The 1950 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Dick Button and Yvonne Sherman at the 1950 U.S. Championships

The 1950 U.S. Figure Skating Championships were held from March 22 to 26 in Washington, D.C. at the opulent Uline Arena, which was renamed the Washington Coliseum in the sixties. Less than a decade before the 1950 U.S. Championships when the Uline Arena was built, it was only one of two arenas in the country with a concrete dome. The intimate venue seated only fifty four hundred spectators, who got to take in a five day skating event while reclining in leather opera chairs, instead of old cold rink bleachers. As far as skating competitions in the fifties went, it was pretty swanky stuff.

The event was well two weeks after the World Championships in London, England, where Dick Button had won the men's event, Karol and Peter Kennedy had won America's first World pairs title and Lois Waring and Michael McGean had won the first 'unofficial' international ice dance competition held in conjunction with the World Championships. Patriotism was high and Dallas Dort, the President of the Washington Figure Skating Club beamed as the host club won the coveted Harned Trophy for the highest number of points earned by one club for the first time in history. Let's take a look back at how things all played out at this fascinating competition in what is very much a 'before they were stars' edition of the blog!

THE NOVICE AND JUNIOR EVENTS

It wasn't even really that close in the novice men's event when thirteen year old Ronnie Robertson of Los Angeles defeated Akron, Ohio's David Jenkins 675.54 to 644.49 for the novice men's title. Though St. Paul's Richard Branvold earned more points, the judges placements saw William T. Lemmon Jr. of the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society earn the bronze. In an extremely close competition, Pat Quick of Berkeley, California moved up from second after figures to defeat Akron, Ohio's Nancy Mineard in the novice women's event. Catherine Machado of Los Angeles edged New York's Carol Heiss for the bronze by 4.8 points. Enough names already? Those were just the novice events!

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Dan Ryan and Carol Ann Peters. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

With Maribel Vinson Owen looking on from the boards, Tenley Albright of the Skating Club Of Boston took home the gold in the junior women's event. The March 26, 1950 issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer boasted, "The 14-year old miss drew the plaudits of the crowd with her smooth grace in the free skating event."

Janet Gerhauser and John Nightingale. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The junior pairs title was won by Janet Gerhauser and John Nightingale of the St. Paul Figure Skating Club. Fourteen couples entered the Silver (junior) dance event, with ten eliminated before the finals. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "The stately couple of Carol Ann Peters and Daniel Ryan won with their unison and delightful lilt. Carol was about to enter college and Danny attended college. They had been skating together for just over a year. Danny had roller danced for six years and placed second in the 1949 Roller Nationals in Senior Men's. Asked whether he liked roller or ice better, he responded 'both best.'" The silver went to Caryl Johns and Jack Jost, the bronze to Vera Halliday and Edward Picken and fourth place to Virginia Hoyns and Donald Jacoby. In seventh place was Bill Kipp of the Penguin Figure Skating Club, skating with partner Theda Beck.

Virginia Hoyns and Donald Jacoby. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

In front of a hometown crowd, Don Laws rallied from behind with an amazing skate to claim the junior men's title. The silver medal went to Barry Gorman of Berkeley; the bronze to Lake Placid's Evy Scotvold. Sixth was future USFSA President Hugh C. Graham. The leader after the junior men's figures was actually Dudley Richards of The Skating Club Of Boston but a poor free skate dropped him down to fourth. Richards, along with Bill Kipp, Danny Ryan and Maribel Vinson Owen, would all perish in the 1961 Sabena Crash.

THE PAIRS AND FOURS COMPETITIONS


Karol and Peter Kennedy

Seattle's Karol and Peter Kennedy arrived back on U.S. soil after winning the World Championships aboard a Scandinavian airliner, with less than two weeks before they had to compete in Washington. It didn't really matter. The Kennedy Kids' win in Washington was a cakewalk. With what papers from New York to Seattle termed only as "another dazzling performance", they were first on every judge's scorecard. Irene Maguire and Walter Muehlbronner of New York finished second, Anne Davies and Carleton Hoffner of Washington third and Patsy Hamm and Jack Boyle of Tacoma, Washington fourth.

