The SCLP hires new program directors, prepares for new season

New program directors for the Skating Club of Lake Placid, Valerie Hodgson Murray, left, and Jeff LaBrake pose for a photo at the Olympic Center’s 1980 Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid. (Provided photo — Jordan Craig)

LAKE PLACID — Two new skating directors, Jeff LaBrake and Valerie Hodgson Murray will take the helm this season to manage the Skating Club of Lake Placid’s popular Learn to Skate program.

LaBrake, a Lake Placid native, grew up skating and coaching figure skating at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid. He moved back to Lake Placid in April to be closer to his family.

“It feels great to come back to Lake Placid,” LaBrake said. “Walking through town and entering the Olympic Arenas always takes my breath away, and all of the memories of growing up here come back.”

Hodgson Murray has a long history with Lake Placid. Originally from Long Island, she has made Lake Placid her second home every summer, skating and coaching in the Lake Placid Figure Skating camp.

Both LaBrake and Hodgson Murray signed on to be program directors in August. They are now responsible for managing and administering the SCLP’s Learn to Skate program and other specialty classes.

LaBrake has the distinction of learning to skate with the club, a perspective that should help him guide the program towards greater success. He skated singles and pairs with his sister Leanne and has worked with local coaches including Jack and Joan Devitt. The Devitts coached them to several qualifying titles and competitions, including the 1979 U.S. National Championships.

LaBrake decided to become a show skater in 1981, skating in shows including Ice Capades and coaching skating in between ice show gigs.

When he retired, he started coaching exclusively. Most recently, he managed a Learn to Skate program in Miami, Florida while coaching competitive skaters.

While LaBrake was training in Lake Placid, Hodgson Murray was skating primarily on Long Island. Their paths crossed in the 1970s when Hodgson Murray came to skate in the Olympic Center during the summers.

They developed a fast friendship and probably had no idea that one day, they would be working together in the same facility where they first met.

In the summer of 1984, Hodgson Murray started coaching in Lake Placid. She often brought her skaters to the Olympic Center to train in the summer figure skating camp.

She divided her coaching time between new skaters and higher-level skaters, who were working towards achieving their final tests in skating.

Some skaters that she coached went on to compete nationally, but her philosophy around skating success remained practical — not all skaters will go to the Olympics, but most can pass their final gold tests, go on to good schools, skate in college and have successful lives.

While coaching privately, she ran two Learn to Skate programs, including at the New York Islanders Iceworks facility in Syosset. Being program director for one rink can be challenging enough, but managing two was an undertaking, especially when each boasted over 400 skaters.

Despite their different skating backgrounds, both share similar sensibilities. Each has approximately 40 years of coaching experience, some of which was forged in fast-paced metropolitan rinks. They both think that figure skating success in Lake Placid begins at the developmental level.

“I really want to grow skating at the grassroots level in Lake Placid,” Hodgson Murray said. “We need to build the program from the bottom so it can be more like it used to be here.”

LaBrake shares the same sentiment. When he came back home in April, state Olympic Regional Development Authority Director of Sport Paul Wylie encouraged him to apply for the SCLP program director position.

“When I would come home with students to compete in the summer Lake Placid Freestyle Competition, I would always envision myself coming back to teach here,” LaBrake said. “I really wanted to give back to the community and hopefully help rebuild the skating to what it was when I grew up.”

Some of the ways they intend to grow the program include expanding skating hours, offering new programs and bringing back those that were paused due to the pandemic, as well as, offering longer sessions. The first session begins Oct. 3 and will stretch until Dec. 22.

They will also host an open house on Sept. 18 in the 1932 arena from 1 to 3 p.m. Attendees can learn more about the program and take a free lesson.

LaBrake hopes the event will encourage participation among community members of all ages.

“Whether you are a kid or an adult, skating is fun, great exercise, and the perfect way to make new friends,” he said.

They are both excited about the new challenge, but for LaBrake, it’s especially poignant to take on a role held by his coaches in his home rink.

“I had the opportunity to travel around the world (in ice shows) and I was always proud to tell people that I grew up and trained in Lake Placid,” LaBrake said. “It’s an honor to be able to come back home and take on this venture with Valerie and The Club and work alongside ORDA. I am excited to bring everything that I have learned and experienced in skating back to my hometown.”

For more information on The SCLP, visit their website at www.skatingcluboflakeplacid.com or their Facebook page.

Starting at $1.44/week.

Subscribe Today