You can't live on
promises," says Coach Fil Leanderson of the University of Washington,
"and you can't live on history. It's what you're doing right now that
As far as
Leanderson and 12 other of the nation's top rowing coaches are concerned, right
now means this Saturday, when all their crews will compete in the single
biggest rowing event of the year, the Intercollegiate Rowing Association
championship on New York's Onondaga Lake. With history and promises both
pulling pretty strongly for them, Leanderson's largely sophomore Huskies are
entering that race fully confident that they'll win—and there is at least a
fair chance that they will.
There is at the
same time at least a fair chance that any one of a number of other crews will
do the same thing in this punishing three-mile race which is at once the first
and the final meeting of its kind in the season. This is the race for which all
of them have been pointing; this is the race all of them want to win. Navy, as
perennially potent a threat on collegiate lakes and rivers as it is on the
global high seas, could pull clear of the snags and crabs that have been
dogging it all season and realize at last the promise of its potential.
Cornell's Big Red, newly uniformed for battle in shirts that reflect its
nickname (see cover), might at last find a way to shake off Joe Burke's
high-stroking Pennsylvanians, who have cheated it of victory in cliffhanger
finishes every time the two have met. Perm's own chances look good, provided it
can sustain over the long pull the unbelievably high beats (36 to 40 strokes
per minute) that it has used to win and tie shorter races.
quantities as measured against any of these eastern crews are the big threats
from the West: Washington's cocky Huskies and California's determined Golden
Bears, the defending champions. The Bears will be aiming for their third
straight IRA win.
As seasons go,
this has been a mediocre one for California, but every year actually is a big
one for this school, which launched its first crew in 1870, a year after the
college was founded. In and around the campus at Berkeley there is no great
concern over defeats that occurred earlier in the season. The big race is still
to be rowed, and if the crew is not on top of it this year, the feeling goes,
it certainly will be by next. Year after year California's eager-beaver coach,
Jim Lemmon, works patiently to that end.
The soft sell
Few if any
intercollegiate sports have less promising raw material to work with than crew,
particularly in the West. Like his famed predecessor, Ky Ebright, California's
Lemmon starts sifting the ore the moment it is dumped on campus. On the day
college opens and the freshmen arrive, Lemmon ships his freshman coach, Stan
Shawl, and a platoon of knowing crewmen off to the registration line with a
piece of chalk and a notebook. They put a mark on the wall six feet above the
floor, then collar anybody who measures up to it. "These kids are nervous
about starting college and tired of standing in line," says Lemmon, "so
we have to be tactful. After all, this is a sales proposition." The pitch
is soft sell: How tall are you? How much do you weigh? Are you going out for
another sport? And if not, why not crew?
Lemmon's bird dogs
keep hands off boys who are prepackaged for another Cal sport.
"Sometimes," says the coach, "a kid will say he's going out for
basketball or football, and by the way he talks we know they're counting on
him. But quite often he'll say, 'Yeah, I'm going out for basketball.' I'll ask
him where he played and he'll give some little high school. First string? 'No,
third." Has he talked to the basketball coaches yet? 'Well, no, not yet.'
You know very well he's not going to play basketball here, so you start talking
up crew.'' Occasionally Lemmon tips off the basketball people on exceptionally
tall boys who pass through the line. In fact, he spotted a tall kid named
Darrall Imhoff a few years ago and referred him to Pete Newell, then basketball
coach and now athletic director. Imhoff became an All-America center.
Raw material in
hand, Jim Lemmon sets quickly to work. The day after registration, he signs the
new men up, issues them sweat clothes and takes them on a tour of the Ky
Ebright boathouse to let them soak up some tradition. "I want them to see
what they're pointing for." There is plenty to see: pictures of the
Olympians and other Cal champions, crew shirts gathered from the vanquished,
scrapbooks full of past glories and, of course, the shells themselves. Says
Lemmon fondly: "Their eyes are like saucers the first time they see those
big old eights."
Next day the
freshmen get their first taste of rowing. In a big scow, eight men to a side,
they chop at the water with the unfamiliar oars while Lemmon—like an ancient
galley master—paces between the rows, issuing instructions. "The first
stroke is the worst one you'll ever take, I tell them. It certainly is the
worst-looking. But the scow is a fine place to learn basic form. It doesn't tip
or roll, and you can teach lots of boys at once. They spend their first two
weeks in the scow, putting in 20 to 30 minutes a day there and 10 to 15
learning the stroke on shore. Then I put them out gradually into a shell.
That's an experience." In the slim, tipsy shells progress is painfully
slow. Yet by the end of the eight-week fall workout the boys can go through the
motions of rowing. More important, they can move the boats, so Lemmon holds a
race. "We get six or seven crews out there, and it's a riot. They get so
excited you'd think it was the Olympics. They jump seats, catch crabs and bump
into each other." Somehow, somebody crosses the finish line. Lemmon's first
reaction, as he surveys his freshman lineup, is always, "My God, I'll have
to race with these guys?" "But then," he says, "I remember that
they've improved from zero knowledge to a point where they can compete—in just
two months. That's fantastic."