March 26, 2011
SEATTLE - The Class Day Regatta has been a part of Washington rowing history for 110 years. But even those long associated with the program would be hard-pressed to find an ending as bizarre as what took place Saturday on the Montlake Cut.
While the circumstances at the finale of the George M. Varnell trophy race created a considerable stir afterward, the end result was an incredible show of sportsmanship and brotherhood that's come to define Husky crew.
In the final 100 meters of the 2,000-meter race, with the seniors slightly ahead of the juniors, an inadvertent air horn blew from the sidelines of the Montlake Cut. The horn blew in quick succession, a common signal to the end of a race during intercollegiate competition. Both the seniors and juniors stopped about 30 meters shy of the finish line. The two crews realized their error, but it was the juniors who restarted first and crossed the finish line at 5:41.70. A puzzled-looking group of seniors soon followed at 5:42.44, and initially protested the result. Following the race, both crews met in the erg room of Conibear Shellhouse. What emerged was that the Husky coaches reaffirmed their decision to award victory to the juniors (although a re-row was discussed), and point to a valuable learning lesson going forward.
"I was really pleased with how they handled that situation. They're a bit upset of course, as they should be," said men's coach Michael Callahan. "But things do happen. And like I said, we want this to happen at the beginning of the season rather than the end. We want to be smarter racers."
During the trophy presentations, the juniors accepted the George M. Varnell trophy, but refused to take the championship pin. Instead, they summoned the seniors onto the apron of the docks and handed the pins over to their elder teammates. The two teams then posed together for the post-race picture.
"There's no animosity on this team," said junior Jeff Gibbs. "They rowed a really hard race; we rowed a really hard race. They deserve the lapels if they can't have their names on the trophy."
Given the number of time the upperclassmen have rowed and competed on the Montlake Cut, many have grown accustomed to the horn that sounds when a crew crosses the finish line first. This is the reason both the seniors and juniors - who were well ahead of the sophomores and Grunties - stopped. The class rivalries played a role as well.
This senior class was gunning for their third Class Day victory, and while the competition is intrasquad, it's one of the more hotly contested within the Washington crew program. Class rivalries run deep at Conibear Shellhouse. Bragging rights don't just last through the year. They carry on for a lifetime.
"I'm not going to say it's anyone's fault, because it's not," said senior Hans Struzyna. "But it's unfortunate that we got caught up in the emotion." Struzyna added that he appreciated the gesture of the juniors. He even joked that this would make for interesting banter when the crews reconvene as alumni at the annual Varsity Boat Club banquet.
"I was surprised at first, and then really honored," Struzyna said. "All those guys are really excellent athletes and excellent rowers. There's going to be some of them who go to the Olympics, set world records and win gold medals...The fact that they could show some appreciation meant a lot to me as a senior."
The sophomores finished third with a time of 5:48.02 while the Grunties (freshmen) crossed the line at 5:53.26.
Now the team moves onto the intercollegiate portion of its schedule, beginning with a trip to Oregon State on April 9.
Callahan said later this reminded him of the Major League Baseball episode with Steve Bartman, a Chicago Cubs fan who interfered with Cubs outfielder Moises Alou, who was tracking a foul ball during the 2003 National League Championship Series. The Cubs would go on to lose the series, denying themselves a chance at the World Series.
He commended his rowers for handling the situation with class and maturity, and for having an understanding of the overall goal for the 2010-11 season.
"We're poised to do very well (this year)," Callahan said. "But we need to take what we know and apply it. I'm glad we see the bigger picture of what we're trying to do. I know this matters to them, but there is a bigger picture."
George M. Varnell Men's 8+
Lane 3 - Juniors (5:41.70)
Shell: Tom McCurdy '52 II
Cox - Laura Denman, stroke - Mathis Jessen, 7 - Tom Lehmann, 6 - Conlin McCabe, 5 - Rob Munn, 4 - Ambrose Puttmann, 3 - Jeff Gibbs, 2 - Alan Meininghaus, bow - Jay Thompson
Lane 1 - Seniors (5:42.44)
Shell: Husky Clipper
Cox - Michelle Darby, stroke - Nenad Bulicic, 7 - Anthony Jacob, 6 - Hans Struzyna, 5 - Ty Otto, 4 - Matt Zapel, 3 - Noah O'Connell, 2 - Niles Garratt, bow - Bede Clarke
Lane 4 - Sophomores (5:48.00)
Shell: Tom McCurdy `52
Cox - Seamus Labrum, stroke - Dusan Milovanovic, 7 - Alex Bunkers, 6 - Ryan Schroeder, 5 - Mijo Rudelj, 4 - Max Mannisto, 3 - Garrett Rinden, 2 - A.J. Brooks, bow - Brandon Taft
Lane 2 - Grunties (5:53.26)
Shell: Spirit of `58
Cox - Dennis Ferrer, stroke - Sebastian Peter, 7 - Myles Neary, 6 - Charles Herbert, 5 - Julian Svoboda, 4 - Will Lytle, 3 - Mike Thornton, 2 - Jacob Grossman, bow - Jack Shepherd
Men's Varsity/Freshman Challenge
Lane 1 - Combo (5:57.35)
Shell: Dick Erickson
Cox - Valaree Fowler, stroke - Hannes Heppner, 7 - CJ Miller, 6 - Max Weaver, 5 - Patrick Marre, 4 - Robert Squires, 3 - Thomas Hedlund, 2 - Reiner Hershaw, bow - Casey Dobrowolski
Lane 2 - 2nd Combo (6:04.00)
Shell: Terry Haberbush
Cox - Josh Klein, stroke - Jackson Parma, 7 - Jacob Merrell, 6 - Andy Altig, 5 - Beddome Allen, 4 - Jacob Mintun, 3 - Will Kicinski, 2 - Phillipe Enos, bow - Matt Bolte
Lane 3 - 3rd Combo (6:12.57)
Shell: Martin Nelson
Cox - Remy Arevalo, stroke - Robert Chavan, 7 - Jessiah Johnson, 6 - Derek Finch, 5 - Mike Tollefsen, 4 - John Lambert, 3 - Devin Finch, 2 - Derrick de Leuw, bow - Billy Deskin