The 1953 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Jukeboxes were playing Teresa Brewer's hit "Till I Waltz Again With You" and Americans were embracing the latest food fads - the TV dinner, Kraft Cheez Whiz and Kellogg's Sugar Smacks. The year was 1953, and from March 25 to 28, the Sports Arena in Hershey, Pennsylvania played host to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

It was the first time that Hershey played host to the U.S. Championships. Chaired by William O. Hickok IV, the event was held was held in conjunction with the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the community known as the 'The Sweetest Place On Earth' for its ties to chocolate production. The Sports Arena where the event was held was located in Hershey Park and was part of the Milton Hershey Recreational Center. The ice surface was 90 X 190 feet, with seating for up to six thousand. Skaters and officials were housed at two hotels - The Hershey Hotel and Community Inn, the latter within walking distance of the Arena. 

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

At the competition, Benjamin T. Wright made history as the first USFSA certified Chief Accountant to be in charge of the accounting room. Social events included a Buffet Supper and Dance at Park Golf Club and the Judges and Officials Dinner at The Hershey Hotel. At the dance, Maribel Vinson Owen and Robin Greiner showed off their Charleston-Valentine combination and everyone performed the "Mexican Hat Dance Shuffle". But what happened on the ice that long weekend in March? Let's take a look back and find out!


Thirteen women entered the novice women's competition and five were eliminated after the school figures. The free skating caused great division among the judges. Ultimately, five judges scattered first place ordinals between the top four women. Diane 'Dee Dee' Wayland of the Blade and Edge Club, who won the bronze, was the only one of the four to earn two first place ordinals. The gold was won by Los Angeles' Janice Marie Crappa and the silver by Carol Heiss' sister Nancy. Fourteen year old Muriel Reich of Lake Placid finished fourth. Crappa, who took an unusual fall on a spin in her free skating program, was a tiny fourteen year old eighth grade student at Mount Vernon Select School in Pasadena, California.

Barlow Nelson

Excellent free skating performances launched Barlow Nelson and Robin Greiner ahead of the winner of the novice men's school figures, Richard Swenning. Less than four points separated the top three men. Bradley Lord, who finished sixth, would go on to win the U.S. senior men's title and perish in the Sabena Crash in 1961. Robert Lee Brewer, who placed dead last, later represented the U.S. at the 1960 Winter Olympic Games in Squaw Valley. Nelson was a sixteen year old sophomore at Will Rogers High School who enjoyed sailing and developing his own films. He was the first man in history from the state of Oklahoma to win a U.S. title at any level.

David Jenkins

David Jenkins moved up from fourth (and last) after figures to win the junior men's title with a difficult free skating performance. One judge gave him a 9.5 and a 9.7. Six foot tall Guy Nick of the Lakewood Winter Club, first after figures, took the silver and Tim Brown the bronze. Jenkins, the younger brother of the reigning World Champion, was five foot four, sixteen years old and a junior at the Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado.

Rose Mary Lyons and Joseph Nowack of California won the initial round of the Silver Dance competition, but their performance in the finals dropped them down to third. New York siblings Katrine and William Neil, who narrowly lost the title the year prior, were the winners. Andree Anderson, who would go on to win the U.S. title and medal twice at the World Championships, finished dead last with partner Arthur Dammkoehler. Katrine Neil was a twenty-four year old secretary; Bill Neil a nineteen year old geology student at Union College in Schenectady.

Patricia Firth

The junior women's event was so close that the accountants had to add up each skater's total points to determine the winner. Seventeen year old Patricia 'Patsy' Firth won 1013.5 to 1010.2 over sixteen year old Catherine Machado. Mary Ann Dorsey moved up from fourth after figures to win the bronze. Georgina Sutton, the young woman who finished fourth, had ordinals ranging from third to seventh place. Seventeen year old Firth hailed from Seattle. Her older sister Mary taught skating in Toronto. Off the ice, she enjoyed ballet, Spanish dancing, opera and horseback riding. The summer after winning the title, Firth was chosen as the Good Posture Queen for the State of Washington during Good Posture Week. I love that Good Posture Week was a thing!

