April 19, 2001

All You Wanted to Know About Crew

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Like a polka dot tuxedo, rowing is very unique.

Three aspects of crew make it more unique from any other collegiate sport. The first thing that is special is the availability for the competitors themselves to ante up by “betting” their shirts before a race.

In other words, people “wager” betting shirts before races and the winner earns the pile of chips or in this case the shirt off the other guy’s back. Unfortunately, only the men’s teams get to “bet” with shirts since the women’s team falls under the watchful eyes of the NCAA. The men belong to a sports foundation that is older than the NCAA itself, and thus is separate in some respects from its bylaws.

Nonetheless, obtaining these betting shirts do not act as the main goal for these waterlovers.

“They act more as a reminder of victory versus posing as an inspiration to win,” said junior Jon Zelken.

He continued to say that he “travels down to race sites for the pure pursuit of victory.”

Men of class they are indeed, but does that mean that they lay down dead to save face for others to win?

Junior Doug MacLean remarked emphatically, “No way. Getting shirts are nice, but it’s all about respect and crushing your opponents’ will.”

The Eagles are all about crew when they said that “you can’t hide your lying eyes.”

“One of the best feelings is after the race, when your opponent has to look you in the eye while giving you the shirt off his back with his empty, demoralized eyes,” added MacLean.

Just stop and think for a second what it is exactly these guys do after a win. They strip away their opponents’ chance for a victory and then they strip them of their clothes, so that they go home naked and ashamed. Wow.

Who on this campus is potentially the most lazy and unathletic person on campus and still garners the title of “varsity athlete” and still manages to style Teagle gear?

The coxswain.

This is the second characteristic of rowing that makes it unique from any other sport. When I tell people that I am a coxswain, they usually say, “Oh you are the little guy who yells at the rowers right?”

I respond by saying, “Yes, but…”

“I bet you yell out stroke, stroke, stroke and stuff, huh?”

Freshman Vicki Liang said, “We are the coach within the boat. I plan out the strategy for the race and motivate them to push beyond their physical limits.”

In Napoleonesque style, the coxswain is at the helm of a boat that is worth more then a nice beamer, and has some precious cargo. This includes eight sons or daughters.

“I have a big responsibility to keep them safe,” said Liang.

The last thing that separates crew from other sports is the availability of a freshman team.

When you get the chance to walk by the display case at the Bartels Field House by Newman Arena, take a peak at its contents. You’ll find footballs with scores on them featuring victories that our freshman football team had in years past. In a previous era, collegiate sports prohibited the usage of freshman on varsity squads.

Gone is that rule, but rowing remains as the only sport to still uphold this connection to the good old days. This is totally in the classic old school, old money motif of rowing.

“It is a good thing that we are separate from the varsity team in that we are a sport comprised mostly of walk-ons and this allows for the freshman to grow together in a relatively low pressure environment,” said freshman Per Ostman.

Those few who did get a chance to row in high school still enjoy competing with the walk-ons. Sometimes these rookies help to bring a positive energy to sometimes ho-hum practices.

Freshman Amelia Siani said, “The walk-ons bring new enthusiasm to those who may have rowed before.”

Ostman continued, “Sometimes we get fired up and end up running head first into a brick wall, but we grow together as a group and learn a lot about ourselves in the process.”

Freshman Nathan Chambers commented, “Unlike other sports on campus where the team members have played many years in their respective sports before coming to Cornell, crew sets the novices back to a younger age.”

Those who are looking for youth have to look no further than rowing.

Frustrated too you say?

“It is good to get off campus and have an energy outlet and get out any school-related frustrations,” concluded Siani.

So when you are looking for a good way to release your stress from the routine they call Cornell, hop up to a high place where you can get a clear view of Cayuga Lake. On Wednesday afternoons, you can live vicariously through the rowers as they have their intrasquad races out in the middle of the lake.

Forget time machines. If you sit on the lake long enough, you might be able to hear old Cornell coach Charles Courtney instructing those men of honor long ago as you look back atop a quiet East Hill.

Archived article by Donald Lee