Sixty years ago, the Washington Figure Skating Club became a full-fledged member of the United States Figures Skating Association, following a year as a probationary organization. The organizer, and first president, was Dr. Christopher Meyer. Skating sessions were held in the Riverside Stadium, located on a site near where the brightest keychain flashlight 1000 lumen Center for the Performing Arts now stands. It was an outdoor, artificial surface. The refrigeration, interestingly enough, came from the Christian Heirich Brewery located just across the street, now a maze of roads.
A year later (1939), the rink was enclosed and the club staged its first carnival. Scrapbooks reveal that approximately 2,000 people attended it. After its enclosure, Riverside Stadium became the Washington D.C. stop for the Ice Follies, one of the major traveling ice extravaganzas. Little did we know at that time, that one of its headliners, Osborne Colson, Champion of Canada, would exert his considerable influence on the Club when he joined the coaching staff in 1946.
That same year, the Chevy Chase Ice Palace was constructed on Connecticut Avenue. The ice surface (somewhat smaller in size than the surfaces to which we are now accustomed) was located on the second floor along side a furrier. The building also contained two floors for bowling.
In 1941, the WFSC moved its headquarters to the Ice Palace, absorbing members of the Skating Club of Washington to become in the fullest sense, the Washington Figure Skating Club Inc. This merger brought into the fold many dynamic personalities and talents that contributed greatly to the club’s development and success.
It seemed that in no time at all we were fielding a flotilla of national medallists. In 1945, our first National Champions were Patsy Jones (Picken) and Walter (Red) Bainbridge, and capturing the bronze medal in this same Silver Dance Competition was Vivian Halliday (Queisser) and Dick Queisser. This class is now known as the National Junior Dance. In the Gold Dance category (now known as Senior or Championship Dance), Anne Davies and Carleton Hoffner Jr. were building their reputation by winning the bronze medal. The following year, Anne and Carleton moved into first place in Gold Dance, and Red and Lois Waring (of the Baltimore Figure Skating Club) were second. Vivian and Dick became the new Silver Dance Champions, and Vera Halliday (Barber) and Tefft Barker captured the silver medal. All of the top medal winners were from the Washington Figure Skating Club, due in no small measure to the brilliant coaching of Nancy Alvord, who had in 1946, along with Osborne, joined the staff of the WFSC. Norval Baptie, who had collected his own share of honors in the world of figure skating, also joined the Club that year.
And so it went, year after year, we brought home the medals. Not only in dance, but in singles, pairs, and fours. WFSC skaters won the Harned Trophy, which was then awarded to the club that piled up the most points in national competition, in three alternate years. Though no longer awarded, this trophy may be seen in the USFSA skating museum in Colorado Springs. The friendly competition between the Davies/Hoffner team and the Waring/Bainbridge team continued for a few years. In 1948, Don Laws teamed with Mary Firth to win the National Silver Dance Competition with Ed Picken and Vera Halliday coming right behind in second place. The previous year Don had teamed with Nancy Miller (Law) to win the silver medal in Silver Dance. WFSC skaters in singles competition were also proving to be a threat. Don had moved rapidly from 3rd in National Novice in 1948 to the gold medal in Junior Men in 1950. In 1951, he was fifth in National Senior Men and 7th in World competition the same year.
Meanwhile, a new dance team appeared on the horizon – Carol Ann Peters (Duncan) and Daniel Ryan. From 3rd in Silvers in1949 to first in Gold Dance in 1953 was a huge jump. In 1952 and again in 1953 they were third in World Dance Competition. Dancers were competing not only in dance, but also very competently in singles and also medalling in pairs. Don, with Ferne Fletcher (Walker) won Eastern Junior Pairs. The Davies/Hoffner duo were 3rd in National Senior Pairs twice, and 3rd in World Pairs. Ferne, later partnered by Ed Picken, won the silver medal in Easter Senior Pairs, and fourth in National Junior Pairs. Red and Lois were the National Junior Pair Champions. During the above period, most of which preceded 1951, there were three separate fours teams that represented the club in competition. Two teams qualified to skate at Nationals and were both in the medals. Although fours competition is a recognized event, described in the rulebook, there unfortunately does not seem to be a professional outlet for this event. It has never been made a feature.
