By Mimi McKinnis
In a pre-pandemic world, it would cost a figure skating club in Alaska around $8,000 to host a one-day test session. Every official had to be flown in, given a hotel room and flown home, for starters. As a result, clubs in The Last Frontier would typically only host one test session per year. Now, thanks to the creativity involved in navigating the sport through COVID-19, figure skating clubs can test more frequently and efficiently using U.S. Figure Skating’s new Virtual Judging of Tests.
“Obviously the pandemic played a huge part in the development of this option,” Lori Osborne, chair of U.S. Figure Skating’s Test Committee, said. “But even before that, the questions about how to secure enough judges, less costly alternatives and access were always coming through. For a while now we’ve been asking ourselves how we can make this process easier, or at least create more opportunity to get these tests through.”
To test virtually, a club’s test chair has two options: Run tests just like a regular in-person test session — schedule the day out, communicate each skater’s individual test time, etc. — only substitute a panel of officials with a videographer like the proctor or test chair, if they meet the requirements. Fewer people present, more likely to be COVID compliant, and less costly for clubs regardless of circumstance. Or the whole session can be set up online and virtual submissions can be uploaded in a similar fashion to the 2021 U.S. Championship Series presented by Toyota.
“The process is very similar to traditional testing, there’s just a few extra steps,” Osborne explained. “You still have to recruit judges, schedule the tests, and set the whole thing up ahead of time, with the addition of ensuring correct file names, taking on the uploading process, submitting the required affidavits and what have you.”
While the idea for this structure has been in the works for a while, actively bringing it about began when clubs faced rink closures, variances from local health departments and other obstacles in their efforts to keep skating alive through a global pandemic. The Test Committee was up to the challenge, recruiting judges from across the country to run pilots of a virtual judging system.
“We asked rinks who were able to safely run regular test sessions to take an extra step and help us out,” Osborne said. “They submitted videos of skaters for virtual judging, then we compared the virtual results to the in-person results, and they were in 90 percent agreement. We presented statistics like this to the board [of directors] in December, and were unanimously given permission to make it a reality.”
Currently held on an interim basis through June 30, virtual judging of tests is an option (but not required) for moves in the field, free skate, pairs, pattern dance and free dance tests through a five-step process: Setup, recruit, judge, review, notify. The test chair must determine the submission deadline, video storage location and prepare the paperwork, then recruit judges who are able to evaluate skaters virtually. Each judge is emailed PDF scoring papers that are returned following the review of submissions. Once the results are verified, the goal is a five-day window for results to be communicated to the skaters and coaches.
“It’s funny, judges are just as eager to get back to skating as the skaters and coaches themselves,” Osborne said. “So our turnaround time has been very quick so far.”
While born out of necessity in uncertain times, the virtual system overwhelmingly received positive feedback in its first few months — a wave of momentum Osborne hopes will lead to greater access and opportunity, even when COVID times are behind us.
“People are really embracing the option,” she said. “This whole endeavor is such a win.”
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