Question and Answer with Ron Pfenning

The following is a question and answer interview with Ron Pfenning conducted by e-mail, the weekend of 8 Nov. 2013.  Pfenning is running for U.S. Figure Skating President for the term beginning May 2014.
Others who may be considering this position, or others within U.S. Figure Skating who would like to share their thoughts with us in a similar format are invited to contact the editor.

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ISIO: Earlier this year you announced your intent to seek the office of U.S. Figure Skating president, and the Nominating committee is now working through its process to select a slate of officers for approval by the Governing Council next May. What strengths do you think you bring to U.S. Figure Skating that makes you the best choice for the office?

RP: Experience, commitment and integrity are strengths that immediately come to mind. I have had a lifelong commitment to our sport. I began skating out of doors on a naturally frozen ice rink which many times I helped shovel the snow off. Within USFS I was mostly a test skater in figures and ice dance. In college at Michigan State U., I started to trial judge and my first appointment was Bronze Dance and continued up the ranks to National Judge and Referee in Figure Skating, Ice Dance and Synchronized Skating. I also became a Section Accountant. Internationally, within the ISU I advanced to Championship Judge and Referee in Figure Skating and Ice Dancing and Int. Judge and Referee in synchronized skating. I was elected to the ISU Figure Skating Technical Committee and served for over 9 years. Regarding governance, I have been a Club President and was Eastern Vice President, was a delegate and attended Governing Council meeting over 5 decades. Was a member of USFS Board of Directors for 13 years and Chaired 8 standing committees - Competitions, Judges, Minutes, Nominating, Precision, Rules, Selections and Membership Development Committee and served as a member of several other committees. As an official, judge or referee, I officiated at 3 Olympic Winter Games, 7 ISU World Championships, 6 ISU Jr. World Championships, 4 ISU European Championships, 5 ISU Four Continents Championships, 24 ISU International Competitions, 16 US National Championships and too numerous to count Sectional and Regional Championships, plus all the non-qualifying competitions. If I hadnít had commitment I would never have been able to accomplish the above list of activities and here I am today just as committed and wanting to bring positive ideas to move U.S. Figure Skating forward. I am most proud of my integrity throughout my years of involvement in this sport I love. I have always treated every test skater and competitor fairly within the rules of the sport. I stood up for what was right when I discovered the French judge had cheated during the Pairs event at the Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. I have always been known for doing what is right for our sport, our Association and our athletes, regardless of the consequences.

I also have had a successful career in public education, starting out as a high school mathematics teacher and moving up to department chairman and later to curriculum coordinator for grades 1-12. My second career was in retail on Cape Cod starting out as an Assít Manager, promoted to Store Manager, promoted to District Manager and finally to Director of Store Operations in a company call The Christmas Tree Shops, who employed over 1700 employees in 20 stores. There were 6 stores when I joined the company. While in NH and teaching school I was successful in town government, first being elected to the Town Budget Committee, responsible for town and school budgets presented to Town Meeting and then elected to the Board of Selectmen and on to Chairman of the Board. Fortunately I do have broad experiences to draw upon.

ISIO: What do you see to be the major issues that have damaged the health of figure skating in recent years, and what do you see to be the major issues figure skating will face in the next quadrennium (2014-2018)?

RP: Without a doubt the scandal at the Salt Lake City OWG where an ISU judge and a Federation President were sanctioned for influencing results. When this scandal was made public and brought out into the open, the public had at long last discovered to be true what had been suspected for some time, figure skating judges cheat. It is very difficult to recover from such a blow to the integrity of the sport. To compound this, the ISU decided to retire the ďbrandĒ of figure skating - 6.0, a business brand that had made the sport so popular with the public. When trying to recover from the judging scandal, the ISU self-destructed by eliminating the 6.0 scoring system. The new judging system is actually better for the athletes but has lost the fan base because of its complexities and difficulty to understand.

ISIO: How would you work to correct these issues as U.S. Figure Skating president?