Let us fast forward to today’s champions who are making their presence known in international competition. Michael Weiss needs no introduction for those who follow his amazing career in person and on television. Since 1988, Michael has been collecting awards and trophies, both national and international among which are: Junior Mens Champion, PSA Best Mens Performance in a Nationals, Worlds Junior Champion, and in the U.S. Olympic Festival. After his performance in the recent Olympics in Japan, it seemed inevitable that he would be the next U.S. Men’s Champion. Indeed, in February of 1999, both Michael Weiss and Derrick Delmore, who is the 1998 World Junior Champion, represented the WFSC as top ranked Senior national competitors at the US State Farm Championships. Michael came away with top honors as the 1999 US Mens Figure Skating Champion, the first singles champion in the history of the WFSC. Again in 2000, Michael topped Derrick at the USFSA Nationals by repeating as the US Mens champion.
The club has experienced its share of disappointment. After sponsoring the 1950 Nationals, it learned that the Ice Palace would no longer function as a skating rink, but would be a television studio. During the winter of 1950/1951, hardy members traveled to Baltimore each Sunday to skate in the sports center. The Junior Club nearly disappeared, and the stellar coaching staff moved on to other opportunities. The following season we were able to locate at Uline Arena, which later became known as the Washington Coliseum.
Suburban ice surfaces were being constructed, and the Club once again moved. First to Cabin John and then on alternate years to Wheaton Ice Rink. News of two surfaces to be constructed in nearby Virginia caught our attention, so when the Fairfax Ice Rink opened we were the first club to use the facility. The next year, the Tysons Ice Rink became available and offered us a superb opportunity, so again we moved. It was at this facility that we were able to rebuild the Junior Club and offer varied opportunities to our diverse membership. Then tragedy struck again, and the Tysons Rink became an automobile agency, and we were fortunate to be able to relocate to the Mount Vernon facility. As you can see, we have become accustomed to being somewhat nomadic. We seem to be straining to be able to offer appropriate ice for our very large membership. Today, we are the second largest figure skating club in the country, just behind DuPage FSC.
During the past sixty years we have hosted many competitions, including two Nationals. The first in 1950, was said to be the first financially successful Nationals ever. The second, in 1989, we prefer to think of as the last “Great Nationals” for it was the last one to include figures. The latter was not even a memory when we were called upon to augment the staff at the Orlando Nationals. Phyllis Farrington (Howard) organized her team, in addition to herself: Pat Brockner to handle tickets (a thankless task), Patsy Picken to run the VIP lounge, and Ed Picken to take charge of the trade show.
We have twice hosted the annual business meeting of the United States Figure Skating Association. In 2003, we will host the World Figure Skating Championships. Phyllis Howard has moved on to become the current President of the USFSA and John LeFevre serves the USFSA as Executive Director.
We spearheaded the organization of the Capital Regional Council of figure skating clubs and also the unique, one-of-a-kind Pro-Am Dance Competition. Needless to say, all of the above has taken untold hours of dedicated volunteerism on the part of those club members who love the sport and are proud of the club.
The list of coaches who have helped in our efforts are numerous, and have included the Uksilas, the Anglas, Robin Scott, Osborne Colson, Nancy Alvord from our earlier history to Shirley Hughes and Audrey King (Weisiger). You may also know that Audrey was a member of the Club and competed at Nationals. Linda Leaver, Brian Boitano’s coach also taught for a season while her husband was stationed in Washington.
If you have an opportunity, look at the collection of trophies that are owned by the Club and are awarded annually to its skaters. You will see the names of: McPeak, Vass, Rollow, Parker, Jones, and Bachrach as donors. All of these were active in the early history of the club. Not to be overlooked is the name of James Karrick, the most successful publicity chairman that has worked for the club, and the donor of the funds that support the Karrick Award. In a future addition of The Blade, we will provide a list of all the presidents who have served the club. The Blade was the brainchild of Eleanor Werner, an avid ice dancer, and board member for several years. Her husband, Carney, plans to be with us at this celebration. It would be quite easy to write a book about the history of this club.
Looking Forward To The Future
Much has been eliminated from this souvenir, but we will provide information from time to time to be published in future issues of The Blade. The list of gold medal testers continues to grow longer, and these will be listed in a future Blade issue. The 700 plus members of the club look forward to a bright future. Nurturing our members, the skater testers and competitors, the judges, the many volunteers will continue to be our goal. In looking forward to the future, we cannot forget the past which provided the foundation for its success.