This is a bit out of date, but I always appreciate hear about how others got into and develop in the sport. Maybe you will too. Eventually I’ll fill in the most recent years.
All info is on this page. These links just get you there directly.
My Highschool Crew Years- 1985-’87
Birth of a Coach: W-L Crew- 1988-’92
A Head Coach is born, kinda- Wakefield Hs. Crew 1993
OK, I need a break, well, maybe not- Holton-Arms School Crew 1994
You need a Team Developed? Who ya gonna call?!- Gonzaga College Hs. Crew 1995-’98 Under Construction
Time for a breather? Nah, time to go back home!- W-L Women’s Crew Fall 1999- Winter 2003
Time for a new perspective and challenges: West Springfield Varsity women. Spring 2003
Main rowing page.
Welcome to my world. On this page you will find my history in the sport of rowing, along with thoughts and bits of wisdom picked up along the way. I have learned a lot about myself through this sport over the years. If this sport grabs you, it catches you for good. You will never be able to look at a body of water and not wonder out loud whether it is or isn’t “good water to row on.” Once a rower always a rower (or cox, or coach. . .). Resign yourself to that fact now.
You find out quickly that you have joined a giant click. A fraternatity and sorority of the highest order. There’s no way you’re getting out alive. While having conversations with other rowers, one of two things always happens: other people look at you like you are speaking venusian, or they look at you with a face that says “do you ever talk about anything else?!” It is a rule at parties that for every rower there must be two non-rowers so that the scene doesn’t turn into a “crew party.” Still, this rarely works because the inevitable “crew speak” starts and rower and non-rowers often seperate like oil and vinegar; the random person not falling for this playing the role of lettuce.
Life revolves around 6am practices, sweaty workout gear, “power bars,” doing weights, annoying technique flaws, heart rates, the weather, your training partners, finding a coxswain, and erg scores. Oh man, erg scores! Did you just cringe? Anywhere from 500 meters of short intense hell to 6000 meters of extended torture. Lives are created and destroyed over 2000 meters, just to be re-animated again for another try later. I would guess their maker, Concept II, get’s more bomb threats than the White House.
Still, there is a peace in rowing that you won’t find anywhere else. The serenity and beauty of a sunrise over water like glass. The rythmic sound of oars releasing from the water with that certain “thunk.” Run. . . precious run after each drive with solid keel. In all but the single scull, you are are never more alone or tied to others. Every member of a crew fights their own battles and sets their own goals while working for each other at the same time. Trust has to be implicit to be able to push yourself to the limits of your physical and mental being and still smile when it is all done. Being a single sculler means focus for the perfection of the stroke. You and only you when the boat crosses the line. Yet, the true beauty of rowing is the people. When you look across the water at another crew after a race, win or lose, they are no different than you. Human. Black or white, male or female, it’s about the love of the sport. The boat goes back on the rack, the oars get put away and rowers are people again. Hand shakes, slaps on the back. Smiles on the faces of the “defeated.” It is often said that rowing is a rich, white sport. Nothing is farther from the truth. Rowing is about unity and pushing past barriers.
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I‘ve been involved with rowing since 1985 when I joined the Washington-Lee High School Crew as a sophomore. At the time I was a manager for the football and wrestling teams. W-L’s legendary crew coach, Charlie Butt, had talked to me a few time in the halls around school and told me he thought I’d make a good coxswain. I was interested but not convinced. . . and just a touch intimdated. One evening in late February the phone rang with Charlie on the other end. “Why don’t you come down tommorow and see what it’s like?” How could I say no to Charlie?
My first day of crew was spent riding around in the launch with Charlie. I had no idea what I was seeing. Charlie talked to me the whole time, which in retrospect was kinda odd, it was something I wouldn’t see him do very often. He tried to explain as much as he could in between getting the team on the water and fixing the problems that always arise. This also meant that Charlie expected that I was absorbing everything he was saying to me also. As the practice pieces began I was asked to take care of getting the stroke rates. . . the old fashioned way- count number of strokes in a minutes and divide by 60. Now, I barely understood what I was counting let alone where I was supposed to take the count from. Luckily another guy in the launch, Jeff Kohn, helped me out and I survived my first day. I decided to come back the next day too. What I didn’t find out until many years later was that call from Charlie was prompted. My mom knew I was curious, but too scared to just do it. She called Charlie and asked him to call me. . . Thanks mom.