RP: Looking forward, two different areas need to be addressed, international and domestic. Domestically I see the need for USFS to be much more transparent in its governance. I am a strong supporter of transparency and as president will work diligently to open up the governance of USFS to its members. The member clubs, the members and our athletes need to be informed about the issues and know their input and support are welcomed by our Association. We must encourage greater participation at all levels beginning with strong member clubs and working our way up to our Board of Directors. Our BOD should be the forum for open debate and discussion related to the important topics of the day. Local clubs must have input to the board. Vision and leadership will be essential in building a financially strong and vibrant Association. Our Governing Council meetings should be streamed out over the internet so members can view our governance first hand and become involved. Our elections should be done electronically to assure greater participation and pride in our democracy. More candidates must be encouraged to publicly announce their intentions to seek one of the elected offices. As a democracy it is not right to have uncontested elections. Our members should always have a choice and this will build interest and involvement in the workings of our Association. Internationally the most important event in the next quadrennium will be the 2016 ISU Congress where a new president will be elected. The president must come from figure skating if we have any hope for rebuilding our damaged sport. Between now and then USFS should work diligently to see this happens. We should have proposals to be considered to move the sport forward and find ways to recapture our lost fan base. Never again should we allow speed skating to vote on figure skating technical issues.

ISIO: There are some who are concerned that your current status at the ISU would prevent U.S. Figure Skating from being effectively represented at the ISU. Could you address your status and those concerns, and describe the relationship you would like U.S. Figure Skating to have with the ISU if you were president?

RP: U.S. Figure Skating should always have as strong as possible relationship with the ISU. Our federation is most fortunate to have representation on each of the three figure skating technical committees and also have a member on the ISU Council. No other federation has this much representation. Our goal should be to maintain what we currently have and strive to get one of our U.S. Figure Skating members elected ISU VP for Figure Skating or even ISU President someday. As president I can assure you USFS will always be strongly represented when dealing with the ISU. For me personally I am currently ineligible under ISU rules to attend the next ISU Congress. I formally requested USFS last July to submit my application for reinstatement to the ISU. Our BOD voted not to submit the application. When I requested reconsideration after the first refusal, I was denied a second time. My request was not for me personally but for USFS, the need to have their president, should I be elected, in their delegation to the 2014 ISU Congress. With our elections occurring in May 2014 and the Congress in June, there is not sufficient time to submit my request and have it acted up. But I can assure you our delegation will be comprised with the best and most talented, totally familiar with the ISU and the ISU knows them. I have no concerns about USFS not being effectively represented at the ISU. I will always put the needs of our sport, our Association, and our athletes ahead of my personal needs.

ISIO: There are some who think the organization is best run from the top down and others say from the bottom up. What are your thoughts on the importance of the three levels at which U.S. Figure Skating operates Ė grass roots, National competition, and international activities?

RP: For me any organization run from the top down is a dictatorship. I would like to think of our Association as being similar to the U.S. Government with three branches, legislative, judicial and executive, all of equal importance to keep the whole organization balanced. USFS can never lose sight and the importance of our three areas - grass roots, National activities and International activities. Too often it appears we may be spending too much attention on any one of the three areas, and if we are we must correct our course and get back in balance. This year is an Olympic year and it seems a great deal of time, effort and money is going into having a successful Olympics for TEAM USA. But we have just seen considerable effort having been put into Regionals and soon to be held Sectionals, and I am sure Boston will have an outstanding National Championships next January. We cannot forget our other areas such as Synchronized Skating with their Sectionals and Nationals plus other Nationals for Adults, Theater on Ice and Showcase, etc. I think my previous answers indicate how important I hold grass roots activities; I want to build on the participation and growth of member clubs and have them become more involved with the governance of USFS.

ISIO: Since the drama of the early 2000ís you have married and moved from Massachusetts to Hawaii. Would you share with us what your life is like now in Hawaii and your recent activities in skating? Do you think you would face any challenges trying to lead U.S. Figure Skating from the middle of the Pacific Ocean?

RP: My husband Don and I, plus our two labradoodles are very happy living on Maul and people question my decision to seek the presidency of USFS, while having to spend more time on the mainland for skating. Since retiring and moving to Maui I have been able to maintain my skating activities, I judge tests over on Oahu and each year Iíve been assigned to Regionals, Sectionals or Nationals. My home club on Cape Cod invites me back each August for the Cranberry Open and Iíve been invited to judge other non-qualifying events. In regards to fulfilling the office of presidency, I am thankful for modern technology. The monthly meeting of Board of Directors will continue as now, mostly done by conference call; slightly earlier for me with the 5/6 hr difference with the east coast. Attending events on the mainland are only a plane ride away and Iím hoping USFS has built up some air miles with United to assist with my travel needs. For any event in Asia, Iím already halfway there. I really do not foresee any problems living in Maui and fulfilling my responsibilities as president of U.S. Figure Skating

ISIO: Is there one thing you would like to see happen during the next year within U.S. Figure skating above all others, regardless of who is at the helm?

RP: Transparency with greater participation by member clubs, members and athletes within our Association.