March 26, 2010
SEATTLE - As night fell over Lake Washington, a group of 50 current Husky rowers gathered in Conibear Shellhouse to usher in a new chapter in their student-athlete lives. It was an induction ceremony to the Varsity Boat Club, the fraternal organization that has sheltered and nurtured rowers who have rowed at least four quarters at the University of Washington for 100 years. Each student-athlete received a pin, and then the group bellowed "Bow Down To Washington" to a crowd of more than 300 members.
This was the scene on Friday night as the VBC hosted the centennial edition of its banquet. Rowers both young and old mingled with one another on the decks of the Shellhouse, eager to share their stories. The highlight of the night, though, came late when men's coach Michael Callahan emceed the National Championship ring ceremony. Each winning boat made its way to the front of the VBC crowd, and Callahan presented the oarsmen with their rings.
The VBC banquet comes as part of a busy weekend for rowing at Washington. On Saturday morning, the program will race the 109th annual Class Day Regatta on the Montlake Cut, beginning at 10 a.m. Before the Huskies welcomed in the new season, however, they said one final goodbye to the historic year of 2009.
First on stage came the Open Four, followed by the Freshmen Eight that capped off its undefeated run with a convincing win in the IRAs. Up next was the second varsity eight, and like the previous groups they were treated to a video montage of their winning race. All of Conibear stood when Callahan presented the varsity eight, the boat that made a Herculean push in the final 500 meters to overtake rival Cal for an IRA title. As the bow ball crossed the finish line, the film froze on the image and the crowd stood up in applause.
For the rowers who stood in front of their fellow competitors, both present and past, the ceremony was humbling.
"It's an honor, that's for sure," said B.J. Caron, who rowed in the varsity eight as a senior last year. "To go up there in front of Husky legends and all the different crews who have raced here before is special. The 2009 crew, we left a footprint a Washington. One of the goals we put down before the season was to do exactly that, and we did it in the end. It's just a cool experience."
Other highlights included a speech on the history of women's rowing at Washington by Ellen Ernst, who shared her extensive knowledge on the subject. She introduced the crowd to members of the 1970s women's lightweight four at UW, and explained how a group of determined rowers helped move the needle in establishing women's crew as a varsity sport at Washington in 1975.
At the end of the night, Bob Ernst reminded the current athletes that they are entrusted now with the future of the program. The VBC is the bond that pulls together multiple generations, starting with Hiram Conibear in 1910, and the women's coach and rowing director was sure to remind the crowd of that.
"We're on the verge of writing another chapter in the history of Washington rowing," Bob Ernst said.