My first day on the water is something I will never forget. It was a cold, rainy, Saturday and Charlie was short a coxswain. It didn’t matter that I had never been in a boat before. . . I had spent the week riding around in the launch. I was put into a 4+ with 4 Seniors: Sean Hall, Sean Flanagan, Jason Starr, and Todd Ellsworth. These guys did their best to teach me how to steer, count tens, launch, land, turn. . . you name it. All the while trying to get a practice in. I don’t think I have ever been so damn fustrated and cold in my life. After an hour and half I came off the water soaking, tired, and ready to quit. I hated it. I knew hardly anyone, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I had just spent the morning getting yelled at. I can remember walking into the ballroom at PBC where parents and kids milled about and just standing there bewildered. Alex Harned saw me and offered me dry sweats. She was like an angel. Maybe life wasn’t that bad after all.
So for the week following I wanted to quit really bad. Problem, was, I’ve never been much of a quiter. So I stuck with it. Matt Girard and Dana Aladj, if nothing else, taught me that this sport could be fun even if I did cross three different lanes, including my own, during a race. My 1st race, Clifton Fernandez, my stroke, caught a crab that pulled us into the other lane. He got it free but I kept the rudder on full the other way sending us into the other lane. There was nothing to do but weigh-enough, get straight and go again. . . My life for the next 2 1/2 years was spent coxing the 3rd and 4th 8’s and any number of 4’s or being a member of the infamous W-L Quad Squad. Charlie loved to scull, and all the extra rowers and coxswains got to fill out the quads for the weekly regattas at the Occoquan. Usually two quads, both W-L, racing each other. I was lucky enought to go to Stotesbury my first year in a Junior 4. Back then Charlie still had us camping out in one of the boathouses on Boat House Row. What a wonderful place. We stayed in the attic with holes in the roof and not a single pane of glass left. Did I mention that it rained all weekend? Everything I owned came home soaked. I managed to pick a fight with Sean Hall because he was dumping my stuff on the wet floor of the bus while searching for his racing shirt. His race intervened on my pummeling. Oh, and we lost. Maybe the highlight of these early years was when Charlie took the varsity crews up to Poughkipsee, NY, for a race with Arlington Hs. My best friend from high school, Paul Kay, and I got left at home with the novices. The rules of the time said that when entering races at the Occoquan you had to enter a Varsity 8. Well, for once in my career I was the Varsity 8 coxswain for W-L with Paul sitting stroke. From the first stroke we were behind, and there was no way the rest of the 3rd 8 backing us up was going to be much help. Paul and I had a laugh all the way down the course because we knew it was so ridiculous. Meanwhile in NY our V8, JV8, and Lwt8 were destroying Arlington. Charlie was so upset that they had embarrassed Arlington so badly that he made the guys go row for another 20 or sminutes after their race. I think I was happy to be on the Occoquan.
By my senior year, I was the lowest man on the experienced coxswain’s list. No coxswain had graduated since I had gotten there, and so there I stayed. That year I started out riding the launch with Charlie, as I started out my career two years before. I kept notes for him and took rates, now that I knew how too. After things sorted themselves out I took over the 3rd8 again and coxed what became known as the 40 Minute Harned Shift. It seemed that there were a constant change of rowers in the 3rd8 and that the race day line-up wasn’t decided until about 40 minutes before race time each Saturday. The only consistent things were that I’d end up coxing the boat and Nathan Harned would be one of the rowers. We were the extras, but to our amusement, we won our race every weekend, while everyone else got creamed.
It was two weeks before the Northern Virginia Championships and Charlie was sorting things out for the end of the season. He dispanded the Jv8 and 3v, and took all the experienced guys who had not made the V8 or the Lwt8 and made two fours. A V4 full of seniors and Davis Colwell, a junior, as cox. The Lwt. 4 with a 1st year junior, two sophomores, a freshman. . . and me. I was bent. I was low man again. I grudgingly took the boat out. Within a 1/2 hour I had changed my mind. We knew we had magic. The boat felt like nothing I had known in crew. We had power, we had ratio, and we had rock solid keel! Nope, changed my mind, Charlie, I think I’ll stick with these guys.
