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The great competitive legacy of the SC of Boston

Skating club sends many performers to national stage

Stephen Carriere is focused on getting his programs perfect for the upcoming season.
Stephen Carriere is focused on getting his programs perfect for the upcoming season. (Getty Images)

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By Liz Leamy, special to icenetwork.com
(01/14/2008) - The Skating Club of Boston has long been recognized as one of the powerhouse organizations within the competitive figure skating community, and with good reason.

Ever since this renowned New England club was first established back at the beginning of the 20th century, it has produced many of the sport's most successful skaters.

The club, which is based in Brighton, Mass., was established in 1911 and incorporated in 1912. It is the third oldest club in the United States, behind the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society, which was formed in 1849, and the Cambridge (Massachusetts) Skating Club, which was created in 1898.

Over the years, the club has consistently generated an ongoing series of top national- and world-level competitors from the time it was first formed right up to the present.

According to Benjamin Wright, vice president of the club, it lists more national champions than any other club in the United States.

"This tradition of the club goes back to the beginning when it was first established. I believe its success is the result of exceptional coaching and the talent and good work ethic of the skaters," said Wright, a noted figure skating historian who is a former U.S. Figure Skating president and International Skating Union member.

Many SC of Boston skaters make this year's national cut

This year, the Skating Club of Boston will be well represented at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. It boasts one of the highest total skater entries of any club to participate in this event and consists of approximately 15 athletes in all.

All of these skaters have earned an invitation to nationals as a result of a top-four placement at the 2008 Eastern Sectional Championships or from a bye due to their high placement at last year's competition.

Some of the Skating Club of Boston members who are slated to compete in Saint Paul, Minn., include Stephen Carriere, the 2007 world junior champion, who will be skating for his second year in the championship division; Scott Smith, who placed fifth at last year's nationals; Katrina Hacker, the 2008 Eastern Sectional senior ladies winner; Curran Oi, the 2008 Eastern Sectional junior men's gold medalist; and Ross Miner, the winner of the 2008 Eastern Sectional novice men's event.

"We have a delegation of contenders in most of the events and three winners from sectionals, and I am hopeful," said Wright, who is hopeful in regard to taking some hardware back to Boston.

A rich competitive history

Over the years, the Skating Club of Boston certainly has had one of the best competitive results of any organization within the U.S. Figure Skating infrastructure.

Since its inception, there have been more than a dozen U.S. national champions and several Olympic and world champions who have claimed the Skating Club of Boston as their home base.

This gold-medal group includes Tenley Albright, the 1956 Olympic champion and five-time U.S. national champion from 1952-'56; and Dick Button, the seven-time U.S. national champion from 1946-'52 and two-time Olympic gold medalist in 1948 and '52.

Some of the more contemporary members of the organization's Olympic club include Nancy Kerrigan, the 1994 Olympic silver medalist and '92 Olympic bronze medalist, and Paul Wylie, who won silver at the 1992 Olympics.

Meanwhile, the number of U.S. national champions who have represented the Skating Club over the years is extensive. This group includes Theresa Weld, the first U.S. national ladies gold medalist in 1914 and nine-time pairs gold medalist with her partner, Nathaniel Niles, in 1918, '20-'27; Sherwin Badger, the U.S. men's national champion from 1920-'24; Maribel Vinson, the U.S. national ladies champion from 1928-'33 and then from '35-'37; Gretchen Merrill, who clinched the U.S. ladies national crown from 1943-'48; Roger Turner, the U.S. men's gold medalist from 1928-'34; Suzanne Davis, who won the U.S. ladies title in 1934; Joan Tozzer, who claimed the U.S. national ladies gold from 1938-'40; Bradley Lord, the 1961 U.S. men's national champion; Laurence Owen, the 1961 U.S. ladies champion; Maribel Y. Owen and Dudley S. Richards, the 1961 U.S. pairs champions; and Nancy Rouillard Ludington and Ron Ludington, who dominated U.S. pairs from 1957-'60.

At the same time, the club has housed many of the sport's top American coaches for many decades. Some of the most notable names from the club's former years have included Montgomery (Bud) Wilson, Vinson, Paul McGrath and Bobby Black, who are all now deceased. Cecilia Colledge also used to work there.

