THE ROWING CLUB: WHERE DREAMS BECOME REALITY
By Steven Yeung
On April 13, 2013, while I was still a high school senior, I met Mike North, a fellow incoming first-year. Thanks to the magical wizards and hobbits who invented Facebook, we were able to connect and share our stories. As with most first-years, we were both excited and nervous—ready for the new school year to begin but unsure of how we would adapt and handle all of the challenges that college would bring. We partook in some more small talk. Usually, the awkward “I-haven’t-met-you-yet-but-I’m-sure-we’ll-become-best-friends” conversation would end with a “see you when school starts!” but we shared a bond that not even awkward first-years could break: we were both rowers.
Mike first tried to spur the excitement of rowers at W&L on February 16, 2013, but to no avail. Nonetheless, as the saying goes: never give up. Mike tried again on April 13, and received more support, most notably from another incoming first-year, Alexander Rurka. I knew he was a big deal, because his profile picture depicted a fit young man rowing mid-stroke.
A month later, Mike and Alexander started a Facebook group aptly named “Washington and Lee Crew Club” to gauge the amount of interest among the first-year class and the student body. By the time school started it only had 13 members, 10 of which had never rowed before. Suffice it to say, we were fighting an uphill battle to get this club off the ground.
When we got on campus, we arranged to have a meeting on the quad. Only five people showed up. Alexander wasn’t even there—something about language placement tests. With a small turnout, the future seemed bleak, but we were hopeful and planned to start practices the next very next month! Silly first-years: we didn’t talk about the club again until March—school proved to be more difficult than we had imagined.
In March, I was elected to the Executive Committee. One of the EC’s main tasks is allocating money to student organizations. As soon as I heard this, my mind raced back to the hope and excitement that past September. I learned more about the Student Organization Recognition process, and immediately contacted Mike with the line: “If you still want to start a crew team here on campus, read on.” He forwarded the email to Alexander. With that email, our motivation was renewed.
We reached out to James Dick, the Director of Student Activities and Outdoor Education, as we needed his approval before we could become a student organization. We found out he used to oversee the crew program in the past, along with Ray Ellington, the Director of Campus Recreation for the Athletic Department. We met with Ray, who was instrumental in helping us learn more about the rowing club. The rowing club existed a mere four years ago and ceased to exist when senior leadership graduated. He surprised us with both a binder full of information passed down from presidents of the rowing club, and the existence of a rowing club account with enough funding, from a kind alumni donation, to jumpstart the program.
Here’s a little of what we learned from the binder. We first hear about W&L’s rowing team in 1874. The rowing team continued to function into the 20th century, until 1943 when the team was discontinued because of the Second World War. The Rowing team was revived following the conclusion of the war as an intercollegiate club team. With alumni support and their own fundraising efforts, they were able to once more establish a great rowing tradition at W&L. During this period, they defeated some of the best teams in the country, including Rutgers, Dartmouth, and the University of Pennsylvania, among others. Unfortunately, the team was disbanded after all sports were suspended in the wake of the great football cheating scandal of 1953, which every first-year student now hears about during the Honor System orientation meeting. As an EC representative, and student at W&L, it would be remiss of me to say that I directly copied some of that information from a pamphlet that was made by members of the 2005 team.
Currently, we are a major force on campus. With the addition of fellow classmate Alexander Dawejko, we have a full leadership team and are planning major events for the coming year. The EC was kind enough to offer their support to help get us started. In our five months on campus, we have bought a new boat, expanded our membership to over 100 students, and confirmed two regattas with University of Richmond and the College of William and Mary.
We are planning for an excellent year. If you are interested in joining the rowing club or would like to learn more, don’t hesitate to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or any of the other rowers on the leadership team. If you are an alum, we would love to hear from you and keep you updated! If you are reading this and not interested in rowing at all: first of all, thanks for read; secondly, never give up on your dreams. After all what sort of article would this be if there wasn’t an inspirational message at the end?
See you on the water.