Friday, February 13, 2009

Remembering our Sports Past to Inspire its Future

September-October 2006

Recently, one of our interns came across an original copy of a Memorial Service program. This program was for the official USFSA services in memory of our 1961 World team held at the Hotel Roosevelt in New York City, May 6, 1961. Inside that program was a type written, slightly yellowed, but remarkably well preserved copy of the eulogy written by the acting President, Ritter Shumway. I decided to reprint the speech in its entirety, as I felt an overwhelming sense of both sorrow and, more importantly, pride in our sport. Change a line or two and it could have been written for those who fell on 9/11.

I grew up skating in Memorial Fund Shows and sold more than my fair share of booster buttons. I heard stories of the crash, the tragedy of losing so many skaters and family, coaches and officials. I sat on the memorial bench out front of the original Broadmoor arena and I've seen our own memorial here at our offices yet, until I read Mr. Shumway's eulogy I just didn't get it. His words painted a clear picture, one that I didn't see before. One particular paragraph that really struck home is the third from the end. "… to a deeper dedication to serving our fellows through serving our sport, can we start to build a living memorial, not of brick and mortar and silver trophies… appropriate as these might be… but of what they expect of us …" I believe this to be serving others, not for our own self-serving goals, but in making a difference in someone's life, our community, our sport, our earth.

USFSA Memorial Service
New York City, May 6, 1961

"On the table before us are 36 American Beauty Roses - - one for each of our dear friends whose memory we have gathered here today to honor."

These were our friends, our loved ones, the flower of America’s young manhood and womanhood, their devoted mentors: teachers, leaders, parents, relatives, friends, and admirers - - the finest that our nation, our culture, our way of life can produce, not only as technicians of consummate skill in their chosen field, their beloved sport of figure skating, but also the finest in character, in lovable personality and in sportsmanship. And they were on a mission, not only to match their skill against that of their opposite numbers from many lands throughout the world, in demonstration of what excellence in art and athletic ability our way of life can develop, but more importantly, through their natural friendliness, to be true representatives to of America and thereby to helping their own and most important way - person to person - to dispel some of the misunderstanding that is such a source of friction that it threatens to envelop us in a war that could destroy our whole civilization. No less important than this was their mission. And so it is understandable that our Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, should have said in his telegram to us that this "only increases the tragedy of their loss"… a loss from which our sport will be years in recovering, and a personal loss which will never be erased from our consciousness. Our feelings and our sympathies have gone out, and will always continue to go out, to their families to whom they were so particularly dear and precious.

We came here, however, not to grieve, but to honor, not to look back upon what cannot be changed, but to look forward to a future which lies within our power to shape, not to lament but to try to find in this experience the lessons for life that God wants us who remain to learn.
To do this, we must re-examine and re-confirm our faith, for only on this foundation can our life be renewed and built into a tower of strength, to honor our friends and our loved ones.

If we truly believe what God would teach us through the scriptures, of the miracles wrought, and the strength that we can find by faith, we must understand that what for us is a sorrowful human parting from friends and loved ones is for them a release from the weights and errors that beset them here, and prevented them from realizing that perfection… that perfect circle 8… that perfect judgment… that perfect understanding for which they were always striving, and which they can now experience. Just as they, and we too, rejoiced greatly as they took each step closer and closer to perfection, and passed each test in their progress, from the preliminary to the eighth or the gold test in skating, from Low Test to World Judge, from member to top officer, so should we also rejoice for them… now that they have passed the Supreme Test and are at the very fountain-head of perfect judgment, discernment and understanding.

They have attained the perfection that they wanted so much.
If such be our faith, then what happens now to our friends and loved ones, we can, with that faith, and with complete confidence, entrust entirely to God and His love and care. What should concern us, and what is of concern to God, is what happens to us who remain; for He has given us freedom to choose whether we go forward or go backward, whether we allow these experiences to make us finer, more useful people, or whether we allow them to crush us.

I know that those who are represented here by these roses want us to go forward. Should we not, then, with our faith, dry our tears, turning our thoughts not in upon ourselves and on what has happened to us, but outward to them and their friends as we did when they were materially with us. This as we know from life, is the way of true love and devotion - - not to think of ourselves, but of others.

On this foundation, then, of lives that are not consumed in sorrow grief, but on lives that have been challenged and spurred by these experiences, to a deeper resolution to seeing God's will and to a deeper dedication to serving our fellows through serving our sport, can we start to build a living memorial, not of brick and mortar and silver trophies… appropriate as these might be… but of what they expect of us - - finer, more understanding, more tender, more useful and more loving people to honor them and to serve their memory in our lives.

Wherefore, seeing that we are encompassed by so great a cloud of witnesses, thirty-six of our friends whom we would honor and cherish, let us put aside all weights and hindrances that so easily beset us, and let us run the race that is set before us. Let us accept, like true competitors, and in the spirit of our 1961 World Team, the challenge that is presented to us. Let us here dedicate ourselves in their memory to carry on the high traditions of excellence, of sportsmanship, of devotion, that they so well exemplified and have now entrusted to us.

For their sake, in their memory, to do honor and glory, and to the honor and glory of God, let us go forward as they would have us go.

Ritter F. Shumway, President

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