Defending their national title were the fours team from St. Paul, consisting of Janet Gerhauser, John Nightingale, Marilyn Thomsen and Marlyn Thomsen. No, not a typo... Marilyn and Marlyn were fraternal twins. When someone backed out at the last minute from the Washington fours team, Danny Ryan volunteered to fill their spot... and won the silver medal with Dorothy Dort, Richard Juten and Mary Lou King. Finishing third was the fours team representing the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society, which consisted of Barbara Davis, Elizabeth Jones, William T. Lemmon and James Coote.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION


Yvonne Sherman (left) and Andra McLaughlin (right)

After the school figures, nineteen year old Yvonne Sherman of New York, the 1950 World Bronze Medallist, led fifteen year old Sonya Klopfer (Dunfield) of Long Island by a mere four points. With a dazzling free skate, she only expanded upon her figures lead and took the gold medal with 1724.38 points out of a possible 1910 and first place ordinals from every judge. Klopfer was second with 1707.46, Ginny Baxter of Detroit third with 1686.06, Andra McLaughlin of Colorado Springs fourth with 1639.46 and Helen Geekie of St. Louis fifth with 1628.18. In his book "Dick Button On Skates", Dick Button described Yvonne as "tall and beautiful and very artistic in her skating" and Sonya as "the most dynamic free skater of the era among the ladies" and a skater "who had speed, power and strength in skating which few men could display."

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION


Irene Maguire and Walter Muehlbronner. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

A record five thousand spectators attended the finals of the gold (senior) dance competition. The event initially started with six teams, with Vera Ruth Elliott and Rex Cook and Jean Coulter and Don Laws eliminated before the final round of competition. Lynn Copley-Graves described how it all played out thusly: "Lois Waring and her new partner, Michael McGean, confirmed their superiority. Runners-up Irene Maguire and Walter Muehlbronner realized this young couple could not be beaten. Irene announced her retirement from competition and prepared for her first teaching assignment in Lake Placid during the summer. Lois planned to design more skating dresses during the summer and to enter college in the fall. Michael, a Dartmouth class of '49 graduate, balanced skating with studies toward a masters degree in economics. In 1945, he had a grand slam in Midwestern Senior Men's, Pairs and Dance. Lois played tennis, and Michael played on the Dartmouth squash team." Anne Davies and Carleton Hoffner added a second medal to the won they had won in the pairs event, edging Carmel and Edward Bodel for the bronze.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION


Dick Button

Exams at Harvard University ended the day before Dick Button had to compete in Washington. He took a red eye train, arriving from Boston forty minutes before he took the ice to skate his first of six school figures. A sleep-deprived Button earned 942.1 points out of 1,050 in the figures - not his best showing - but still had a healthy lead over Hayes Alan Jenkins of Akron, Ohio with 881.7 and C. Austin Holt and Richard Dwyer (both of Berkeley, California) with 871.4 and 864.5. The March 24, 1950 issue of "The Times Record" noted, "The five judges varied widely in rating the champ's performance... One judge gave Button nine points or better on each figure. One gave his four nines or better and two scores above 8.4. Another gave him five nines or better and one 8.6. But the other two gave him much lower scores across the board. One rated him with two nines or better and and four 8.5's or better. And the other gave him but one nine and five eights." In case you are wondering, yes, the scores were out of 10.0 and not 6.0 at the U.S. Championships during this era. Button rallied in the free skate to win his fifth U.S. title ahead of Jenkins, Dwyer and Holt.

In his book "Dick Button On Skates", Dick Button recalled, "Jenkins, with [Jimmy] Grogan absent due to injury, was held to 12 placings, against my five firsts. The marks given me for free skating were very generous, and no doubt reflected to some measure the judges' reaction to the three double loops in succession on one foot which I did for the first time. For contents of performance, out of a possible 10, I received 9.9, 9.8, 9.7, 9.5 and 9.3 from the five judges. For performance I got 9.9, 9.9, 9.8, 9.7, and 9.6." In a 2003 interview, Hayes Alan Jenkins spoke about his perspective when he was competing against Dick thusly: "It was not uncomfortable to follow in Dick's shadow... I was certainly doing my best to try and win, but also being realistic." Richard Dwyer - yes, Mr. Debonair himself - actually beat Hayes in the free skate that year but ultimately bowed out of competing at the World Championships the following year. In his June 2015 Skate Guard interview, he reflected, "You know, I am at peace with what happened. I made the World team when I won junior Nationals and then I qualified again in 1950 but in that era you had to pay your own way to Worlds and my Dad just couldn't afford to send me. I was fourteen and a half and I got to skate in Ice Chips with Dick and Jacqueline du Bief instead and that was an incredible opportunity in itself."

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