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Crew Pulls in New Direction

By Elizabeth Walker

For a varsity sport that has traditionally existed somewhere outside the “box” of college athletics, crew programs on today’s campuses are definitely pulling in a new direction. The level of competition has ratcheted up in recent years as well, as schools have taken on full-time coaching staffs that also recruit and raise funds for their teams. Student participation in college programs is on the rise, as well; a statistic confirmed on The Hill by the more than 100 men and women rowing for Holy Cross—about 4 percent of the student body.

While Holy Cross established its crew program in 1965, regattas have been very visible on Lake Quinsigamond since the1880s. Traditionally a private school sport at the secondary level, crew’s profile has been raised in recent years among public high school students exposed to the sport through camps and programs sponsored by colleges and independent rowing clubs. Also, greater numbers of women are finding a place in the sport. Added to this mix of new demands on varsity crew’s human and financial resources are the rising costs of remaining competitive. Boats and electronics (speaker and stroke rating systems) need to be replaced at regular intervals with three years considered the average racing life of a shell. Given these increased external pressures on the Holy Cross crew program, the men and women who row are fortunate to have more than their coxswains looking ahead.

The strong support for Holy Cross crew is abundantly evident each Saturday at the races on nearby Lake Quinsigamond. Parents, alumni rowers and friends of the racers and the program itself turn out to cheer the team on and provide a bountiful spread of sustenance at the handsome boathouse facility (with bays) provided to area programs by the Quinsigamond Rowing Association in Shrewsbury. Strong support exists on campus as well.

“It has become clear to me in the 20 months I have been here, what a valuable asset we have in the crew program,” said Athletic Director Dick Regan ’76. “We have a great venue on Lake Quinsigamond and excellent facilities, including the practice tanks in the Hart Center. I’ve also been impressed with the quality of our coaches and the high academic caliber of the students who participate. This is a program we want to emphasize and we’re committed to taking it to a higher level in the coming years.”

Taking the crew program to that higher level and providing the resources to ensure it stays there is the next step for this successful program. In its litany of accomplishments, crew counts nine gold medals in the New England Rowing Championships in the past decade, men’s bronze and women’s gold medals at the prestigious Head of the Charles Regatta, and a national championship gold and an overall third-place finish in the 1999 Champion International Regatta. Added to that are more than 100 students, including Dana, Watson and Fulbright scholars again this year; 500-plus highly successful alumni rowers, and the support and generosity of those alumni, along with parents and friends. Many of those supporters have bought racing shells in the past or made vehicles available for transporting boats and other equipment.

This year, a new plan designed to provide ongoing funds for scheduled equipment replacement and full-time coaching positions has resulted in two major endowment gifts from a crew alumnus and from the parents of a Class of 1999 champion rower. Part-time coaches Thomas Sullivan ’70 and Patrick Diggins ’86, both Worcester businessmen, put together the plan “to elevate this program to compete with and be measured against the best colleges in the country.”

“Basically, we’re trying to fund-raise ourselves out of a job,” said Sullivan, who has been involved with crew at Holy Cross for more than three decades, first as a member of the team, which he co-captained in his senior year. After law school, he returned to campus to coach. “We’re very competitive at our level and we’ve had nice success, but there’s a level above us, Sullivan said. “One of the things that holds us back is the lack of full-time coaching. Ron Perry (’54) and Dick Regan have been very supportive, but without full-time coaches, we can’t recruit; we can only react.”

To step up to the next level of competition, the program must have the resources to replace boats on a regular basis and to hire full-time coaches, according to Diggins. “We have 10 boats, so we’re at capacity, though some of those boats are 10 years old and must be replaced,” he said. “But we’re looking at more than just equipment. At the Champion International Collegiate Regatta last year, our national championship event, the women finished second overall and our men’s and women’s team overall finished third out of 40 schools. Yet among the schools we compete against, we are one of two programs without full-time coaches. What we want to do is build on a program that is very successful at one level, but ready to move up.”

To take that step and stay there, the plan calls on alumni and friends of crew to help “build a solid foundation for the program by ensuring adequate capital for equipment in the future” and help provide support for full-time coaching positions.



Women's Crew


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