That boat of (from bow) Eric Edmonds, Steve Robinson, Doug Miller, and Alex Lyman to this day is still one of the best boats I have ever been in. Mark Coleson took over the coaching duties and we began to rock. My guys weighed in at about 135lbs. average yet we were womping the V4 daily and they averaged 180. We played with the varsity women’s 8 and reguarly beat them over 5 minute pieces also. The 1st race was the Occoquan Sprints. TC was the reigning squad in all categories including ours. Our 1st race was TC, Garfield and us. We jumped out strong and slowly pulled to a lead and crossed the line first. TC’s 1st defeat of the season. Garfield came across the line about 30 seconds later, after TC had already rowed away for the dock and asked who had won. They cheered for us since since someone had finally beaten TC. Sometime during all these weeks some of the Lwt8 caught mono and Charlie started making noises about switching one of our guys up. The one and only time I ever flat out defied Charlie was the day we told him that if he took one of our boat we’d all quit. Needless to say I heard it and good, but he must have respected us for our desire because he never said anything about it again. We won NOVAS next, in the same resounding fashion as Sprints. Most of the way down the course I sat glancing back and forth at the other coxswain- smiling and happily debunking everything he said about walking on us. The amusing part of this race was that we were so light, that when the guys got on the scales they were eating Snickers bars and chicken legs while the other lwt boats danced around in sweats. At Stotesbury we were so cocky we put a sign in the bus window that read: “Join the W-L Lwt. 4 Fan Club today! No ugly Chicks.” Our team mates were jealous because we were the left overs and we were winning big. They didn’t find the sign amusing.
We were nervous at Stotes but ready. Our heat easy. . . so easy I was waving at our parents as we went down the course. The semi’s were tougher but we were on our game. In the finals, we finally ran out of gas. With the Schuylkill’s infamous slanted finished line against us, we came in 4th by less than a deck to Lower Marion. We were pissed, but the pressure was off. I sat on the shore that afternoon watching the races blaming myself when Charlie came by, told me to “quit moping like a spoiled brat” and go help on the trailer. He was right, it was done, time to move on. St. Andrews in Delaware was our last stop- Scholastic Nationals. Our heat wasn’t our best row but we managed to qualify for the final. On the video tape I have from that season Charlie tells someone in the background that he isn’t hopefull. We, however, were on a mission. We knew we could, we just had to do it. We slept in the (sweltering) church in town that night and then piled in the back of the trailer truck for the ride to the course the next morning. Charlie in back with us. We went out for that final that afternoon loose and just ready to row our best. No fancy plan or race strategy. Hell we rarely went over a 28. We lined up with everyone and got ready. There was a slight breeze that pushed us off course so I asked Eric to row. As Eric is finishing his stoke and we are both looking at each other from each end of the boat comes “Et vu pres? Partez!” I can still remember the look of panic on Eric’s face. . . I’m sure he remembers mine. Eric dove for it, I called it and we were off. It was a neck and neck race 6 lanes across. As we got to the 750 there were 4 of us still sitting neck and neck. I don’t know exactly what I was thinking, but I knew somehow that it was now or never. Just before the flags, with about 600 meters to go, I called the sprint.
Honestly, it was one of those magical moments that come about once in a lifetime. It still gives me chills. When I called the 1st ten, the boat just jumped and I knew we had it. We started walking and never looked back. Lower Merion went after us and followed us down the course with 4 other crews after them. I knew that the guys in my boat were not going to let anyone go through us. We crossed the line with 2 lengths open. Charlie, on that same videotape, says “It’s great, I’m happy for George. . . he really wanted to compete and here he is winning the nationals..” National Champions!
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When my senior year ended my boat went on to US Nationals in Indy. We raced without Eric Edmonds and brought Rick Hardy onboard. Travelling with Mark Coleson, in his van with his partner, all our stuff, and boats too was quite and experience. We made it to Indy (which we named India-no-place) and stay on the campus of the University of Indiana- Bloomington. Lovely frat house atic with nice chipmunk floating in the toilet. Our racing was good; we made it to the finals in the Junior Lwt. 4 and came in 5th. Considering everyone else weighed in at 155 to our 135 or so, we did good things. Maybe an aumusing bit from this trip was duct taping Doug Miller to his bunk, and having the drunken locals yell “aaahheennaaah!” at us from cars.
I kept in touch with my guys over the summer and in the fall I was at NOVA for school. I had borrowed something of Steve Robinson’s and new he was training that fall with Charlie and some ofther guys at PBC, so I headed down to talk with him. Charlie was happy to see me and asked what I was up to. Not much.. “Would you have any time to help out?” Uh sure. And I was a coach. Looking back on it now, I think Charlie saw in me the potential I might have. I think he also realized that rowing had done some important things for me and this was a good oportunity to have. I started coming down reguarly, going out in the launch with Charlie and generally hanging out at the boathouse in the afternoons. When the season ended I didn’t think much more of it, like it was a one stop deal I had just completed. Come spring I get a call from Emanuel (EMan) Caudron who asked if I might be interested in helping him with his freshman coxswains at W-L that spring. He wasn’t fully versed on coxing and though I could help. Charlie was agreeable to that. Now, I was a W-L coach.