There are still many prominent coaches listed on the club's current roster -- Mark Mitchell and Peter Johannson, the 2006 U.S. Olympic Committee Developmental Coaches of the Year; Suna Murray, a former U.S. Olympic team member; Tom Lescinski, a premier dance coach; and Tommy McGinness, a top-ranked American pro.

"A good coach always tailors a program around the skater's strengths and weakness and can best disguise their limitations. Mark Mitchell is very good at this, and he maintains a high level of artistry all the while. Cecilia Colledge was also excellent. I never saw a bad program with her students," said Wright.

Tragedy strikes

In 1961, a substantial number of Skating Club of Boston skaters tragically lost their lives in the ill-fated Sabine Flight 548 headed to that year's world championships in Czechoslavakia.

Ten Skating Club of Boston members were on this flight, including Bradley Lord, Laurence Owen, Maribel Owen and her partner, Dudley Richards, among others.

"This was a watershed event for the club and for American figure skating. The accident affected many, and it took a reasonable amount of time before we were able to rebuild again," explained Wright.

Vinson, the esteemed Skating Club of Boston coach and former U.S. national ladies champion, was also on the plane. She was beloved by her students and a pro to many of the skaters on the Sabine flight, including her own daughters, Maribel and Laurence.

"The legacy of Maribel [Vinson] and the other members on that team is truly amazing; it was a great group of people. We were all good friends, and Maribel took us all under her wing. She really changed my life in a very good way," said Ron Ludington, a former student of Vinson's who has since gone on to become a prominent U.S. Olympic and World Team Coach.

Ludington had been planning to make the trip, to help coach the pair team of Maribel Owen and Dudley Richards. He declined to go at the last minute, however, since he had been unable to come up with enough money for all of the travel expenses.

A great commitment to rebuilding

Inevitably, the 1961 tragedy also caused a deep freeze in American figure skating and at the Boston club for a number of years, and it took a significant amount of time before skaters of that level were able to be cultivated again.

"I believe that the tone of competition has changed ever since the accident. It was a major event and affected individuals and the sport on several different levels," stated Wright.

Still, this terrible event didn't seem to affect the spirit of the Skating Club of Boston members. In time, they began to rebuild their club with more drive and determination than ever, and subsequently, they seemed to have found a new purpose for their work.

By the 1970s, the club was producing dozens of regional, sectional and even national champions and medalists. This group included Murray, a two-time U.S. national ladies bronze medalist, and Michael Botticelli, who qualified for the 1980 World and Olympic teams with his pair partner, Sheryl Franks of the Hayden Recreation Centre.

Over the next two decades after this, the Skating Club of Boston continued to grow as a formidable force on both the national and international front, listing Olympic medalists Wylie and Kerrigan as part of their membership roster.

In 2001, the club hosted the U.S. Championships, which turned out to be a big success. Jennifer Kirk headlined its competitive field. She was the 2000 world junior champion, and she had also won numerous Junior and Senior Grand Prix medals during her career.

As the club has edged its way through the millenium, it has continued to increase its momentum in terms of its athletic talent and depth. At the moment, Carriere and Smith are headlining its rich roster of international hopefuls.

"We're liking what is happening at the club right now. It certainly is an exciting time, and we credit this to having an excellent coaching staff," mentioned Wright.

A bright future

Ultimately, this club seems to have achieved such terrific success over the years due to its dedication to good old-fashioned values. The skaters, coaches, parents, officials and volunteers seem to be fiercely committed to achieving a high standard and are willing to go to whatever lengths it might take to make that happen.

"I love being here. The other skaters and I are all good friends. We try to work hard and encourage one another. There is just so much support from everyone," said Hacker at the 2008 Eastern Sectionals in November.

At the same time, the ongoing legacy of the club is a powerful thing and seems to affect many individuals in American figure skating in one way or another.

"This club has a tremendous history, and so many people seem to be connected to it in some way or another. The club certainly has had an influence on the sport," said Mitchell.

Plans for the club's growth in the future certainly seem to be in the works as well. In the next several years, it is thinking about opening up a second ice surface and is apparently discussing possible location options.

The Skating Club of Boston will host the 2009 Eastern Sectional Championships, which its members have been eagerly awaiting. Conclusively, the club has also put in a bid to be the site for the 2010 U.S. Championships.

"I am optimistic about the future of skating in this area and we want to continue to build. I think that the club is always going to be here," concluded Wright.