The 1963 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

John F. Kennedy was President, Billy Fury's "In Summer" was a smash hit and a Baby Ruth chocolate bar went for a nickel. The year was 1963 and though America's figure skating community was still recovering from the tragic Sabena Crash that claimed the lives of an entire generation of skaters, coaches, judges and officials just two years prior, the show went on at the 1963 U.S. Figure Skating Championships held from February 7 to 10 in Long Beach, California.

Hosted by the Arctic Blades Figure Skating Club of Paramount, the event was held at the brand new, fifteen thousand seat Long Beach Arena. The rink was eighty five by two hundred feet with a capacity of eleven thousand. Not that anyone wanted to stay indoors anyway... at first. Early in the week, temperatures climbed to over thirty degrees, and skaters and coaches alike flocked to the nearby beach to take a winter swim in the Pacific Ocean.

Tommy Litz, Jerry and Judianne Fotheringill and Taffy Pergament. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

More than one hundred skaters competed in novice, junior and senior events. Practices were held at Iceland, Paramount and the official hotels were The Breakers International and The Lafeyette Hotel and Lanais. Social events included a 'Hawaiian luau' and dance at The Breakers International Hotel and day trips to Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm. The competition was the first U.S. Championships held in Southern California since 1954.

George Jenkinson, Ron and Cynthia Kauffman, Tina Noyes, Johnny Moore, Carole MacSween and Ray Chenson and F. Ritter Shumway. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Despite a torrential downpour which led to flooding in some areas on the Saturday night of the competition, a new record was set for attendance. General admission was set at only two dollars, or a dollar more for a reserved seat, but the fact that audiences braved the poor weather to watch some fine free skating performances was a testament to their dedication to the sport. Among those in attendance were former U.S. Champions Dick Button, Yvonne Sherman, M. Bernard Fox, Robin Greiner and Barbara Roles Pursley.

Billy Chapel, Lorraine Hanlon and Sally Schantz and Stanley Urban. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The competition boasted the claim of being the first U.S. Championships 'in Technicolor', with blue dye being added during the ice making process to add an aesthetic appeal to both live and audiences watching Bud Palmer and Dick Button's ABC coverage at home on television. The audiences loved it; some skaters and coaches hated it. One unnamed internationally known coach, according to reporter Jerome Hall, called "the condition of the ice a disgrace." Pierre Brunet quipped, "That's very pretty, but will they make the ice pink for the girls?"

The Long Beach Arena. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The annually awarded Harned Trophy - given to the skating club who amassed the most points throughout the event - changed hands in a most remarkable way. In 1961, the Skating Club Of Boston had taken the trophy, but the following year the Arctic Blades Figure Skating Club had snatched it in Boston. In 1963, the Skating Club Of Boston reclaimed the trophy on the Arctic Blades Figure Skating Club's home turf.

How did the event play out? With great thanks to Michael Martin, librarian at Long Beach Public Library, I'd like to invite you to hop in the time machine with me as we take a look back at this fascinating competition from decades past!


Photo courtesy Long Beach Public Library

To the delight of the Californian audience, thirteen year old Johnny Moore of Dairy Valley (now Cerritos) took such a strong lead in the novice men's figures that Robert Schwarzwaelder, John Dystel and seven others were unable to catch him. Moore was an eighth grade student at Carmenita Grammar School who enjoyed coin collecting and horseback riding.

The novice women's title went to a talented young skater from the other coast. New York City's Taffy Pergament may have impressed many by winning, but the press was busy going gaga over the youngest competitor in the event, nine year old Janet Lynn of Rockton, Illinois, who had already dropped the Nowicki. Local reporter Jerome Hall called her "a cute little dumpling". She placed dead last in figures and tenth overall but had a blast competing and got to meet Dick Button.

