Helen Bina, Preeminent Chicago Playgrounds Product and National Champion Speedskater; Essay by Robert Pruter

To explain concept in textHelen Bina was one of the great female champions in speedskating, winning the prestigious Silver Skates Derby in Chicago, the  United States National women’s championship, and being selected as one of five American female racers who competed at the Olympic Games at Lake Placid in a demonstration sport contest with Canada.

 

 

 

The speedskating achievements of Helen Bina ranks her as one of the great female speedskating champions in the history of the sport. Like most all the champions from Chicago, she was a Silver Skates champion, the largest speedskating competition in North America. She was a United States National women’s champion, and was one of five American female racer who competed at the Olympic Games at Lake Placid in a demonstration sport contest with Canada. She is the best female representative of the achievement of Chicago’s parks and playgrounds system, rising to the top and competing for a local playground through much of her career, while many of her colleagues competed for private club teams.

Helen Bina was born on May 19, 1912, on the North Side of Chicago, to Joseph Bina, whose parents were from Bohemia, and Anna Bina, whose parents were of German ancestry from Germany and Alsace-Lorraine. She grew up into a stocky strong girl reflective of her German and Bohemian heritage. She was the middle child, between her older sister Gertrude and younger brother Raymond. Her father worked in a technical position at a vinegar factory. The family lived in a sturdy brick two-flat at 1300 Newport Avenue, in the Lake View community. While still in grade school Helen joined the skating and track and field teams at Le Moyne Playground, a mile and quarter away from her home. Because Le Moyne had a director and coach, she quickly developed into a competitor racing skater.1

In January 1926, when Bina was only thirteen she competed in the Chicago Tribune‘s Silver Skates derbies. She naturally entered in the Girls’ Junior Derby 440 yard race, which was for skaters under sixteen, but competing against older and more experienced girls she finished third in one of the preliminary heats and did not advance further. The following year, at the Silver Skates, her performance was better, where she finished first in a preliminary heat. She finished third, however, in a semi-final heat, and did not advance to the finals. A skater who became her biggest rival, Elizabeth Du Bois, from Evanston, who was a half year older, was ahead of her in development, won the Girls’ Junior Derby, now increased to a 880 yard race.2

To illustrate concept in text

Helen Bina, a Lake View High School junior, 1928

In 1928 Bina began competing regularly for Le Moyne Playground throughout the skating season. Her first race in the season was at the venerable Sleipner Ice Derby, where she took a second in 440 yard Junior Girls’ race. As the season went on Bina in both no age limit and Junior events usually took second or third in her events, notably in the Silver Skates meet, when she took third in the Girls’ Junior Derby 880 yard event. She did win one event in the season, the Class B 440 yard race, at the Henry Athletic Association Derby, at the end of January.3

In the fall of 1926, Helen Bina entered her first track and field competition, the Chicago Daily News Women’s Olympics, where representing Le Moyne Playground she took third in the junior broad jump. For the next two years she competed in the Daily News meet, in 1927 taking second in the intermediate broad jump and second in the intermediate basketball throw and in 1928 took a third in the intermediate basketball throw. Bina would continue with track and field for the next few years.4

Helen Bina entered Lake View High School in the fall of 1925 not far from her North Side home. In her high school years she was a spirited popular girl, elected to many leadership positions, and avidly participated in athletics. Notwithstanding her stocky build, with hair often cut short like a boy that probably made her stand out as being different, she appeared to be accepted by her fellow students. Her activities included girls’ fencing team, life saving, GAA Board, Special Dancing, Senior Games, Girl Scouts, and Orchestra. Her leadership activities included GAA president, Girls’ Leader Group, and Senior Council. While Bina was participating in a full platter of sports and activities, she was rising in the skating world, competing in the highest level of her sport, at the various ice derbies held each winter throughout the Chicago area.5