It was weird because I had just graduated and was back already. I knew everyone. It was awkward and fun at the same time. The first coxswain I worked with was Justin McCrary. His crew of freshmen were good guys, who were for the most part pretty small. We got routinely hammered. It was a great experience that year though. . . a taste of coaching. Still I had no real clue what I was doing, but I was learning. That first year I wrote a 2 or 3 page paper on coxing to give to the coxswains. That was the begining of the Down and Dirty Guide to Coxing.
The next year was much the same with me coaching in the fall with Charlie and then in the spring with Eman. Charlie’s fall programs always brought in frosh we’d see in the spring, including Mike Callahan, Greg Meyer, Craig Spraggins, and more. Slowly my understanding of rowing grew, as did my ego. One amusing incident occured at the Occoquan: Eman and I had been coaching a quad the spring of ’89 along with our frosh. It was a breezy day, but we didn’t think much of it when we left a quad called the “Typhoon” sitting in slings next to the trailer. I can remember walking up the big hill towards the the trailer parking area and hearing a commotion of some sort.As I got to the top where we kept our trailer I could hear first, and see later, Charlie yelling at Eman at the foot of a very splintered boat. The wind had caught the shell and blow it out of the slings onto the ground. The bow of this wooden Kaschper had shatters and numerous large cracks ran up the bottom of the boat. I can still picture Charlie gesturing and Eman nodding. I turned on my heel and went the other direction. My other memory was coaching with Eman down near the 14th Street bridge and the engine quiting. It would not start so we sent the crew back to the boathouse and proceeded to float down stream for about 20 minutes before someone, Harbor Patrol I think, found us and brought us in.
I spent the summer before our departure for Henely working on the Typhoon. Scappers, kleecos, epoxy, mahogany veneer. The V8 was going across the “pond” after having the best season a W-L V8 had seen since Tom Chisnel’s crew in 1969 had won. Charlie asked if I would like to come and I was in. I bunked with Justin McCrary who had made the leap from frosh8 cox the year before to winning Nationals and going to Henely in the next. It was an incredible experience: eating in the local pubs, playing bocce, seeing the country side, seeing incredible crews rowing, and being at the most important regatta in the world. I shot tons of photos, and just drank it all in. I helped Justin the best I could, but his crew didn’t do a good job of keeping tack of themselves. Despite doing well at the Reading Regatta the week before, they go hammered in the first round a the Royal Henely Regatta. Some guys didn’t take it seriously enough. We arrived home on July 4th, just in time for the fireworks.
In 1990 I thought I was moving up. I thought I’d be the official novice coach. It was not to be. Charlie hired his daughter Nancy and I was relegated to 2nd assistant once again. I was so mad and disappointed. It was a blow, but looking back later, I realized that Charlie still knew me better than I knew myself. I wasn’t ready, wasn’t mature enough. The season went well though. It was a good bunch of people that included my childhood best friend Kevin Ellis. Sculling was still big at W-L and at our first race on the Potomac (we had dropped out of the NVSRA [now the NCASRA] and were racing on our own) had us coaching a novice 4x. I can remember standing on the dock on race day listening as Nancy instructed the crew to bring it down a little if they were too far ahead. They were not to blow the other crew out. The guys looked perplexed and turned to me after Nancy had stepped away. Craig Spraggins and the other guys came up to me and Craig asked “What should we do? Should we left them catch up?” My answer was simply “Fuck no, go out and destroy them.” To which there were smiles and a small cheer. The crew did just that and came in victorious to a slightly preturbed Nancy. I guess at this point my sense of sportsmanship was intact, but I also had the understanding that if you wanted to win, you had to practice winning.
By the end of the season I had been handed eight leftover lightweight guys and two coxswains. Many of the guys from my first frosh 8 and my best friend Kevin Ellis. These were the guys that could not make the fast Lightweight 8 Charlie had that spring that went on to win Stotes but get nipped at Nationals. So I made two lightweight fours, and had some fun. I worked hard to use all the skills I had and succeeded alright even if I was coaching guys that I often hung out with through Kevin. You can see one of the issues with my early coaching mindset. . . I was just too close to my rowers. Still, we did alright and I got both fours into the semi’s at Stotes and one into the final where they were sixth. Still not bad. My fustration came later: Charlie and Tom had to put in the entries for Nationals and they had decided that I could only take one 4. I was devastated, almost in tears. It was ridiculous and wrong to break up these two boats with one week left in the season. The guys were all very understanding and knew it wasn’t my fault. We seat raced that next week, made a boat and headed off the Camden. They didn’t make it out of the heat. In retrospect I should have seat raced more and found the faster boat, instead I had used my judgement and followed my instinct for boat chemistry. This is something I feel is a great strength of mine, something I have relied on and tried to hone. Now I amore object in how I used it, but my natural eye for finding the right combo’s is key.
