Jirina Ribbens, John Hughes, Emily Hughes, Amy Hughes, Sarah Hughes, Frank Carroll, Tenley Albright, Moira North/Photo: Mary Annakis

Ice Theatre of New York (ITNY) honored renowned figure skating coach Frank Carroll with a Lifetime Achievement Award at its annual Benefit Gala and Home Season Performances on Oct. 21 at New York City’s Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers.

The gala evening began with on-ice performances by the ITNY cast. Guest artists Zabato Bebe and Julien Dulière, who are currently touring with Cirque du Soleil’s “Crystal,” delighted the audience with their “Freestyle” hip hop/street skating routine.

Elisa Angeli, ITNY ’s ensemble director, choreographed three of the group numbers for the ensembles. Theron James performed “Presence,” a piece by Deneane Richburg (a 2017 McKnight Choreographer Fellow), and Armen Agaian brought life to Eliot Halverson’s “Take Five.

Tenley Albright, the 1956 Olympic champion, introduced Carroll at the gala dinner and recalled how they had met as young skaters. Later, Carroll spoke about the kindness Albright had shown him in those days. He brought many of the guests to tears with recollections of his coach Maribel Vinson Owen and her fight for equal access for Jews and African-Americans to join skating clubs.

He also recounted how Owen made it possible for Mabel Fairbanks to learn to skate in the days when African-Americans were essentially excluded from the sport. “Mabel became a skating star and the first coach of Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, the 1979 World pairs champions,” he said.

Carroll’s passion for the sport was first ignited one afternoon at his neighbourhood movie theatre. He recalled the newsreels that were shown between the features, highlighting current stories. “One day, on that big theatre screen, when news footage of Dick Button winning the Olympics flashed on, that did it for me. Watching him jump and spin, the athleticism, the power — I wanted to do that!”

Carroll showed great promise in his early days, finishing third at the 1959 U.S. Junior Championships, and capturing silver the following year. Had he not turned professional and joined Ice Follies, it is likely he would have been one of the U.S. Figure Skating team members that perished in a plane crash in Brussels en route to the 1961 World Championships in Prague.

Carroll turned to coaching, guiding many skaters to Olympic, World and national titles. Linda Fratianne, Christopher Bowman, Michelle Kwan, Timothy Goebel, Evan Lysacek and Denis Ten were some of those success stories.

Fratianne was his first big star, winning two World titles (1977 and 1979) and silver at the 1980 Olympic Winter Games. “She was the best student,” Carroll recalled. “When I told her what she was doing wrong, there would be no arguments — she’d simply fix it.”

Carroll recalled Kwan as “the best all-around skater ever. She was a great jumper and spinner, and untouchable when it came to connecting with an audience. I’d describe Tim (Goebel), in his competitive days, as scrappy. If you got him angry, you were in for a fight,” he said of his student who was the first person to land three quads in a long program.

“A Boeing 747,” Carroll said of Lysacek. “He would skate his programs six times a day. I was a stickler for a skater always doing a program in practice from beginning to end, without stopping. I would tell them, ‘If you stop, I’ll walk out of here.’ No danger of that with Evan. He was the most passionate skater I ever taught.”

ITNY founder Moira North said she could not think of anyone more worthy of the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award. “Frank is one of a kind, and we were so proud to honor him.”

Button described Carroll as the Olympic champion of teaching. “It’s a God-given gift to be a great teacher, and he has proven many times that he is.”

The Hughes family, all of whom have been part of ITNY in many different ways for 26 years, was named the recipient of this year’s Ice Angel Award. The family’s skating adventure began with John Hughes, who was the captain of the 1969-1970 Cornell hockey team. He and his wife, Amy, made it possible for their six children to skate, with two of their daughters finding international success. Sarah won the 2002 Olympic title and Emily claimed bronze at the 2005 World Junior Championships and competed at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games.

“Ice Theatre of New York is one charity that is close to our hearts and has been closely intertwined with our family’s skating journey since the first show Sarah performed with them in 1993 in Annapolis,” said Rebecca Hughes Parker, the eldest of the Hughes siblings. “One reason that ITNY appeals to us so much is because we believe that ice skating is more than jumps and spins and points — it is about artistry, performance and passion. We also deeply appreciate how ITNY brings the joy of skating to people who may not otherwise be exposed to it, with its outreach programs, shows and related work.”