After graduating from Lake View High in June, and after the summer, Bina entered Chicago Normal College to obtain a teaching degree in physical education. As in high school she energetically engaged in many activities and sports. In the school’s 1930 yearbook, which covered all students freshmen through seniors, by her photo, the yearbook said, “Helen Bina (‘Beans’), her versatile activities speak for themselves.” Among the versatile activities Bina engaged in was golf, in which as a freshman she took second in the school tournament.6

The winter 1929 skating season, while Bina was a senior at Lake View High School, was her breakthrough year as a top female speed skater in Chicago. Still racing for her Le Moyne Playground she won the first two derbies she participated in that year–at the P. J. Moynihan Skating Club meet she won 880 yard race and at the Sleipner Ice Derby won the Class B 880 yard race. The next two races she took a second and a third, before winning her third derby event for the year, the City Playgrounds championship, winning the 440 yard in record time. But it was her next meet, the Silver Skates, where Bina proved herself as belonging with the best female skaters in Chicago. In the Girls’ Senior Derby one mile, Bina was in the lead from the start and held it until next to the last lap before Elizabeth Du Bois passed her for victory.7

Bina’s status was confirmed at the Western Skating Association (WSA) championships when she won the women’s title based on point totals from two events, in which she won the 220 yard. Bina took third in the 880 yard, behind Elizabeth Du Bois and Lois Littlejohn, which showed that Bina was still not fully competitive in longer races. The newspaper reporter on the WSA meet, noted that Bina was the first skater from a playground team to win the women’s title. The last meet of the season, Bina topped her year by beating Du Bois in the 440 yard at another WSA meet. Of the nine derbies Bina competed in during the year, she won races in five of them, albeit two of them Class B events.8

In the 1930 season, Helen Bina, later in her career than some of her skating colleagues, left her playground team to join a private skating club, the Charles V. Barrett Athletic Club, sponsored by a local politician. Her recruitment as well as the recruitment of Marie Pierce by the Barrett A. C. was part of the club’s effort to build a top competitive club. Early in the skating season, at the Gubbins Skate Derby, she provided some points for the winning Barrett team by winning the Intermediate Girls class 220 yard. Bina and Pierce provided points to her Barrett team, which won the Opal Athletic Association derby, with Bina’s first in the 880 yard and second in the 220 yard (while Pierce took second and first respectively in the two events). Bina and Pierce continued throughout the season competing one-two, sometimes in reverse order.9

The Silver Skates meet near the end of January capped Bina’s skating career in Chicago, when before 60,000 onlookers she won the Girls’ Senior Derby mile in “comparatively easy fashion,” according to the Chicago Tribune ‘s Walter Eckersall. She beat her teammate Marie Pierce. Other victories during the season was her 880 yard event at the Central States meet and the 220 yard and 880 yard at the Western Skating Association championship. Bina at the end of the season had established herself at the top of the Chicago skating world, alongside Elizabeth Du Bois and Lois Littlejohn.11

Although Bina left her Le Moyne Playground in skating, she continued to dabble in track and field with her playground team. In the summer of 1930 she competed in the huge Central AAU outdoor meet, sponsored by the Chicago American. There she took a surprising second in discus throw, behind Evelyn Ferrara and ahead of the great Catherine Rutherford. Both throwers belonged to the Illinois Women’s Athletic Club, home to all the elite track and field competitors in Chicago.12

To explain concept in text

Helen Bina, 1932

The 1931 skating season Bina did not quite have a skating year as she did the previous two years. The first meet of the season for her, the Sleipner Ice Derby, found her losing the 880 yard to Elizabeth Du Bois. At the Western Skating Association-sanctioned meet in Elgin, Bina again took the women’s title, called Illinois Championship, with the highest point totals, winning the 880 yard, but taking second to rival Du Bois in the 220 yard. Other wins that season for Bina were the Walton Arrows Ice Derby and the Opal Athletic Association indoor meet. At the North American Indoor championships held at Chicago Stadium, Bina took second in the three-quarter mile and third in the 880 yard. Neither event was won by any Chicago racer.13