1991, my fourth year as a coach is mostly lost in the smokey darkness of history. I do not remember much about my time other than coaching with Martin Lowenfish, a sprint canoer training for the Olympics, and the fact that I was once again the second assistant coach. At this point I was very angry with Charlie something that would stay with me all season and after it. Charlie was often sick durin the season and Nancy filled in for him. Martin and I did our thing and ended up coaching a four’s worth of Wakefield guys also. The women had their share of Wakefield girls too. Again I had a lightweight four and it did well, but I don’t remember the details. The only other thing I remember is Martin hanging onto an outboard that jumped off the back of one of the launches, waiting for help from shore. This also would be Charlie’s last season as Head Coach of Washington-Lee Crew. I was both excited and a touch sad. Yet I was still angry as well.
1992 saw Tom Chisnell step up as Head Coach. I was now the third assistant. I was in shock, but there wasn’t much I could do. I stayed and coached because I loved it and didn’t know what else to do at the time. Richard Schmitt was the official novice coach, and Rick and I were there also. That is how it felt anyway. We did a lot of work with a lot of Wakefield guys, about an 8’s worth of guys, maybe a few more. The girls had the same. I have two coaching memories from that time. The first was heading out with a mix of novices and experienced rowers in an early spring current. It was running and I made the mistake of trying to turn the shell just up stream of Key Bridge. The current caught the shell as we were turning and pulled it into the bridge embuttment. I can remember watching it happen and yelling for people to “pull on port” to no avail. Riggers and oars bounced off the bridge before we slid through the arch. No one was hurt and only one rigger went to an early grave. The entired boathouse had watched this happen. Back on the dock, Tom came up to me and all I could say, was Tom, I’m so sorry.” He looked at me and said “Was anyone hurt? No. Don’t worry about it, it happens.” Phew. My other coaching memory of the time was coming off the water after the girls had beach their shell on the dock all the way to the two seat. They had in slings headed into the 8’s bay and were looking it over with their coach, Ginny Crouch. Something about the way they were treating the situation set me off. I walked up, looked at the damage, and ran my fingers across the hull. Heavy, white, gelcote and fiber glass coated my hand. I turned, held up my fingers and said: “This is your boat!!” Turned on my heel and walked away. I think I scared a few people. I also got a really nice coaches gift: a T-shirt with a cool caricature of me and a my new title printed on it “Chilln’ Coach George.” Often when I was standing around, hanging out, the kids would ask me what I was doing and I’d reply “just chillin.” Wish I was as chill as I said I was.
We had rejoined the NVSRA and so were headed to the Occoquan again. It was a learning experience for everyone that spring not having Charlie around, and it got stranger when he passed away. That moment was hard for evyerone on many different levels. It just seemed like it could be. We all knew he was sick. . . some of us had gone out to his house that spring to do yard work with Tom. He greeted us and was, I think, quite happy to have us there. When I came in he said “Oh, George, you’re here too, good.” His funeral, if I remember correctly, was on a Monday. It was such a sad occassion with people from over 40 years of W-L history in attendance. I ssat through the service with Beth Burns, who held my hand while I cried. I spent the afternoon at the boathouse fixing a shell, because it seemed the right thing to do. There was no practice that day. Maybe the only regular day that the entire team, coaches included, skipped. My time since that day has been filled with some regret when I think of Charlie, because of all the things I didn’t learn. I worked with the coach in high school rowing. Someone that looked after my best inerests, even if I didn’t realize it. He knew me better than I knew myself, and I think that is where his magic lay. I spent time being mad at someone and lost the chance to say thanks. That won’t happen again. Back to Top
In December of 1992 I went on a trip to Guatemala and Mexico with my good friend Sasha Ivanchukov in hopes of seeing something new and figuring things out some. At least the the first thing happened. In February of 1993 I had heard rumors that Tom might not need me at W-L. I went by to see him and he confirmed this but told me he had recommended me for the Head Coach position at Wakefield. Seems the school wanted their own coaching staff for the first time this spring. I knew the principal somewhat as I often had to ride the bus from Wakefield to the boathouse the year before and we had met. This was crazy stuff, the idea of being a head coach! My cocksure attitude disappeared and I was suddenly exicted and nervous. I met with Nancy “Nan” Martino the AD and discussed things. I would not be the the official head coach, because there was a teacher in the school who had rowing experience and they were comfortable with him in that possistion. Alright more of the same. . . but now, he had little experience really and they expected me to lead the show. OK. . . Well, I took the job. As it turned out, the teacher, Mark Rendel, was a great guy who was willing to do whatever. My first real meeting with the kids was the swim test where I saw the guys I had coached before and girls I would coach now. They were both excited and wary since they had seen me storming around PBC the year before. I guess my style had been harder, and louder- ready to grumble and complain, in those last year or two at W-L.
