By Carole Shulman
75 years ago. That’s a long time. I don’t remember all of those 75 years but I do remember about three-quarters of them! My first memory is hearing about the Professional Skaters Guild of America (PSGA) and Wally Sahlin as president back in the late 1950’s. Wally was unique. He was not only a coach but also a rink manager. This position gave him status, which was something most coaches did not have in those days. We had an important place in the skating world and in the lives of our skaters, but it was seldom recognized. In the eyes of those around us, our profession was not real. After all, we were getting paid for something that everyone else was enjoying. The question was often asked, “When are you going to get a real job?”
The first PSGA meetings were held just once a year at nationals in some dark corner of the arena. Great sentiments and ideas were expressed but it was hard to move forward when the next meeting was not held until a year later and there were only a handful of coaches that attended. Nevertheless, coaching education, ratings, insurance, endorsements, publications, and increased membership were ideas that formed the “twinkle in their eyes” - their goals and hopes for the future.
Imagine how far we have come and how proud those early coaches would be of the PSA today!
Every one of those dreams and more has been realized. Over the next 12 months many early memories and incredible stories of the PSA will be shared with you. My most vivid recollection is the year in which I became executive director. The offices had been located in Buffalo, NY, and run by a professional management company that had no experience or relationship to skating. The PSGA phone connected in their office was answered, “Professional Management. How can I help you?” Our members were not even sure they had reached the right number. The newsletter was run off on a mimeograph machine that printed in blue ink and was published every now and then.
In 1984 we moved everything owned by the PSGA to our home in Rochester, MN, comprised of three file cabinets, one Corona typewriter, some books and pictures, financial documents, reports and histories - that was it. It all fit into a 10x12 room in our basement. The PSGA didn’t even own a desk, a chair or a telephone. Carbon copy paper was used to make copies on the typewriter and correction fluid was used to white out our mistakes. I remember well the day we purchased a copy machine - talk about coming into the 20th century!
My husband David and I added two desks to the room and Judy Preble, a skating mom from the Rochester Figure Skating Club, was hired as a part-time assistant. Judy and I shared one telephone which sat in the corner between our two desks. Whoever answered the phone first would greet the caller with “Professional Skaters Guild.” We were so proud to be able for the first time to truly identify our organization. The caller on the other end of the phone had no idea how small we were so when they asked for the Membership Department or Accounting or whatever, we would simply state, “One moment, please,” and hand the phone to the other person.
As I mentioned earlier, the PSGA had a newsletter titled “The Newsletter,” which was published erratically, primarily because the management company was always waiting for enough material to print and our members were not very responsive to deadlines. My goal was to have a truly credible publication so the name was changed to “The Professional Skater - PS Magazine.” It was printed on stock paper and we had mandatory deadlines. If an article did not come in, I just wrote it myself. Soon our members wanted to be in print and deadlines were met. We added regular columns including a President’s Message, Meeting and Competition Reports, Ratings, Tax Tips, It Just Figures (birth and wedding announcements), Honor Roll of Coaches, Travel Tips, Judges’ Point of View and even a Favorite Recipes feature. The recipes feature did not last very long after a well-known coach reported her favorite recipe was take-out!
Financially, we were really strapped. In a way, those were the best of times. There were so many things we wanted to do but we had no money to accomplish it. Every time we could save a penny by doing it ourselves, we did. We made every effort to look good, be frugal and yet always put some money aside to plan for the future. Everyone volunteered, including the staff. An example of this was during the first years of PS Magazine. We had to sort every magazine by zip code. This was done upstairs on our living room floor with the help of skating moms. Alaska was in the upper left hand corner of the room and Wyoming in the lower right hand with all the other states in between. We did not have a large living room so stepping over and on each other was a common occurrence. Did I mention we also had to print our own address labels and stick them on every magazine? It seems so archaic, but it was a labor of love and all part of the growing process.
Amongst my recollections, one person stands out: Sandy Lamb. She is an outgoing, energetic and vivacious lady who believed enough in me to support my being hired during her presidency. I am forever grateful to her. She saw the future and brought it to the PSGA. No one ever believed more in our organization nor fought harder to bring recognition and respectability to our profession. Back then our goal was 1000 members. We were determined and under her leadership our goal was reached, even though coaches would cross to the other side of the street to avoid being accosted by Sandy and Carole inquiring why they were not members, and informing them of what they were missing. Soon we grew to 2000, 3000 and in the year 2006, over 6000. In the first publication of PS Magazine, Sandy wrote, “Look out world, here we come.” No truer sentiment was ever spoken during those early years.
There is one other memory I must share with you. In 2001, shortly after we moved into our new headquarters, we invited every past president to come and see how their dreams had come to fruition. Every living president attended. After a tour of the building and the grounds, we all went to dinner and afterwards had a short presentation with appreciation for each of the presidents and their contribution to our success. We closed by asking if anyone wanted to comment. Every president, in turn, stood up and shared their memories and thoughts. It was completely spontaneous so no recording was made but our eyes filled with tears and our hearts resounded in love and laughter. We laughed and cried and then laughed some more. What an incredible evening that was. One specific comment I remember was made by Bob O’Connell, the oldest president in attendance, who remarked that the cost of the dinner alone that evening was more than the entire budget during his presidency.
Yes, in 75 years we have come a long way. There are many stories to tell about the hard work, the dreams, the sacrifices and the commitment of our forefathers making the PSA what it is today. That being said, however, all the past efforts would come quickly to an end if the same dedication and earnest goals and desires were not in place today. Each of us has our own story to tell, our own contribution made or yet to be made. That is what makes the PSA such a vibrant and unique organization. We are still volunteering, dreaming, planning and looking to the future. Look out world, here we come!