Cynthia and Ron Kauffman. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Siblings Cynthia and Ron Kauffman took the junior pairs title ahead of Yvonne Littlefield and Peter Betts of Los Angeles, the reigning U.S. senior ice dancing champions. Following in the footsteps of another talented pair from Washington state - Karol and Peter Kennedy - the brother and sister team both attended the Ann Graves School, where they were one year apart. Ron enjoyed swimming, while Cindy was a dog lover.

The junior men's event was rather anti-climactic, with the top three remaining the same in figures, free skating and overall. Los Angeles' Billy Chapel decisively won the gold with first place ordinals from four of the five judges, ahead of Richard Callaghan of Rochester, New York and Tim Wood of Detroit. Sixteen year old Chapel attended the Hollywood Professional School and enjoyed bowling and swimming in his spare time. He hoped to attended California State and study biology, history or engineering. Betty Sonnhalter and Janet McLeod praised him for his "devil-may-care execution of his most difficult moves."

Photos courtesy Long Beach Public Library

The junior women's event was quite interesting, with first place ordinals split between five of the ten competitors in the figures. Every different judge may have had a different skater first, but fourteen year old Tina Noyes of Boston was the leader ahead of Peggy Fleming of Pasadena and Pamela Schneider of Ashbury Park, New Jersey. In one of the very few instances she was able to best Fleming, Noyes took the crown.

A young Tina Noyes and Peggy Fleming

The biggest surprise of the junior women's event was the last place finish in the figures of Maidie Sullivan of Colorado Springs. The eighteen year old had won an international junior women's competition in Davos the previous year and held the Midwestern title.

Photo courtesy Ingrid Hunnewell

Eleven teams vied for gold in the junior dance event. In the initial elimination round, teams skated the European Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango and Fourteenstep and in the final round, the top four teams skated the American Waltz, Rocker Foxtrot, Tango and Fourteenstep. The second and third place teams, Darlene Streitch and Charles 'Bucky' Fetter, Jr. of Indianapolis and Sally Crook and Edward Smith, Jr. of Boston, swapped places from the initial to final round, with fourth place going to Margaret A. Gerrity and Dominick Malevolta. Dennis Sveum, who would claim the U.S. senior title two years later with Kristin Fortune, placed sixth with partner Barbara McEvoy. The winners were twenty one Carole MacSween of Glendale, California and twenty seven year old Ray Chenson of Encino. Carole was a senior at UCLA and Ray was a blond haired, blue eyed construction foreman who had previously skated with Diane Sherbloom, who was killed in the Sabena crash.


The Fotheringill siblings

In their third year as seniors, siblings Judianne and Jerry Fotheringill of Tacoma, Washington finally capitalized on the U.S. junior title they had won in 1959 in Rochester by winning their first and only U.S. senior pairs title. At five foot seven and five foot eleven, Judianne and Jerry were quite tall for pairs skaters and had a striking look on the ice that commanded attention.  They trained at the Broadmoor and both attended Colorado College. Judianne was a freshman who enjoyed swimming and water skiing, while Jerry was a sophomore who studied political science and psychology.

Judianne and Jerry Fotheringill. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Another sibling pair, Highland Park's Vivian and Ronald Joseph, took the silver ahead of Patti Gustafson of Lynn, Massachusetts and Pieter Kollen of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Vivian and Ronald Joseph. Photo courtesy Ingrid Hunnewell.

Pieter Kollen had won the U.S. pairs title in 1962 with Dorothyann Nelson, but their partnership had dissolved when she turned professional and joined the Ice Capades. As Kollen was the reigning U.S. senior pairs champion, he was granted special permission from the USFSA to compete with his new fifteen year old partner, as the rulebook at the time made them ineligible for both junior and senior pairs.


Tommy Litz

After finishing a disappointing fourth on the first figure, Denver's Monty Hoyt rebounded to win the first phase of the senior men's event ahead of Smoke Rise, New Jersey's Scott Ethan Allen, Hershey, Pennsylvania's Tommy Litz and seven other men. In the free skate, the reigning champion's luck ran out. Hoyt took an uncharacteristic tumble, while Litz skated lights out, performing "effortless triples" to earn the only standing ovation of the entire competition. He moved up to claim the gold ahead of Allen, Hoyt, Gary Visconti and Buddy Zack.

