.
“I am really proud to lead an organization that has taken sports like Nordic Combined and Ski Jumping that were struggling nationally at the youth level to recruit and retain athletes and, over the past nearly decade, have turned everything around, doubling youth participation in programs and engaging our clubs and communities in a way that makes kids and parents feel part of something bigger,” said Executive Director Bill Demong. “It’s an honor for all of us to be recognized by US Ski and Snowboard for our hard work and efforts to develop opportunities for youth in ski jumping sports by receiving the Russell Wilder Award.”
But the award represents more than just a win for USA Nordic. The recognition for service to youth is really recognition of the effort being put in at the club level and is an honor that can be shared by athletes, coaches, and parents alike.
“It is an honor for USA Nordic to be recognized for all the work that so many great people have been doing the last few years to promote and grow the sports of Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined,” observed Jed Hinkley, Sport Development Director at USA Nordic. “There is lot of positive energy at the club level and we have such a great community, which is why the future is looking bright.”
USA Nordic, which is the latest iteration of a project that has been ongoing for nearly a decade, owes its recent successes to years of groundwork laid by some of the original founders of the organization, Jim Holland and Alan Johnson. Holland and Johnson were among the initial supporters of Project X, which began with the vision of funding a ski jumping national team. Over the years, the organization has grown to include multiple teams for both disciplines, as well as coaches and support staff. However, even though the sports have seen a positive trend over the past several years at the national level, there remains a sense of urgency and focus on the club level that has really driven the direction of USA Nordic.
Holland’s response to the award reiterated the shift in focus towards youth, and the growth that USA Nordic has undergone to become an all encompassing organization: “The Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined community has really come together over the past several years to grow the sports and to create unique opportunities for kids. It’s great to see that being recognized and on a personal level, I have to say it’s been really fun and rewarding to pay it forward and to help kids build character, confidence and courage.”
“It’s very humbling for USANS to receive such a high honor and recognition from the USSA our governing body,” added Alan Johnson. “It is also a vote of confidence that we are on-track and will continue to strive for success in the direction we have chosen.”
While the Russell Wilder Award certainly represented a proud moment for USA Nordic, it was only one of a slew of awards handed out to ambassadors of the nordic sports. Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (SSWSC) was honored to be recognized as the Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined USSA Club of the Year.
“The SSWSC SJ/NC family is excited and honored to receive this award. It’s a true testament to a group of dedicated and hard working administrators, coaches, parents and athletes, all working together and committed to our mission of ‘creating champions on and off the mountain,’” said SSWSC Program Director Todd Wilson. “Two years ago we made a shift in focus from post-grad programming and high end events to youth development, coaches’ education, and recruiting new members. Our numbers grew by 20% last year and being recognized nationally by this award gives us confidence that we made the right adjustment and are headed in the right direction.”
Wilson’s sentiments about the shift in focus towards youth development echo those of the leadership at USA Nordic.
And, of course, while many awards were given out to the organizations, it wouldn’t be right if a few athletes didn’t get to take home some hardware as well. Kevin Bickner was recognized as the USSA Ski Jumping Athlete of the Year and Stephen Schumann took home the title of USSA Nordic Combined Athlete of the Year.
Even after coming off his best season, which included setting the new American Distance Record at 244.5 meters, Kevin was eager to point out the successes of his teammates: “We’ve had several guys fly over 200 meters: Casey Larson, Mike Glasder, and Will Rhoads have all gotten personal bests.”
Schumann, on the other hand, recognized a few different teammates: “I want to say thanks to my parents, especially for driving me up the canyon from Salt Lake every day for 10 years. Pretty impressive.”