How a Czechoslovak émigré established the Bača Cup tradition in Pennsylvania

Bača Cup 2024

When Jiří Václav Parma fled from communist Czechoslovakia to the US in 1962, he sought to put down roots in a place that reminded him of home. He settled in Blue Knob, Pennsylvania, hung his “Bača” (sheep herder) hat on a stand and established a ski race that survived him.

Jiří Václav Parma was born in the Beskydy Mountains and had it not been for the communists taking over his homeland in 1948 he might have spent his entire life in the mountains he loved. But fate stepped in and when in 1962 he emigrated to the United States, Jiří sought to build a new life in a place that would feel like home. His son-in-law Carl Fletcher recalls how the family history in the US began:

Bača Cup 2024 | Photo: Pavel Novák,  Czech Radio

“The history goes back to my father-in-law Jiri Václav Parma who immigrated here in 1962 from the Czech Republic in order to escape communism. And he found that the Pennsylvania Mountains were very much like those in his homeland, so he searched diligently and he found this beautiful mountain top and decided he would settle here. He built his home here and called it Salaš (Shepard’s Cottage). And the place became known as the “Salaš Hills” in our local community. He also helped other wonderful people from Europe to emigrate here and created this amazing community of European people that we are fortunate to perpetuate today.”

Having established a new life, new home and a new community of friends in the Pennsylvanian Mountains, Jiří Parma sought to get involved in an activity that was very much part of his life at home – sports. Moreover, in doing so, he found one more link to home. The Czechoslovak Sokol sports organization had branches the world over and there was one in Pennsylvania. Carl Fletcher explains just how much this meant to him.

“The first organization that the Bača found when he came to the United States was Sokol and he organized a couple of different sporting events in the process. He became a member of the board, because he loved the people and he loved sports. He was a participant in the 1952 Olympics in Oslo, Norway. So skiing and Nordic sports were part of his DNA. He grew up with them as a young child and he would ski jump in Frenštát pod Radhoštěm, where he grew up in Moravia. So he just wanted to continue with all that.”

Bača Cup 2024 | Photo: Pavel Novák,  Czech Radio

The Sokol organization provided a platform for many sporting activities but it was not long before Jiří Parma and his new-found friends in the area established a sporting tradition of their own. Carl Fletcher explains how that came about.

“With his Hungarian friends, who lived on the other side of the lake, they were very competitive with every sport in the Nordic possibility. Originally, they started playing hockey down on our little lake here but later they decided they would have a ski race, because they couldn’t agree on who was the best skier. So that was how the Bača Cup originally began. The course was set on the other side of the hill. It was a small course and maybe 25 to 30 people would get involved at that time.  Every year they would get together, they would put aside any differences they had, anything that bothered them, and they would celebrate for just one day and share their love of the Nordic sports.”

News of the Bača Cup spread and the tradition quickly took root. Jiří presided over it for many years. In 2003,  he decided it was time to retire as the „Bača“ and he named his first-born grandson Thomas as his successor, passing onto him the symbol of the event - an original Moravian Bača hat. Thomas presided over the Bača Cup for several years until he moved permanently to Nicaragua.

Carl remembers how he became a member of the family and inherited the Bača tradition.

Bača Cup 2024 | Photo: Pavel Novák,  Czech Radio

“When I married the Bača’s daughter, he had done the race for many years and he said ‘You guys need to do this, because I want you to carry my dream forward into the next generation’. And we loved to ski, my wife and I met as skiers and we fell in love because we both had that same passion. So it was a kind of natural progression when he came to us and said I would like you to carry the Bača Cup on. And now, 35 years later Dáša and I are still doing it. We have evolved the race a little bit over the years. Because originally there was one male and one female winner and they could brag all year long about how they were the Bača Cup champions. But we decided some years ago that it would be really fun to involve everybody and that everyone should have the opportunity to win the Bača Cup.  The idea came from myself and a member of the Czech embassy in Washington. We were sitting here one evening, thinking how can we make the Bača Cup better and we thought why not break all the racers down into enough categories that everyone will win a first, a second or a third prize in their own category, thereby making it so that everyone wins a Bača Cup.”

Carl and Dáša have now been organizing the Bača Cup for more than 15 years.  Among its many participants over the years were several Czech ambassadors to the US including Michal Žantovský and Alexander Vondra. In the early days the race was conducted at the Bača’s Salaš Hills residence on Bača Hill. In the early 1980s it was moved to the Blue Knob Ski Resort and has been held there ever since. This year it was organized for the 45th time. The Carl and Dáša team are still going strong, but the youngest generation of Fletchers is already standing in the wings, ready to take over. Šárka Fletcher is determined to uphold the tradition for generations to come.

“To me the Bača Cup has been the biggest family tradition in my entire life. I love the Bača Cup. As far back as I remember, when I was a little girl, we would come out here and have a fantastic ski race. But of course it is not just about skiing –it is about the peacemaking and bringing together two amazing cultures, and many other cultures beyond just the American and the Czech heritage. We have so much love in this house every single year – it is a phenomenal time. I hope everybody gets the experience to join us for a Bača Cup. If you want to come then reach out, we love to have anybody and everybody who wants to join and have a good time. I hope that we will have it for many, many years to come and as long as I am around it will be the tradition.”

Jiří Václav Parma left his beloved family and home on Slaš Hill forever in 2005, but his sporting spirit and the Bača Cup tradition he established live on. Carl says that there is a lot more to it than just a love of winter sports.

“Today the Bača Cup has grown and it is just a wonderful event that we really look forward to every year. And it is no longer just about the champions. Of course we are happy to have them every year and they get to brag all year long because they get the Bača Cup. But for Dáša and I, we really love the smiles on the children’s faces every year, when they come through and they  get an award, they get a medal, they have a certificate and everyone is recognized to be part of Bača Cup.”

Authors: Dušan Neumann , Daniela Lazarová
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