The storm gathered
on Tuesday, April 9, 1968, when the university officially shut down to honor
Martin Luther King. SDS leader Mark Rudd led a walkout from the memorial
service, which he charged was obscenely hypocritical in the light of the
university's policies. The funny thing was that the crew season was unwinding
contemporaneously with these political developments. Crew seized upon the
suspension of classes to row a double practice.
headline of the April 22, 1968 Columbia Spectator reads: "SDS Plans March
into Low Library Tomorrow at Noon—Confrontation Is Planned by Anti-Leftist
Group." The sports page counters, "Quaker Crew Wins Childs Cup with
Record Time on Harlem—Penn Routs Tigers; Columbia Is Last. Lightweights Lose to
Penn, Yale." Four other Columbia sports losses are also noted.
The front page of
April 29 reads: "List of Six Proposals by Ad Hoc Faculty Panel Apparently
Rejected by Administration, Strikers—Majority Coalition Blockades Low—Police
Action Unlikely Today." Meanwhile, back on page 8, "Heavies Bow to
Penn, Yale. Lightweights Lose to Cornell." The crew article continues
alongside a story about a wedding ceremony that was held for a couple in an
occupied building. "Children of the new age" they are called.
That was the last
mention of athletics in the Spectator for two weeks, for page 1 of April 30 was
headlined: "University Calls in Police to End Demonstration as Nearly 700
Are Arrested and 100 Injured."
Anyone involved in
politics had no time for athletics. Unfortunately, the reverse was not also
true. The coach of the heavyweight crew was one William Stowe and he is really
good at crew, very good, but he also decided that it would be the least he
could do for Columbia to lead the cops into occupied Hamilton Hall and aid the
police in any way he could.
His service to the
men in blue was so zealous that he—despite the obscurity in which his sport was
languishing—became quite well-known and was duly interviewed by The New York
Times. He referred to the demonstrators as "those cruddy, weirdo
slobs," referred to himself as an "apple-pie American" and added
that he could not understand the criticism he was getting for holding double
practice on the day of mourning for Martin Luther King. "The kids had
nothing to do that day," he said, "and if I got killed I'd want
everything to go on normally."
last in six of the seven races it entered in the Eastern Sprints.
"We felt a
responsibility to the university and to the coach, Bill Stowe," said the
captain of the heavyweights. "None of us had very much sympathy for those
who were striking on campus."
Fine and good for
the captain. But there is also extant a university athletic organization of
markedly different character, the Columbia lightweight crew. According to
regulations, to be a lightweight one must be able to step on a scale the day of
a race and not tip it above 155 pounds. According to tradition one should be
reasonably intelligent, not naturally athletic, at a loss for an explanation
for why one is out for crew and at the short end of the visible light spectrum
politically. That is to say, lightweights are cruddy, weirdo slobs. During the
strike of '68 they considered themselves to be rowing for themselves, not for
the university, and kicked around the idea of not rowing, or rowing without
shirts or rowing with black armbands to protest the police bust. Things being
the way they are, what keeps people like this out for the sport?
apparently. The Class of '70 turned out 48 lightweights for the first freshman
practice in 1966. In this spring of 1969, as juniors, three of them remain on