By Benjamin T. Wright, Historian
The Skating Club of Boston
The first truly national association for skating in North America was formed in 1907 and was known as the “International Skating Union of America.” The name, which would be confused with that of the present international federation, was not a problem then, since the international federation, founded in 1892, was generally known by its German name, “Internationale Eislauf-Vereinigung” (IEV).
The “ISU of A,” as it was called, was a unique body. It included among its members the Amateur Skating Association of Canada, as well as the Western Skating Association of Canada and three regional associations in the United States, including the the New England, Eastern and Western Skating Associations. It was, in effect, an “association of associations” and was the governing body of the skating sports (speed and figure) for all of North America. It was the direct ancestor of U.S. Figure Skating.
The first “national” championships in the International Style, as they are now considered to be by U.S. Figure Skating, were organized under the auspices of the ISU of A in 1914 in New Haven, Conn. They were called the “International Championships of America” and, consistent with the charter of the sponsoring organization, were open to both Americans and Canadians.
The four events (ladies, men, pairs and waltz) were evenly divided between them. The men’s event was won by Norman Scott of Montreal, who with his partner, Jeanne Chevalier, also won the pairs event. The ladies title went to Theresa Weld of Boston, who also won the waltz event with her partner, Nathaniel Niles.
Because of World War I, no further championships were organized until 1918, this time in New York City. The winner of the men’s event was Nathaniel Niles. The ladies event was won by Rosemary Beresford of England, who defeated Weld. At the time, citizens of the British Commonwealth countries could compete in the championships of all the nations of the Commonwealth, so Beresford was eligible to compete, although she actually represented the Skating Club of New York. Weld and Niles also won the pairs event. No waltz competition was held, but, for the first time, junior singles events were added, with Sherwin Badger of Boston winning the junior men’s event and Clara Rotch Frothingham of Boston winning the junior ladies.
No championships were held in 1919, but the championships were revived in 1920 and were again held in New York City and in 1921 in Philadelphia. In 1920, the waltz came back, with the winners being Weld and Niles, while a “Tenstep” was added, which was won by Gertrude Cheever Porter and Irving Brokaw of New York. The latter event became the “Fourteenstep” in 1921, with the addition of an extra roll in the dance.
Following the formation of U.S. Figure Skating in 1921, there was considerable confusion over the years concerning the status of these first four championships. Some were of the opinion that they should be considered as North American Championships and others that they were in fact “open” national championships. The matter was not finally settled until 1940, when a resolution of the then Executive Committee (now the Board of Directors) was adopted declaring the Championships of 1914, 1918, 1920 and 1921 to be considered as national championships, with the North American Championships to have first been held in 1923. As a result, while the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships are in fact the 93rd organized by U.S. Figure Skating, they are the 97th overall, since there has been no further break in the series even during World War II.
As has always been the case of all such championships, they evolve over the years, with new events being added and others being discontinued. The U.S. Figure Skating Championships are no exceptions.
The first U.S. Figure Skating Championships sponsored by U.S. Figure Skating that were held in Boston were in 1922. Organized by The Skating Club of Boston, they reflected a tradition and procedure that member clubs of the association would serve as the local organizing committee for the championships. Later in the same year a standard medal for use at the championships was produced, which became, in effect, U.S. Figure Skating’s first logo. The medal, which had no representation of figure skating on it, being a winged victory holding a laurel wreath, was used from 1923 to 1956, when a new logo was adopted and the form of the medal was changed accordingly. There have been several other changes to the medal since, again, for consistency with the logo.
Over the years and especially since World War II, there have been many changes in the composition of competition events, mostly originated by the International Skating Union (ISU) for the senior and junior events, which have subsequently been incorporated into the championship structure in the United States.
In 1923, a junior pairs event was added, the first winners of which were Ruth Chapman and Joseph Chapman of Philadelphia. In 1924, a fours event (two men and two ladies) was added, with the first winners being Clara Hartman, Grace Munstock, Paul Armitage and Joel Liberman of New York. The event lasted, with periodic gaps due to lack of competition, until 1950. In 1991, the event was revived for one last time, with the winners being Elaine Asenakis (Delaware), Calla Urbanski (Delaware), Rocky Marval (New York) and Joel McKeever (Dallas).
