AUBURN – Revelers arriving early enough for the social hour leading up to tonight’s Maine Ski Hall of Fame induction at Lost Valley will have a chance to witness a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Norm Cummings can promise you that the occasion will never be repeated. That’s because he was a participant, and he remembers that the demonstration went over like well, like you might expect it to go over if you tried to simulate ski jumping indoors.

The Auburn native’s first brush with television fame came on a Christmas edition of “The Ed Sullivan Show” in December 1957.

“Sullivan’s director had this idea. All I could think of was ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ as we were climbing up into the rafters,” Cummings said. “We started up in the rafters and came down on a slide made of chicken wire and fiberglass. You couldn’t call it a ski jump.”

Cummings never saw a ski jump he wouldn’t try and never backed down from an opportunity to advance his sport. For his many achievements as a competitor and contributor, Cummings will be one of 10 men enshrined at the fourth-annual Maine Ski Hall of Fame ceremonies.

Filmed evidence of the Sullivan debacle survived much longer than the homemade materials that made it happen.

Cummings’ daughter, Allison Melangton, is senior vice president for special projects with Indiana Sports Corp.and an Emmy-winning associate producer of NBC’s Olympic gymnastics coverage. Decades after her dad’s daring TV debut, Melangton connected with someone who was able to provide Cummings with a copy of the tape.

The Hall of Fame committee borrowed it from Cummings and plans to air it during tonight’s meet-and-greet period.

“They selected 10 jumpers from all around the country for the appearance. Some appearance! But the rest of the show is all there, also, and it’s really fascinating,” Cummings said. “You get to see all the girls and all the actors who were part of it.”

Cummings made three national TV appearances in all. He was recruited for what was billed as a first-of-its-kind nighttime jump on a show hosted by newsman John Cameron Swayze, although Cummings had ample experience practicing such jumps under the stars near his boyhood home. He also jumped live on the “Arthur Godfrey Time” morning show.

Those variety shows and their once-famous hosts have faded into the history books, and ski jumping in the United States has transformed into a niche sport for the elite. Today, anyone aspiring to make the U.S. Olympic Team as a ski jumper must relocate to Lake Placid, N.Y., or Steamboat Springs, Colo., as a child.

Cummings was more of a self-made jumper, cultivating his talent up the street at Pettengill Hill and on mountainsides in Rumford, Laconia, N.H., Berlin, N.H., and Brattleboro, Vt.

As technology made it easier for cross-country trails and mountains to groom their layouts, the inconvenient cousin to those winter endeavors was shuffled to the back burner. High schools and colleges have scrapped ski jumping altogether.

“They used the excuse that the schools didn’t want to pay for the insurance, but the real reason is they just didn’t want it. Everything else became so mechanized. With the ski jumps, you had to get out these big boards and groom the hill. There was no other way to do it,” Cummings said. “Now the kids have to leave home at an early age, go to school and learn to ski jump. You had all these fantastic hills around here. I’ve been on them a million times. No more. It’s too bad.”

Jumping was only part of Cummings’ repertoire at Edward Little High School, where he won more Class A and B ski jumping titles than any competitor in history. Cummings moved on to a prep school in Vermont, where his versatility earned him an Eastern prep school downhill championship in 1952-53.

Next stop was Middlebury College in Vermont, where the coach approved Cummings’ request to specialize in the ski jump. That decision accelerated his development into one of the best ski jumpers in the nation.

“We had the biggest collegiate jump in the country,” Cummings said, “which became my baby.”

An NCAA regional champion and All-American, Cummings was invited to two Olympic trials, the first in Iron Mountain, Mich., as a Middlebury junior in 1956.

“I was in the top 10, but you had to get into the first six. I didn’t quite squeeze in, but that’s the way it is. We really had great competition back then,” Cummings said. “It was a 100-meter hill. I knew damn well I wasn’t going to make it. I was right there, but not quite there.”

Cummings continued to teach high school jumpers until the sport went out of vogue in Maine.

“I have no regrets,” he said.

Not even his infamous aerial tour of the Ed Sullivan Theater.


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