Humans, and even animals, have been enjoying the sensation of chilly air blowing their hair back and ice whooshing under their feet for over 4,000 years. Once simply a method of transportation for ancient Fins, ice skating became a “modern” diversion upon invention of the steel blade by the 14th century, and eventually, manufactured ice. It’s been practiced by rich and poor, in cold climates far and wide, from the Netherlands to Song Dynasty China. One could call it a sport of kings, practiced by King James II in the 17th century exile and later Queen Victoria (who got to know Albert through ice skating meetups), as well as Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, French King Louis XVI, Madame de Pompadour, Napoleon I, Napoleon III and the House of Stuart.
Today, it’s not unusual to see rinks like The Skating Club of Wilmington open eighteen hours a day, and operate twelve months a year.
The Skating Club of Wilmington opened in March 1964, much to the relief of skaters who had grown up in an era when one had to wait for perhaps only a few days a year the Brandywine River or a nearby pond would freeze up. Wilmingtonians had, for some years, access to an outdoor rink, but it relied on experimental, if not unreliable, ice-making machinery, and was still subject to the moods of Mother Nature.
The Club, initially private, opened with 256 charter members. Summer figure skating classes began in 1965, followed by a summer hockey camp in 1970. In 1980, SCW moved toward nonprofit work by establishing a foundation, to help make skating affordable for teams, competitors and the community.
(With competitive ice skating costs typically reaching $40,000 or more, from skates, to ice time, to coaching and choreography fees, to costumes, travel, lodging and photography, this level of support from the Club is critical to the success of talented skaters.)
Today, the Skating Club of Wilmington is a 501c3 non-profit that still operates as a club, owned and operated by its members.
Since inception, the Club has hosted local and regional figure skating competitions, including the very first United States Adult Figure Skating Championships sanctioned by the USFSA.
In November, ten of its skaters competed in eastern sectionals, having successfully competed at regionals. As a result of that competition, two of the Club’s skaters are going to nationals, having come in first place in their respective divisions, with two more skaters moving on to other competitions.
Emily Zhang, a member who represents the Club, won the Senior Ladies Division at the 2020 Eastern Sectionals. (Watch last year’s video from Easter Sectionals.)
David Shapiro, another member who trains at the Club, won the Junior Men Division at the 2020 Midwestern Sectionals.
Zhang and Shapiro, along with Nick Hsieh, who represents the Club and competes in the Junior Men Division, are all advancing to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, in January 2020.
Luke Wang, a member who trains at the Club, came in third in the Eastern Sectionals Novice Men Division. Medal winners in this division are invited to participate in USFSA’s Nationals Skating Camp.
Of course, should Zhang and Shapiro win at nationals, they would be national champions.
In 2018, the Club celebrated Ashley Wagner, a 2014 Olympic competitor, who took fourth place/pewter in the Senior Ladies division and was named first alternate to the Olympic and World teams. Hsieh took third/bronze in Novice Men last year. Jenna Hauer, with her partner Benjamin Starr, walked away with the gold in Juvenile Dance. Going back even further into the Club’s history, you’ll find stars of the sport like Kitty and Peter Carruthers listed among the past representatives of the Club.
All of the 2019 skaters headed to nationals are coached by Viktor Pfeifer, an eight-time Austrian National Champion, eight time European and world competitor and a three time Olympian. Viktor is assisted by Ronnie Biancosino, who is a six time national competitor and two time national medalist.
Irina Romanova is the choreographer for Shapiro and Hsieh. Romanova and her husband, Igor Yaroshenko, who coach at the Skating Club of Wilmington, are two-time Olympians and European bronze medalists in ice dance.
The Olympic, world- and national-level coaching talent doesn’t stop there.
Their figure skating coaches include Ronnie Biancosino, a two-time national medalist, Stuart Bradley, a frequent touring show performer, Jeff Czarnecki, a national dance medalist, Dirke Hill, a national medialist, Andrew Newberry, an ice dance champion, Laura Stefanik, a collegiate national champion. And back in the day, Ron Ludington, a bronze medalist in the 1960 Olympics began his coaching career at the Club before launching a program at the University of Delaware.
This level of coaching gives the Club prestige in the skating community.
Each spring, the Club presents a two-day program, “America Skates: Spring Ice Show,” which is an annual fundraiser that, this year, featured 170 performers with Romanova as its artistic director. In 2019, two-time Olympian Johnny Weir flew home from the filming of a Netflix show in Canada to perform for the Club’s biggest fundraiser. Weir is an honorary member of the skating club and trains there when he’s staying locally.
All this is not to say that a wee spinner or grownup snow-bunny should be intimidated by the skilled skaters who frequent the Club. The Skating Club of Wilmington is a welcoming attraction for people of all ages.
The Club offers tons of activities for people simply interested in something to do, a charming date night, or a tempting entry-level program for aspiring skaters. Coming up:
Now through December 8, every Saturday and Sunday from 3:15-5:15pm, you can skate and bring a friend for FREE. Purchase one admission to an upcoming Saturday or Sunday Public Skating Session and receive one FREE admission to the same Public Skating Session for your guest.
On Saturday, December 14 at 1pm, the Club presents a holiday recital along with a free public skating event. All recital attendees will receive a pass for free public skating following the event. Arrive by 1pm for your free skating pass.
On two Sundays, December 15 and 22, at 2:15pm, arrive early for your public skating session (3:15-5:15pm) and receive a free skating lesson by certified instructors.
During the holiday break, every day from December 26 through January 1, the Club offers public skating from 1-3pm, and on December 27, there will be a 7-9pm session.
Most weeks, public skating sessions happen on Wednesdays at 7pm and Fridays at 7:30, along with Saturday and Sunday 3:15 sessions. (Visit skatewilm.com for this daily calendar.) Admission for public skating sessions is typically $10 for adults and $5 for children 6 and under. You can rent skates for $2.
The Wilmington Nighthawks Youth Hockey Club also practices and plays at the Club. It is sufficiently popular that one of the five age levels is on a wait list.
Cross promotions with other area organizations like the Delaware Children’s Theater, who brought fictional Frozen characters Elsa and Anna to sign and greet guests, and the Sixers Fieldhouse, who brought mascot Coaty to the rink, keep whole families engaged.
Birthday parties are a regular sight at the Club, as well.
Skate rentals are $2, and on Wednesdays, it’s included in the admission.