Helen Bina had one of his greatest years in 1932, when she captured the women’s United States championship. In Chicago, a mild winter prevented competition through much of the skating season.  However, in late January, she was able to compete in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, in the National outdoor speed skating title. Bina won the women’s title on a point total of competing in three events, an achievement that surely marks the apex of her career. She beat out Kit Klein from Buffalo, a future hall of fame speed skater, followed by Dorothy Franey of St. Paul, Minnesota, and her Chicago colleague, Elizabeth Du Bois, in fourth. Bina won the 1,000 meters, while Klein won the 1,500 meters, and Du Bois won the 500 meters. Because after the three events, Bina was tied with Klein in total points, the following day the two competed in a tie-breaking race, at 1,000 meters. Bina won that race, which not only made her national champion but her selection as captain of the United States Olympic team. A couple of days later Bina was feted by her local church, St. Andrew’s Parish, to honor her achievement.14

At St. Louis, at the end of January, where at the city’s annual ice carnival, she won two events 440 yard and 880 yard, but took second to a St. Louis woman in the one-sixth of a mile race. A week later. at an indoor national meet in St Louis, Bina did not win any of the three events, and finished far behind in the point totals for the women’s title behind Dorothy Franey and Kit Klein. A week later, Bina was at Lake Placid, with the United States team competing against Canada in the Olympic contest that conducted as a demonstration. She did not do well, taking sixth in the 500 meters and more credibly a third in the 1,500 meters. Her Chicago rival, Elizabeth Du Bois, went home with a first in the 1,000 meters.15

Bina final season in amateur speed skating began in December 1932 with a challenge to her biggest Chicago rival Elizabeth Du Bois for a exhibition race in the Chicago Stadium, in the 1,000 meter event, which was the event at the Olympics that Du Bois beat Bina in. The race did not happen, but Bina raced the 1,000 meter alone in an exhibition. In the competition, she won the 440 yard event. In the annual St. Louis ice carnival, in January 1933, Bina was triumphant over local St. Louis competition, winning all the events. But Bina competed in few derbies in 1933, partly because it was a mild winter, like the previous year. She did not qualify for the National outdoor championship in Oconomowoc, the two Chicagoan women competitors were Elizabeth Du Bois and Mable Swanson.16

Bina spent much of February in Europe competing in various speed skating events throughout Scandinavia. The announcement of her European tour in January elicited local newspaper reports, which still treated Bina as a premier skating star, always mentioning that she had “captained the women’s Olympic skating team” the previous year. In early February, in Oslo, Norway, Bina most laudably took third at the World Allround Championships, not taking first in any of the three events, 500, 1,000, and 1,500 meters. At another meet in late February, in Helsinki, Finland, at another international competition, in the “allround” title she took second, and won one of the three races, the 500 meters. The victory produced the Chicago Tribune‘s only story on Bina’s racing tour. The last race of her career came the next day, on February 26, when she competed in the 1,500 meters. Thereafter she appeared only in exhibitions.17

Sometime in the mid-1930s, Bina graduated from Chicago Teachers College, and obtained a job as a physical education teacher in the Chicago Public Schools system. In December 1936, Bina asked the Western Skating Association for reinstatement as an amateur, but the association refused her request. The grounds the Chicago Tribune stated was that she was a physical education teacher in the Chicago Public School system, “which automatically made her a professional.”18

Bina who was always an inveterate athlete was able to find satisfaction in November 1938 when she joined the Midwest team in a national professional field hockey league, with teams representing different sections of the country. Bina played the crucial position of goalkeeper. Bina continued with the sport, competing with the Chicago Field Hockey Association up through 1940, at least. During this period, she also competed in badminton tournaments. The 1940 census, Helen Bina was living with her retired parents and her sister Gertrude, who like Helen was employed as a teacher. Both sisters were unmarried and remain unmarried all their lives. Bina returned to her high school to teach physical education at Lake View High, from 1944 to 1949, and then taught at other schools in the Chicago Public School system eventually becoming an assistant principal.19

