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Man with Several Oars in the Water
Kent Black
May 06, 1991
The crew coach at Orange Coast College reports directly to the school's president, since he is the school's president
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May 06, 1991

Man With Several Oars In The Water

The crew coach at Orange Coast College reports directly to the school's president, since he is the school's president

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Grant took his new insights back to California and began to build a program. He faced handicaps. Unlike many four-year schools, Orange Coast budgeted a negligible amount of money for things as inconsequential as, say, a rowing team. Grant initiated fund-raising efforts that continue to the present day. Whenever the Pirates do well enough to earn an invitation to Henley, for instance, the oarsmen put together garage sales at the boathouse or deliver telephone books door-to-door for the phone company in order to partially underwrite the trip.

Recruiting was another stumbling block. Most top high school rowers wanted to compete for the traditional crew powers. Therefore, every year's Orange Coast crew was inexperienced; Grant had to mold his rowers, and quickly. "If there is one main feature of our program, it's intensity," he says. "We have two years to do what other schools attempt in four. We're lucky though, because kids here seem to have a natural feel for the sport. They grow up swimming and sailing, and they are generally well-fed, well-housed and outdoor-oriented. I'm blessed with some exceptional raw material."

Lots of it. Each fall, Grant ends up with as many as 60 enthusiastic athletes who fill several eight-man boats, a couple of fours and many single sculls. He loses no time in putting the novices through their paces. Workouts start at six in the morning with exercises at the boathouse, followed by 90 minutes on the water. As they stroke their way to Lido Channel, the oarsmen are often halted by Grant, who is a stickler for form. "We start and end with technique," he says. "If I see something I don't like, we stop and I correct it. Sometimes it means we get only a couple of yards at a time. After a while, the guys get used to the process, the idea of working step-by-step toward an ideal. It's as Robert Louis Stevenson said: 'To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.'

"I try to teach these kids that you can be powerful physically and still not be a good rower. Mental power and discipline are the keys not only to being a good oarsman, but to being a success in whatever is undertaken. I want them to come back in 20 years staunch of appearance, with good incomes, good health and strong memories of a youth spent with friends."

"There's something special about the Orange Coast crew that goes beyond its success on the water," says former Stanford coach Ken Dreyfus. "Grant's more than a coach. He's the team's father, friend and adviser. He's a man of high character who imparts it to his students."

"Most of the guys who come here are just trying to figure out what to do for a couple of years," says last year's coxswain, Steve Morris. "None of them are thinking about universities. But Dave doesn't accept that. Every single person ends up going on to a school like Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA or Washington."

One who went to Washington last fall, Kyle Enger of Seattle, says, "Dave convinces you that anything is possible."

A technique that Grant—who served as assistant coach of the 1984 U.S. Olympic team—uses toward that end is showing his athletes films of the alltime great races. Last June, when his jayvee eight was preparing for the Henley Prize race, Grant followed each morning workout with a film session in the lecture room above the boathouse. He offered stirring commentary as the images flickered: "A couple of years ago, the Harvard jayvees were behind our eights in a race. Still, they managed to win. How? The coxswain said two words to his oarsmen: 'We're Harvard.' Next time you're out there, I want you to say three words: 'We're Orange Coast!' "

It didn't work. A week later, Trinity College of Dublin won the race.

That loss notwithstanding, the year-after-year success of the Pirates has produced a ground swell of local support for the crew program. On regatta days, Maruja Baldwin, who lives just across the bay from the boathouse, hangs a huge GO COAST GO! banner from her second-floor balcony. "David introduces these young men around the community, and of course you have your favorites," she says. "But I try to keep a pot of chili con came ready for all of them."

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