The ice dancing events in the championships, which had been informal in the beginning, consisted of the waltz and the Fourteenstep only from 1921 to 1928, and were changed in 1929 to the Waltz and an original dance in a combined event, following which, from 1930 to 1934, the Waltz and the original dance, which was a forerunner of the original dance used today, were continued as two separate events. The first winners of the original dance were Edith Secord and Joseph Savage of New York. In 1936, the first championship in ice dancing was established, consisting of silver compulsory dances only, with the winners being Marjorie Parker and Joseph Savage of New York.
In 1943, a junior ice dancing event was added, also consisting of silver compulsory dances, the first winners of which were Dorothy Glazier and Lyman Wakefield, Jr., of Boston. The senior ice dancing event that year included two silver compulsory dances and three gold compulsory dances for the first time.
Free dance would be added to the senior ice dancing event in 1952 and to the junior ice dancing event in 1974. The original set pattern dance was inserted in 1969, replacing one of the compulsory dances. Eventually, the “OSP,” as it was called, morphed into an original dance in 1991 and then became a short dance in 2011, with the compulsory dances being renamed “pattern” dances and dropped from international competition.
It should also be noted that singles events originally consisted of compulsory figures and free skating, with the short program being added in 1973. The pairs competition originally consisted of free skating only, with the short program being added in 1964. Fours consisted of free skating only.
Compulsory figures were dropped from all singles events in 1990, but separate figure events were continued in the championships from 1991 to 1999, with the competitions in 1998 and 1999 being combined for men and ladies. The first champions in the separate figures events were:
Senior men – Craig Heath, Oakland, Calif.
Senior ladies – Kelly Ann Szmurlo, Colorado Springs, Colo.
Junior men – Laurent Masse, Lexington, Mass.
Junior ladies – Casey Link, Las Vegas
Novice men – Michael Weiss, Delaware
Novice ladies – Natalie Thomas, Westminster, Colo.
Intermediate men – Paul Binnebose, Rockland, N.Y.
Intermediate ladies – Laurie Kaufmann, Rye, N.Y.
Juvenile boys (1995) – Stephen Demarest, St. Joseph, Mo.
Juvenile girls (1995) – Hilary Glovack, Jamestown, N.Y.
In 1932, novice singles events were added when the Championships were held in New York City. The men’s winner was Samuel Ferguson of New York and the ladies winner was Valerie Jones, also of New York.
In 1991, novice pairs and ice dancing events were added to the championships. The first winners of the pairs were Andrea Catoia and Paul Dulebohn of Delaware, while the first winners of the ice dancing event were Nicole Dumonceaux and John Repucci of Minnesota. The novice pairs event was initially free skating only, with a short program being added in 1993, which was then called a technical program. The novice ice dancing event was initially compulsory dances only, with free dance being added in 1992.
Also in 1991, the first U.S. Championships for the juvenile and intermediate levels were inaugurated as a separate competition, with the first such championships being held in Monsey, N.Y. The first champions were:
Intermediate men – Derrick Delmore, Washington
Intermediate ladies – Sonia Kim, Paramount, Calif.
Intermediate pairs – Daniel & Steven Hartsell, Garden City, Mich.
Intermediate ice dancing – Kara Thornham & Jonathan Magalnick, Ariz.
Juvenile boys – Jonathan Keen, Laguna Hills, Calif.
Juvenile girls – Stephanie Stiegler, Los Angeles
Juvenile pairs (1993) – (A) Meredith Ward & James Ward,III, Tampa, Fla.
(B) Christina Connally & Arnold Myint, Nashville, Tenn.
Juvenile ice dancing (1992) – Christie Moxley & Thomas Gaasbeck, Delaware
The Juvenile and Intermediate U.S. Championships continued under that name until 1994, and were then called the Junior Olympic Championships from 1995 to 1999 and the U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships from 2000 until 2012, after which they were merged into and held as a part of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships starting in 2013.
Today, the U.S. Championships include 10 singles events for men and ladies from senior down to intermediate, plus juvenile boys and girls, five pairs events and five ice dancing events, a major undertaking for any organizing club and requiring at least two separate ice surfaces for the competition events.
Benjamin T. Wright is the most-senior past president of U.S. Figure Skating and the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Skating Club of Boston. In addition to his legendary career as a judge, referee and accountant for national and international competitions, Wright has authored several books chronicling the history of figure skating, including the authoritative tome, “Skating in America: The History of the United States Figure Skating Association.”