Now, my next question was “How the hell do you coach women?” Tom’s answer was just like men, so that is what I tried to do. That was a laugh. Some of the girls had a good bit of experience, others didn’t. They all seemed ready to work hard, they just needed direction. Now, we were swamped with four plus eight’s of guys and girls. Varsity and novice. Thank goodness Matt Girard, my novice coach when I started at W-L and I had become good friends and was there to help. He took over helping Mark and getting the novice girls on the water alos, while I focused on the Varsity girls and helped the guys some too. It was an experience because these girls were full of personality and I was learning quickly what the differences between coaching guys and girls were! I just tried to hang on and keep things getting faster. I became pretty close to my one captain, Lena Wang, who seemed to have a keen love for the sport, but also drew the ire of her team mates because of her closeness to me. I fell into the trap of being people’s friend and coach. Not a good thing. Still, we progressed and got faster. At the “regional” qualifier for NOVAS we beat out a strong Wilson Hs crew and surprised a lot of people by making the final. Suddenly we were on the map.
One of my funniest memories from this time was during our trip to NOVAS. As I walked down the big hill at the Occoquan I found a small group of my girls huddled around another who was crying. “What’s wrong?” I queried. “Is everything alright?” “Are you sick?” “She’s a little uncomfortable George.” “Huh?” “She needs some Advil.” “What?” This exchange went on for a minute or two until someone said just the right thing and my dim bulb of a brain lit up. Cramps. “Oh, yes, well, er, uh, uhm. . .” Needless to say everyone was laughing quite hard at this point, including the girl in question, as I stood there red faced and feeling silly. Another funny moment was with Father Judge Crew. Judge had t-shirts that year that read “Technique is for Fags.” Very intelligent. One of my girls, Kristen Horgan, took great offense. Not because she was gay, but because she found it offensive. Kristen proceeded to let the Judge boys know and was on her way to picking a fight with the entire team when I intervened and made her get on the bus. Kristen had a hard time and crew was her big outlet. There was a time, the following fall, when she came for a booster meeting at the school and told me how she had been nearly jumped by a man while skating to the school in the dark. She was fine but I was outraged. Her father had chosen not to drive her because he didn’t want to be bothered. If she wanted to go she could get herself there. I was bent. I drove her home after the meeting and she had to beg me not to go in and give her father a piece of my mind. Bastard.
The team bonded well and we had a great time. We went to Stotes and Nationals with no real fanfare. My learning experience here was in keeping a senior in a boat for Stotes because I felt bad knocking her out so we could make a Jv8 instead of the V8 we took. The moral to the story is sometimes you have to make hard decisions to the betterment of the crew as a whole. That V8 turned into a JV8 at Nationals and did OK, but we spent more time on the shore watching others racing because we weren’t prepared.
The season was over and what a rollercoaster it was. Suddenly I went from being the third guy’s novice coach to, really, the Head Coach and varsity women’s coach. On top of that I dealt with many things I was untrained and unprepared to deal with. My anorexic who had to be taken to Georgetown Hospital one occasion is good for starters. She decided to go run with the girls in the 30 degree weather we were having and then go do Exorcist Stairs with them. Did I mention she was asthmatic also? She knew better. Nothing like coming off the water, and stepping out of the launch, to have one of your kids race up to you and say “George, you have to come quick, Jessica passed out on the tow path!” She couldn’t breath well and had passed out. The girls kept her warm and some of the W-L guys and Tom carried her back to PBC. We kept her well until the ambulance arrived and off I went. By the time we got into the emergency room she was almost fine. By the time her parents arrived we were just bored of waiting for them. Sheesh. Maybe the rollercoaster kept going with the student who became pregnant and was planning an abortion, but wasn’t telling her parents. Great! This made for some fun meetings with the coaches, AD, and student. Ofcourse the student still wanted to row also. Did I mentioned her parent was highly influential in the county too? Fun!