Tommy Litz, Scotty Allen and Monty Hoyt

Eighteen year old Tommy Litz was a senior at Hershey Junior College. The five foot six skater with brown hair and blue eyes was coached by Felix Kaspar and skated out of the Hershey Figure Skating Club. His father Floyd was a supervisor at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation but Tommy had dreams of studying medicine... but not before he won the U.S. title. Quoted in Patricia Shelley Bushman's book "Indelible Tracings", Litz recalled, "I wanted to be a national champion so bad that it was indescribable. It was a magnificent honor to win."

In his book "Falling For The Win", Gary Visconti recalled his first year as a senior at Nationals thusly: "It was my first time in California and I reached a remarkable fourth place, unheard of for your first try... We were elated by the result. No one there knew I was performing on a severely sprained right ankle... All went great and somehow I won fourth in figures for a real victory, both personal and in that elite group of athletes. The next event, final free skate, was 24 hours later. Another shot [of cortisone], and no pain or feeling whatsoever. Weird ... an ice skater with no feeling in his foot. Wow! The triple toe-loop was my hardest jump in the opening of my routine; should we do it? Yes or no? Mr. Don [Stewart] said, 'Why did we come here? Let’s go for it, boy.' Well I performed fantastic and became an alternate for the World Team, a real earned honor."


Ten teams weaved their way through the steps of the Paso Doble, Foxtrot, Argentine Tango and Viennese Waltz and their free dances in hopes of claiming the gold medal in the senior (Gold) dance event in Long Beach. In a three-two split, Boston's Sally Schantz and Buffalo's Stanley Urban managed a huge upset in defeating Yvonne Littlefield and Peter Betts, whose free dance - according to "Skating" magazine - was "rich in content and showmanship".

Yvonne Littlefield and Peter Betts (left) and Lorna Dyer and John Carrell (right). Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Schantz and Urban had first skated together the summer previous at a training camp but didn't actually team up until the November before the competition. Schantz hadn't yet passed her Gold Dance test; Urban had never been to the Nationals before. He was a graduate of Canisius High School, captain of his high school track team and played hockey in Buffalo. Future U.S. and North American Champions Lorna Dyer and John Carrell took the bronze in their first Nationals together, ahead of Mary Ann Cavanaugh and King Cole and Jo-Anne Leyden and Robert Munz, Shortly after the event, Littlefield and Betts eloped.


Photo courtesy Long Beach Public Library

As the event was hosted by her home club, there was a lot of talk in the local media about the absence of Barbara Roles Pursley, the young mother who had made a comeback the year previous to win the 1962 U.S. senior women's title. In her absence, seventeen year old, five foot seven Lorraine Hanlon of Boston - a student of Cecilia Colledge - took a strong lead in the figures ahead of Seattle's Karen Howland. However, it was fifteen year old Christine Haigler of Colorado Springs - the youngest woman in the senior division - who won the free skate. Only fourth after figures, Haigler's free skate was the talk of Long Beach and proved to be enough to move her into second overall behind Hanlon, who faltered in her final performance, falling on a double Salchow and struggling on the landings of two other jumps. Hanlon had spent considerable time training in Switzerland the year prior after graduating from The Winsor School.

Lorraine Hanlon

Twenty one year old Karen Howland settled for third. After narrowly missing a spot on the 1961 World team - and thus saving her life by not getting on Sabena Flight 548 - she was diagnosed with Guillain–BarrĂ© syndrome. The fact she was even able to compete in Long Beach was no small feat. In Patricia Shelley Bushman's book "Indelible Tracings", she recalled, "I skated very well but a judge came up to me afterwards and said she basically screwed me; it was a political thing."

A lot may have changed in figure skating in the last fifty seven years, but these stories from the 1963 U.S. Championships in Long Beach remind us just how exciting skating in the sensational sixties was.

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