Five teams from five different clubs competed for the Joel B. Liberman Trophy in junior pairs. With four first place ordinals, Norma McCullagh and Robert E. Goodfellow, Jr. of the the Rye Figure Skating Club were victorious. McCullagh was an eighteen year old stenographer at an engineering firm and Goodfellow a senior at Iona Preparatory School. Both had a roller skating background, and Goodfellow was a national senior champion in baton twirling!


Dancers performed four compulsories - the Three-Lobe Waltz, Argentine Tango, Kilian and Viennese Waltz - in addition to a free dance. Carol Peters and Danny Ryan of Washington Figure Skating Club managed to pull off a win but they faced stiff competition from the second place team Virginia Hoyns and Donald Jacoby of Philadelphia, who earned two first place ordinals. Carmel and Ed Bodel, fourth after compulsories, moved up to claim the bronze over New York's Phyllis Schroeder and Martin Forney. The judge from Baltimore dared to place the winners dead last in the Finals.


Hayes Alan Jenkins

As expected, Hayes Alan Jenkins was first after the school figures, followed by Hugh Graham Jr., Dudley Richards and Ronnie Robertson. Jenkins won the free skate and gold medal, completing the 'triple crown' or 'grand slam' of World, North American and U.S. titles. His flawless free skating performance to Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade" featured double Axels and double loops. Robertson rebounded to take the silver and win Oscar L. Richard Trophy with a program that featured double Axels, flips, loops and Salchows, not to mention dazzling spins. Harvard undergrad Richards took the bronze, but had two second place ordinals, and Graham dropped to fourth.

When an Associated Press photographer snapped an innocent shot of Dick Button congratulating Hayes Alan Jenkins after his win, an arcane USFSA rule in place at the time was broken. Technically, amateurs were prohibited from even having their picture taken with professionals. Nothing of consequence ever came of it.


Carole Ann Ormaca

Carole Ann Ormaca and Robin Greiner of Fresno, California won the senior pairs title. In "Skating" magazine, Sandy Thomas recalled, "[Their] number... sang out 'smooth' from start to finish. [They] 'work' the rink in an unusual oblique manner which is sheer pleasure to watch." Tulsa siblings Margaret Anne and Hugh Graham, Jr. finished a disappointing second after a fall, one spot ahead of Kay Servatius and Sully Kothman of Colorado Springs. The senior pairs was the only discipline at Nationals where all five judges completely agreed on their placements of every skater or couple. Ormaca was a sixteen year old junior at Roosevelt High School and Robin a twenty year old junior at Fresno State College. She loved to sew; he loved to play the piano and dance. It was the pair's first trip to Nationals together.


Tenley Albright and Hayes Alan Jenkins in Hershey

As expected, Tenley Albright her defended her national title with considerable ease. Earning unanimous first place ordinals and one score of 9.9 in her free skating, she made history as the first American woman to complete a 'triple crown' of World, North American and U.S. titles. Writing in "The New York Times", Lincoln A. Werden recalled, "After she had finished skating to the music of Offenbach's 'Fantasy', the crowd realized the importance of her triumph, the first of its kind in American annals. From all parts of the arena, waves of applause greeted the smiling girl long before the judges walked out on the ice with raised score cards that signified authentic approval in proper mathematical fashions."

Thirteen year old Carol Heiss of Ozone Park, second in figures, also skated sensationally in the free skate. Where Albright's program showcased maturity and poise, Heiss' highlighted youth and daring. Her program included Axels, a double loop and double flip. Margaret Anne Graham, a cheerleader at Tulsa University, took the bronze ahead of Miggs Dean and Kay Servatius.

Carol Heiss and Tenley Albright. Photo courtesy Hershey Community Archives.

Interestingly, the judge from Tulsa - George B. Jenkinson - had Graham ahead of Heiss and was the only judge to do so. Five foot six, seventeen year old Nancy Minneard of Akron, who finished dead last, won the Oscar L. Richard Trophy for most artistic performance. Off the ice, she collected windblown glass figurines.

The Bedell H. Harned Trophy for the club winning the most points was shared between the Los Angeles and Boston clubs after both teams tied. The Tulsa Figure Skating Club, which finished third, was only one point behind the winning clubs.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":