So does it get better? Ofcourse it does. At the end of the season I had a rower looking very disturbed. When asked about it he said he didn’t want to say, but I knew something was up. Upon furhter coaxing he told me that two of his team mates, one a senior, had skipped the land training to go down and grab a few smokes at the deli. We got back to the school, and took ’em to Mark’s classroom. One played dumb, the other sat silent, until finally he admitted it and apologised. So the senior did the right thing and other guy did the stupid thing, kept denying it to our faces.. One suspended, one cut. The one that was cut called me that evening to tell me how sorry he was and that crew meant everything to him. I explained that if had been so important to him he wouldn’t have been smoking, and more importantly, he wouldn’t have lied. See you next year. So what else could happen? Well even with the best intentions you can get yourself into trouble. The young lady who was my captain had had a long year leading the team. The girls sometimes followed, other times acted petty. The fact that the two of us had talked a lot about the team and such had only made things more lopsided in their eyes. When time came for picking captains she was not reelected which pissed me no end. She had worked very hard. Now the smart observer would say that that was the way things were. Not me, at the time. I decided I’d elect her anyway. Wrong choice. I got a call from my varsity coxswain one afternoon with a warning: one of the girls was calling around and asking everyone who they had voted for. Damage control! There was no way, so I apologised to the team and elected captains, and made things stand the way they were voted. The young lady who called around and I had a good chat. . . there were no negative feelings and she apologised for putting me in that posistion, but really, it was me who had done it to myself. Lesson learned. Maybe that is why I took to choosing the captains when I moved on to Gonzaga a few years later. It was just one ridculous thing after anotherwith this season: I even had parents telling their athletic daughters they were fat. I wrote a letter telling them what the deal was and where they could go, but Mark smartly advised me against it saying even if they did read it they wouldn’t get it anyway and I’d only create trouble I didn’t want. Looking back on all this I see it as part of a season, albeit a crazy one.
So the season was finally over. In the long run it was a great season. I had a lot of fun and looked forward to the next season which I already planned for. Yet, I was stressed, tired, unprepared, and poorly educated in how to deal with all of these things. I blame this a lot on the school system and their lack of support for their coaches. The spring bled into the summer where I coached many of my girls and some others in the PBC summer junior women’s program. It was a good time as I began working with Kevin Harris. During the season Mark and I had thought that Kevin was one arrogant s.o.b., but as I got to know him during the summer I had a different opinion. It was amazing to hear from one of my girls that Kevin had told her he thought I was a great coach; he was very impressed by what I had done with the team. Cool. We worked well together and took kids to the Canadian Henely. I learned a few things from this guy and struck up an important friendship. Another lesson learned. At the same time I said goodbye to Mark who moved to Florida, leaving Wakefield all to me. Yea. So the summer was busy and not a rest. Even as the summer ended I helped my rowers and heard from them when they needed help. One in particular was stressed out. She wondered what her place in the world was, and where she was going. She wanted to be done with school and move on in life, but she had another two years left. Her friends, she felt, cared for her, but she wasn’t feeling like she could talk to them. . . so I was the solution. She was a good person with a good heart wrapped in a lot of confusion. I learned some of my most valuable lessons up to the time from knowing her. Pretty persuasion.
Now, Wakefield was really my first adventure in developing a team. I had to educate the administration, kids, and parents. Nan Martino did a good job of making life hard for all her coaches. The kids were with me, and several reminded me often why I was doing this. The parents on the other hand were a handful. Merlin Parde and his family were very supportive, but many of the others I had one clash or another with. Even then I knew what it took to make a team top notch, and wouldn’t settle for anything less than our best. The parents weren’t sure how we were going to do all this and this is where we started butting heads. Towards the end of the summer I brought in Derek Parsons, an old buddy from high school to help me with the team. He called out of the blue one evening and wanted to coach. So he became my assistant in charge of the guys. Together we tried to send things in the right direction. Yet as the pressure mounted and the effort required to move this team forward grew I began to have enough. Being denied access to the school’s weight room so we could work out, for no good reason, and the strange relationship I had were the last straws. Derek, they are yours. Wakefield and I went our seperate ways in December, like it or not.
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This was a hard time in my life. I really missed the kids I had worked with at Wakefield. I was also really tired. I wanted a break, but I also missed coaching. I had dinner with Kevin Harris and future Olympian Christine Collins, and Kevin could tell something was up. Winter advanced towards spring and nothing was falling into place. I was pretty lost. Kevin saw that and introduced me to Abbe Bartlett. Seems that Holton Arms School was looking for their own coaches after having lived off the generosity of Yorktown crew and Kevin for a year or two. Abbe was coming off the tragic loss of a close friend and I was coming from the loss of myself. Together maybe we could have a good time doing something positive. So now I was the co-coach for Holton Arms. Yea?
