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A glimpse at skating history in Hollywood

Figure skaters make presence felt at professional school

Peggy Fleming, third from the left on the bottom row, poses with her HPS graduating class in 1966.
Peggy Fleming, third from the left on the bottom row, poses with her HPS graduating class in 1966. (courtesy of Karin Gifford Thompson, HPS, Class of 1966)

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By Jo Ann Schneider Farris, special to icenetwork.com
(08/26/2008) - Hollywood Professional School, called "HPS" by its students and alumni, was really a K-12 academic day school for child actors and performers. Some of the school's most famous students and graduates from the entertainment industry include Melanie Griffith, Mackenzie Phillips, Connie Stevens, Val Kilmer, Jill St. John, Ryan O'Neal, Natalie Wood, Tuesday Weld, Donald O'Connor, Mickey Rooney and Betty Grable.

The school's stated philosophy was as follows:

THE HOLLYWOOD PROFESSIONAL SCHOOL is an accredited, co-educational day school, which was established for the purpose of offering a strong academic foundation to professional students actively engaged in motion picture work, or students devoting part of their time to the development of special talents in the cultural fields.

Although the entertainment industry made use of what was then a unique college preparatory educational program, figure skaters also attended the school.

Some of the skaters that attended the school became very famous. HPS's most famous figure skating graduate is 1968 Olympic champion Peggy Fleming. Fleming graduated from the school in 1966.

The late Roy Wagelein, who competed in the world championships in 1966, 1967 and 1968 and at the 1968 Winter Olympic Games, said the following about his alma mater: "I got to worlds three times and to the Olympics partly due to Hollywood Professional School. The short school hours gave me the opportunity to skate everyday from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m."

The standard school day at Hollywood Professional School extended over the four hours from 8:45 a.m.through 12:45 p.m., with five 45-minute periods squeezed in. Even though it was only four hours, the day included a typical college preparatory schedule. The young actors and figure skaters worked hard at English, mathematics, science, social studies, foreign language studies, and, if time permitted, an elective.

There were short breaks between classes, and, since the size of the school's campus was small, it did not take long for students to move from one classroom to the next. The school administrators knew that the students' time was precious, and they made the most of every minute of the school day.

The short 8:45-to-12:45 schedule was perfect for most figure skaters' training schedules. Skaters could practice before school for a couple of hours and then return to the rink as early as 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. for four-to-six more hours of uninterrupted training. In addition, if a skater needed extra time to prepare for competitions or tests, the school allowed students to obtain assignments from their teachers so that they could work on their schoolwork off-site. Unlike traditional educational institutions, most of the student's assignments could be completed during school hours. That made things easier for figure skaters, so their hours away from the school could be devoted to skating.

HPS was proud of its skaters' accomplishments. Each year, the school's yearbook featured special pages that showed off a skater's competitive photos, accomplishments and awards. Another page in the school's yearbook included a photo of all of the famous alumni who had ever attended the school. That page included photos of Fleming; Ice Capades star Donna Atwood; child actress, model and ice skater Elaine Ballace; 1963 junior men's champion Billy Chapel; 1967 world ice dance competitor Roger Berry; and 1961 ice dance competitor Roger Campbell, who was killed in the tragic 1961 plane crash that took the lives of the entire U.S. Figure Skating world team and many of its coaches. Evy Scotvold, who coached Olympic medalists Nancy Kerrigan and Paul Wylie, also attended Hollywood Professional School.

The school existed for fifty years, and it closed its doors in 1985 with the death of the school's director, Bertha Keller Mann. Although the school is no longer in existence, its memory is part of figure skating history.

A similar school is HPS' East Coast counterpart, the Professional Children's School in New York City. Its most famous alumna is 1960 Olympic champion Carol Heiss Jenkins, and Katrina Hacker, the 2008 Eastern Sectional senior ladies champion, also attended the school.

Private schools geared especially for the needs of figure skaters, such as Laurel Springs School or the American School of Correspondence, continue Hollywood Professional School's commitment to helping skaters excel in their sport and in their studies. Many figure skaters are also participating in online public school programs, such as Connections Academy or K12, both of which offer free public education through the Internet.

Jo Ann Schneider Farris graduated from Hollywood Professional School in 1974, and as an ice dancer, she first qualified for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships when she was a senior at HPS.