As the years stretched further and further away from Bina’s many triumphs during the early 1930s, her legacy in speedskating increasingly was being forgotten. Her first recognition in her post-sports career was not in speedskating but in field hockey. In 1952 she was elected to the USA Field Hockey Hall of Fame as an Honorary Member, a class of membership based more on long-time service to field hockey rather than sports achievement. In 1959, the Amateur Speedskating Union founded the ASU Hall of Fame, but Bina was never elected, not meeting certain requirements such as winning two national championships. Bina had won only one.20

Helen Bina spent the last decade of her life in a residential home, St. Joseph’s Home for the Elderly, in Palatine. There she continued with her leadership abilities, serving as treasurer of the St. Joseph’s Auxiliary. She died on March 15, 1983, but unfortunately her death was either ignored or only briefly noticed by the local newspapers, so her historical legacy as one of the nationally and internationally great speedskaters from Chicago went essentially un-memorialized.21

Notes

1. Fourteenth Census of the United States: 1920–Population, Bureau of the Census, Illinois, Cook County, Chicago, Ward 23, Enumeration District 1329, Sheet 8A (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992); “Helen Bina, 19 May 1912, Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States, reference/certificate 215730, Illinois , Cook County , Birth Certificates, 1871-1940, Cook County Clerk, Cook County Courthouse, Chicago, 1943.

2. Walter Eckersall, “50,000 See Reed Win Silver Skates,” Chicago Tribune, 25 January 1926; Walter Eckersall, “Robinson Wins Silver Skates Derby,” Chicago Tribune, 24 January 1927;

3. “Barrett Skaters Win Sleipner Derby,” Chicago Tribune, 6 January 1928; Walter Eckersall, “Detroit Entrant Wins Silver Skates,” Chicago Tribune, 23 January 1928; “Henry Skaters Win 5th Annual Municipal Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 29 January 1928; “Nelson Victor in Illinois Ice Title Tourney,” Chicago Tribune, 30 January 1928.

4.  Virginia Farrar, “Girls’ Olympic Goes to Cornell Square,” Chicago Daily News, 27 September 1926;   Virginia Farrar, “Cornell Square Successfully Defends Women’s Olympic Title,” Chicago Daily News, 30 May 1927; Virginia Farrar, “Cornell Square Wins Track Meet,” Chicago Daily News, 11 June 1929.

5.  The Red & White Annual, 1928 (Chicago: Lake View High School, 1928), 164-67; The Red & White Annual, 1929 (Chicago: Lake View High School, 1929), 34, 98, 103-04.

 6.  Emblem 1930 (Chicago: Chicago Normal College, 1930), no page numbers.

7.  “Wandra Takes Tri-State Ice Skating Title,” Chicago Tribune¸7 January 1929; “Farrell Leads Opal A. A. to Skate Victory,” Chicago Tribune, 11 January 1929; “Farrell Wins State Skate Speed Title,” Chicago Tribune, 14 January 1929; “Skaters Clip Two Western Records in Amphion Derby,” Chicago Tribune, 21 January 1929; “Avondale Team Captures City Skating Title,”  Chicago Tribune,  24 January 1929; Walter Eckersall, “Murphy Wins Senior Silver Skates Derby,” Chicago Tribune, 28 January 1929.

8.  “Oneil Farell (sic) Wins Western Skating Title,” Chicago Tribune, 11 February 1929; “Silver Skates Winners Shine at Open Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 18 February 1929.

9.  “Barrett A. C. Wins Gubbins Skate Derby,” Chicago Tribune, 6 January 1930; “Conroy Skates to State Title at Opal Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 20 January 1930.

10. Walter Eckersall, “William Minster Wins Silver Skates,” Chicago Tribune, 27 January 1930; “Murphy Annexes Central States Skating Crown,” Chicago Tribune, 2 February 1930; Oneil (sic) Farrell Wins Western Skating Crown,” Chicago Tribune, 3 February 1930.

