Janice Sibilia waited nearly two years for this. Most of the New England Nordic Ski Association had.
Upon hearing the good word that the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) approved NENSA as a Community Olympic Development Program about two weeks ago, Sibilia wasn’t sure where to start.
The competitive programs director will find out more at a phone-update meeting with USOC representatives on Tuesday. In the meantime, Sibilia could revisit all the ideas she came up with during the application and acceptance process, which involved site visits to NENSA’s headquarters in Maine.
What Sibilia did know was the certification enabled NENSA to label approved programs with the Community Olympic Development Program (CODP) logo. That could help recruit development- and elite-nordic racers in New England, while also attracting coaches.
“We’ve operated under the premise of knowing that we develop elite athletes,” Sibilia said in a phone interview. “It’s not our whole mission but it’s a big part of it. … Now it’s official that we can call ourselves an Olympic Development Program.”
NENSA Executive Director Patrick Cote said the program’s flexibility was enticing, and Sibilia made it her mission to get the association approved.
“The USOC allows each Olympic development program to define what it means to them and use the resources that work for them,” Cote said. “We’re initially targeting our elite and development teams. Our main goal there is to provide more resources directly to those athletes and to the coaches that work with those athletes.”
Resources include access to USOC staff members and speakers for programs and camps. For instance, a nutritionist could visit athletes in New England, and a USOC representative may attend NENSA’s high-level coaches’ symposium next September. Athletes and coaches may also receive lodging discounts at Olympic training centers, Sibilia said.
Perhaps most importantly, the USOC helps guide CODP-certified groups, steering them toward potential grants and partnerships. The USOC also opens doors for communicating with sports’ governing bodies, such as the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.
“They don’t provide cash, per say, funding, but they do provide opportunities to become aware of … and programs to tap into,” Sibilia said. “It is still a learning process as to how exactly we can utilize (the CODP), but there are some good things that have been mentioned.”
The CODP started in 1998 as part of the USOC’s effort to foster youth sports development in the U.S. The idea was to help athletes at every level, from beginner to elite, through programs that enabled them to participate in Olympic and Paralympic sports, according to a USOC press release.
Eight community sports groups across the country hold the CODP designation, with NENSA being the most recent. Of the lot — which includes the Metro Atlanta Boys & Girls Clubs, a weightlifting club, and the Utah Athletic Foundation — the Central Cross Country Ski Association (CXC) is the only other ski-specific organization.
Sibilia said former USSA Nordic Director John Farra first prompted her to apply. She later spoke with CXC Executive and Athletic Director Yuriy Gusev about the program after CXC earned the designation in 2009.
According to her, Gusev said the program was what you made of it.
“(CXC was) focusing more on their junior aspect, which is probably what we’ll do as well,” Sibilia said. “It’s a great way to meet people. … There’s a ton of information out there on what works.”
With NENSA more than 3,000 members strong, Sibilia said the motivation to be certified wasn’t about numbers. About 100 of the association’s elite and development athletes would be most affected, along with about 100 of its coaches. That didn’t include the younger skiers hoping to someday rank among the elite.
Sibilia explained those athletes, which also included Bill Koch League skiers, fell under the “outreach” category of the CODP plan. Because NENSA was a governing body and not a team, that made the community aspect of the title even stronger.
“Our motto has always been to make sure however we grow, that we’re still providing quality,” she said. “Sometimes that may just be connecting the community. … We really just want to make sure that the programs we have are solid and that the people are aware of what we have.”
The USOC stamp on NENSA’s website will help. But Sibilia explained that the label can only be used with USOC-approved programs and sponsors can’t conflict. With TD Bank as NENSA’s major supporter, the association learned that USOC’s programs and sponsors must be distinctly separate.
Cote acknowledged the learning curve, but said NENSA’s history with the USOC — particularly through its annual adaptive-program grant — eased the process.
“This is a really good opportunity with obviously an amazing organization,” Cote said.
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Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.