This weekend a Butte ice tradition continues with the annual school speed skating races. The activity has been an event in Butte for decades. The tradition of ice skating goes back to the time of the frozen water at Lake Avoca, a man-made waterway created over 100 years ago. The lake was located where the present Country Club golf course sits. It was a site good for ice skating and ice hockey in the early days.
The activity of ice skating changed venues with the development of the Holland Rink and Clark Park. The Holland Rink was situated just below the current Safeway store on Front Street. It was here that the first real speed skating took place around an enclosed arena.
The development of speed skating and the annual school races took off with gusto from the starting line at Clark Park. The stadium was built in 1921. It was used for baseball in the summer and football in the fall. That left the place vacant in the winter until they came up with the idea of flooding the field and creating an ice skating rink.
By the 1930s, school races were held at the Clark Park. It was a great venue for skaters with a fast rink. It was also outstanding for spectators who could sit in the grandstands and watch the youngsters speed around the oval.
Every school in town had competitors participate in the school races. There were rinks all over town so everyone had a chance to practice. Yet, schools closest to the Clark Park rink had an advance getting ready for the races on the biggest and best rink in town.
Therefore schools like Emerson and St. John’s Catholic Schools were always the teams to beat at the annual event.
The school ice races were as big as the annual track meet held in the spring. The event would produce banner headlines in the local papers.
The event was hurt when the Clark Park grandstands were destroyed by fire in May 1957. Gone were the grandstands that made the annual ice skating races so special.
The races continued at the Clark Park rink after the fire, but the big crowds that once came to the arena were now gone.
A new rink was built new Kaw Avenue in the early 1960s by Hanna Griffith. It was created to help Olympians, Sylvia White and Judy Morstein, train for the 1964 Olympic Games in Austria.
In the 1970s, a rink was built at Stodden Park. It served as the venue for the annual speed skating races for a number of years. That changed in 1987 when the United States High Altitude Sports Center was finished. The new center allowed youngsters a chance to compete on a world-class rink that was the same venue as the best skaters in the world competed and trained on.
This weekend youngsters will carry on the Butte tradition of school races on the rink. The numbers might not be high compared to past days, but the will and
desire will still be there.
Speed skating races in Butte has a rich history and is one of the things that makes the community so special.