11.  Leo Fischer, “Seven New Records Hung Up In Women’s Track Meet,” Chicago American. 20 July 1936.

12.  Stack Wins Sleipner A. C. Skate Derby,” Chicago Tribune, 2 January 1931; “Stack Retains Illinois Skate Title at Elgin,” Chicago Tribune, 19 January 1931;”Eddie Schroeder Wins 3 Races at Walton Derby, Chicago Tribune, 19 February 1931; “Studl Breaks Ice Skating Record, Then Loses,” Chicago Tribune, 28 February 1931; “Walton Arrows Capture Opal A. A. Skate Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 2 March 1931.

13.  Charles Nevada, “Helen Bina Sets World Mark in U. S. Skate Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 24 January 1932; Charles Nevada, “Four Chicagoans Take National Skating Titles,” Chicago Tribune, 25 January 1932; “St. Andrew’s Parish to Honor Helen Bina Tonight,” Chicago Tribune, 27 January 1932;

14. “Helen Bina is 2d in St. Louis Skate Carnival,” Chicago Tribune, 1 February 1932; “Alex Hurd Is Skate Victor at St. Louis,” Chicago Tribune, Chicago Tribune, 7 March 1932; George M. Lattimer, compiler, Official Report III Olympic Winter Games Lake Placid 1932 ( Lake Placid, NY: III Olympic Winter Games Committee, 1932), 259-62.

15. “Helen Bina Seeks Match Race with Elizabeth Dubois (sic),” Chicago Tribune,” 13 December 1932; “Schroeder Is Victor in Two Match Races,” Chicago Tribune, 21 December 1932; “Helen Bina and Stundl Capture Skating Titles,” Chicago Tribune, 16 January 1933; Charles Nevada, “Kit Klein and Johnson Take Skate Titles,” Chicago Tribune, 30 January 1933.

17. “To Seek World Title in Norway,” Chicago Tribune, 18 January 1933;   “Helen Bina Sets New Record in Finnish Skating,” Chicago Tribune, 26 February 1933; “Athletic Data of Helen Bina,” SpeedskatingNews [.info], SpeedskatingNews.info [https://www.speedskatingnews.info/en/data/skater/helen-bina/], 2018.

18.  “Skating Group Approves Dates for Ice Races,” Chicago Tribune, 15 December 1936.

19.  “Midwest Field Hocky (sic) Squad Triumphs, 4 to 1,” Chicago Tribune, 25 November 1938; “Mrs. Markt Wins First Match in Badminton Play,” Chicago Tribune, 3 February 1939; “Field Hockey Teams Picked for Two Games,” Chicago Tribune, 17 October 1940; Sixteenth Census of the United States: 1940 Population Schedule, Bureau of the Census, Illinois Cook County, River Forest, Enumeration District 103-2971, Sheet 18B {Washington, DC, National Archives and Records Administration, 2012); Red and White 1945, (Chicago: Lake View High School, 1945), unpaginated; Red and White 1949, (Chicago: Lake View High School, 1949), 42, 46,

20.  Speed Skating Handbook 2000 2001. Winfield, IL: Amateur Speedskating Union of the United States, 2000, pp. 120-121; “USA Field Hockey Honorary Members,” USA Field Hockey, 2018 [https://www.teamusa.org/USA-Field-Hockey/TEAM-USA/HALL-OF-FAME/Honorary-Membership-Inductees]; “Honorary Membership Qualifications,” USA Field Hockey, 2018 [https://www.teamusa.org/USA-Field-Hockey/TEAM-USA/HALL-OF-FAME/Honorary-Membership-Selection].

21.  “St. Joseph’s Auxiliary,” The Herald, 19 March 1974; “Death Notices,” Chicago Tribune, 17 March 1983; “Obituaries,” Daily Herald, 17 March 1983.

 

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