Abbe and I met and talked about things and began our daily treks out to the school in Bethesda. I think we leaned on each other a bit and had a good time with each other. We got to know the administration and the girls slowly but surely. Abbe had already started working with the girls so I followed her lead and we trained them the best we could. Once the season came around we moved down to Thompson Boat Center, what I would often call the “mad house.” We used a borrowed launch, and a borrowed boat: Yorktown’s “Burlap Cadillac,” an old Kaschper that was as limp as a noodle, and who’s see-through fiberlgass had turned brownish. We had 4 seniors, that soon dropped to two: Joanna and Amber. We learned a whole new set of rules: no serious practice during spring break, parents with lot’s of money, and kids that didn’t quite know what it meant to push themselves. All in all things went well, and in large part due to the care of John Bebe. The husband of the school’s headmistress, John drove the kids back and forth each day and helped us keep everyone organized. He had a keen interest in the sport, but the tiny launch we had precluded all three of us in going out on a regular basis together (something we regretted). Abbe and I muddled through and taught a few lessons. We also had one good scare in some windy conditions below Memorial Bridge. We had taken the kids down in what appeared to be good conditions. About half way to the 14th street bridge, things started to change, as we turned and started back upstream I thought for sure we were going to swamp. The waves were beginning to white cap and the girls were struggling to move the boat forward. We eventually made it back into the relative calm above Memorial Bridge, but Abbe and I were white knuckled by the end. Another lesson learned.
The kids were good natured but often more interested in checking out the guys from other teams. A few of our girls were quite good at catching the guys attention. This led to one of my first direct encounters with Wilson hs rowers. One of the guys had taken a extreme liking to one of our girls, Catherine, and would hang out and make comments while we were having team meetings each day. She was getting freaked now and din’t know how to get rid of him. At one point I had had enough and the two of us were in each others face. He was a big guy with a screw loose, on top of being the son of a diplomat. I forget how this was all resolved, but I think it had to do with Abbe distracting us so I wouldn’t get pummled and me having a conversation with his coach, Scott Fisher. Oh yes, Catherine and the “twins.” They livened things up part way through the season when it was suggested at the school that they were involved with a little junior prostitution thing at the school. The details were foggy then and foggy now. I remember us stating that we believed in our girls. I also remember that for a brief instant there was talk that I was involved some how! That thanks fully disappeared. Weird. Our season ended at NOVAS because we were just not fast. The kids gave it a good try, but they were novices in every sense of the word. They ended the season by handing off their cox-box to a Yorktown coach instead of keeping track of it themselves. That was the last lesson I gave: at the boathouse on Monday I asked where the cox-box was and then explained that “I [didn’t] have it.” I then told them that they had to pay for a new one. They earned the money and I gave them the cox-box back. I guess I take equipment and coxing seriously, huh?
All this while I watched my Wakefield girls struggle, rowing out of the same boathouse. Derek was swamped because this was his first season coaching crew. I gave him workouts, line-ups, advice the entire season. I coached my team from afar. It was a weird time. It was good when the season ended and we all moved on. I coached the PBC Junior women with Kevin again that summer and ended up coxing the PBC open sweep women that he coached also. I met a lot of good friends and buddies here, not to mention two girlfriends. This was a great things because I hadn’t been coxing in some time. It was refreshing to compete. Through the summer and fall we did pretty well.I learned more and had a great time, but by the time the summer was over I was done. No more. I knew I wasn’t going back to Holton because I didn’t have the energy to devote to the team. I didn’t think they had what it would take to be truly fast. The attitude wasn’t there. Besides, Abbe wasn’t going to coach again either and without Abbe, it wouldn’t be much fun. We debated into October and then gave them our decisions to leave. It was fine because they had hired Dick O’Hern as a teacher and coach. Dick was a good guy and would do good things with the team. It was now time for a big rest and re-organization.
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Suffice to say Kevin Harris hounded me until I took this job as well. Im glad to say. There is more to relate, but for now say we won two events and placed third in the other two… in our very first regatta. There was no looking back!
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My girls! We had some kick butt lwts and a V8 in the Stotes final in 2002. We also broke a boat in half. More to come soon.
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Something new and these girls rock the house! They made a lot of people eat their wake this season. 3rd in the area baby! More soon.
Back in Black, W-L 2012-present
Yup, I’m back at W-L, home away from home, at PBC, coaching once again. First helping with the Varsity Men, and now the Head Women’s Coach. All that is old is new again. More to come.