Harry 'Dad' Vail
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During the late summer of 1914, the medical faculty and athletic council of UW banned crew because of their belief that a 4 mile crew race was dangerous to the health of the student athlete. The Daily Cardinal of September 9, 1914, is referenced by historians Curti and Carstensen as being the date the faculty “voted to discontinue intercollegiate rowing.”
The Badger Yearbook 1917 wrote,
Contrary to the belief of the followers of Wisconsin crews, the abolishment of (UW's participation in) inter-collegiate rowing has not put a stop to aquatics at Madison . Needless to say, however, keen interest was the disappointment of many a student and alumnus to feel that “Are you ready, Wisconsin ?” did not ring out over the Hudson last spring. The action of the faculty put this damper on the crew enthusiasts and has directed much good oarsman material to some other branch of athletics. ‘Crew' has passed to ‘rowing' at Wisconsin , but (even) as ‘rowing,' it is having good support. Coach Vail has reduced the minimum weight limit for participation in this sport, and many have taken this opportunity to become oarsmen who were formerly too light to qualify.
Not all forms of crew racing died at the University. Each college is represented by two crews which hold a series of races, while the picked men of the Mendota and Badger Crew Clubs compete to acquire the Club Trophy. After these events have been decided, a Varsity is picked from the veteran oarsmen which is pitted against the Freshman crew in a final race. On June 5 1915, the Varsity won on the mile course with a time of 5:30.
Wisconsin did not participate in the IRA's from 1915 through 1923 (though WW I caused cancellation of the IRA's from 1917 through 1919) because of the belief that his intense competition was injurious to the men participating in this sport under the training facilities which the University offered.
Walter Camp for Outing Magazine , wrote in his long article, “Both Navy and Wisconsin withdrew their crew teams in the spring of 1915 from the coming June's Poughkeepsie Regatta - Navy because its medical staff pronounced its group of contestants as unfit as to condition and Wisconsin because its medical men refused to sanction a four mile race."
Camp was a member of a committee in 1893 and 1894 investigating the risks of American football and the founder of football's All-America selections. Camp goes on to quote D. George E. Ehler, director of physical education, University of Wisconsin, and chairman of the sub-committee of the National Collegiate Athletic Association which annually reports on the fatalities in football, has this explanation to offer of Wisconsin's withdrawal from the Poughkeepsie race:
Wisconsin has discontinued, temporarily participation in intercollegiate rowing on the recommendation of the department of clinical medicine and of the medical faculty, because, in their judgment, the effect of training for the freshman two-mile and the university four-mile race, under the conditions obtaining at Wisconsin, is detrimental to the health of the oarsmen through the development of serious cardiac hypertrophy, including acute dilation of the heart in the cases of 3 of 21 ‘W' men during the last four years. Concerning four-mile races versus three-mile races, in my judgment, the length of the race will not make any great difference, as it is likely that three miles will be rowed at a very much higher rate than four miles.
Mr. Camp's carefully balanced analysis describes the Wisconsin analysis of 54 oarsmen in total as having been done by "one of the most careful investigators (Dr. Ehler) I have ever met." One of the Wisconsin findings was of a so-called athletic heart, a term that led to as much misunderstanding as perhaps any other expression. Another contributing cause was the fact of the short rowing season at Wisconsin . They have no fall rowing, and the spring comes so late that the oarsmen are never on the water before the last of April or the first of May, and this crowds the training season into a short period.
The athletic heart was meant to describe an enlarged heart. But Camp goes on to describe the views of Dr. Meylan of Columbia , and as most of the other physicians who have followed the athlete closely, as saying, within reason, a larger heart in a well-trained athlete, like any other developed muscle, is logically larger.
Camp also says, "I believe every rowing coach agrees thoroughly that eight men in a boat could, if they wished, row themselves into an unconscious condition inside of a mile." He goes on to describe a distance runner learning to adjust his pace over various distances. In the end, Camp encourages more investigation of the relatively few numbers of athletes rowing to complete the record and place the sport where it belongs at the bar of public opinion.
In the IRA:
In 1915, and for the following eight years, UW would not compete in the IRA's because of the suspension imposed by Wisconsin 's own medical faculty the summer of 1914.
The New York Times of June 29, 1915 (p. 10) reports the following results, in the varsity eights: Cornell (20.36.6), Leland Stanford, Syracuse , Columbia and Penn; junior eights (a 2 mile course): Cornell, Penn, and Columbia and in the freshman eights: Syracuse , Cornell, Columbia and Penn.
Albert J. Dexter
Charles W. Evert
John S. Gorley
Martin T. Kennedy
H. A. Lewis
Harold L. Moffett
Fred G. Mueller
Ralph A. Peterson
C. H. Schroeder
Karl T. Schweitzer