1948 Season

Norm Sonju
Norm Sonju
  LeRoy Jensen
LeRoy Jensen
 Results | Summary | Photos | W Winners 

Season Results

Eastern Sprints DNP

Season Summary

September 3, 1947 , the National “W” Club was formed with a letter to all “W” men from Coach Harry Stuhldreher.

Around January 18, 1948 an article appeared in The Milwaukee Sentinel describing the construction of a new shell for UW by crew assistant and boa builder and rigger Curt Drewes. An excerpt of the article reads:

When the UW crew takes off in its first race of the year this spring it should virtually fly over the water. This statement is based on the fact that the new shell is being constructed for the Badger oarsmen of the same molded material that went into the Mosquito bomber, a plane made famous in the last war.

Curt Drewes is molding the shell. Drewes, who worked at the United States Forest Products Laboratory here during the war, helped develop a process of molded plywood which was used on the famous English plane. He is now converting this process into construction of a new shell.


Previous Wisconsin shells have been built by the Pocock Boat Building Co. in Seattle , but for the past several years this company has standardized the size of their shells with a commercial eye on high schools and smaller colleges. For this reason, Pocock has been making shells a trifle too small for heavier crews.

Last summer, Crew Coach Norm Sonju and Drewes got their heads together and drew up specifications which makes the new shell a half inch wider and incorporates a flatter bottom made possible by the new and tougher ‘skin.' The Pocock shell is 25 inches wide and comes to a point on the bottom and its ‘skin' is made of straight cedar planking.

“Sonju explained that the flatter bottom will enable the crews to go out in rougher weather conditions and that the stronger texture of the processed ‘skin' will be more durable. ‘The shell should “climb” out of the water more readily and should be less resistant,' Sonju continued. Last spring training time was shortened because of the inability to practice in rough water.


The plywood is made by Drewes himself at a local brick factory where he utilizes a large furnace. Three different molds are used, with the plywood being shaped by vacuum pressure and then fused together by steam pressure. The entire process takes four days.

Work on the molds started last August but actual work on the shell didn't start until well into November. Although not completed as yet, Drewes figures it should be ready in about three weeks, plenty of time before the Badger oarsmen start rigid training.


Drewes is no amateur at this boat building, but it is the first eight oared shell he has built for Wisconsin and the first he has ever attempted with the new process. He has constructed previous shells for St. John's Military Academy and the Milwaukee Rowing Club.

A new Pocock shell costs around $1,600 plus $200 freight charge, while the ‘homemade” version will cost no higher then $600. As the mold can be reused, additional shells can be made for around $450. Sonju hopes by saving to build a larger fleet of shells in order to take care of every one interested in Wisconsin 's oldest sport.

Coach Norm Sonju's second year as Badger boat chief was not too successful from the standpoint of wins and losses; but he turned out a spirited crew that never knew the meaning of the word defeat. The crew starts practicing in October on the lake and stays outside till the weather man will no longer permit. During the winter, they hold daily workouts in the loft of the Armory Annex on th rowing machines. When the Yahara river opens up in the spring, the rowers again start their water workouts; and they keep in shape by running from the Armory to the river.

Preliminary training, as in the past. was on the Yahara River , with the ice off Lake Mendota April 3

The Wisconsin Crew Corporation News Letter of April 1948 (p. 3) announces Mildred Joy Campbell, age 19, reporting as a coxswain candidate for the UCLA varsity crew. If she makes the grade, she would be the first crew co-ed at UCLA and for the rest of the college world as well.

April 10 marked the date of the launch of Curt Drewes molded plywood boat built over the winter of 1947-48. Unique airplane type framing had been used for the first time in the new shell. Christened by Mrs. Harry Stuhldreher, the Athletic Director's wife, the craft was named the “Mendota.” A distinctive coat of Cardinal stain was applied to the exterior of the wood so that the Wisconsin eight may be easily identified. AN estimated 100 people attended the christening.

May 8, in Syracuse , Wisconsin started the season with a quadrangular regatta in Syracuse on the narrow Lake Onondaga outlet, a three-quarter mile course reduced from two miles because of heavy winds. The narrow course required the run-off format. Boston beat Columbia in the qualifier and Wisconsin ( 4:30 ) beat Syracuse by three-quarters of a length in its qualifier. The Badgers (4:36.6) - who got off to a fast start, rowing at 40 stokes the first ½ minute and continued a steady 36 to the finish line - went on to defeat BU by three lengths in the final using a borrowed shell from Syracuse. The Badger eight was the heaviest in the regatta. Winds from off the starboard stern swept the Badger boat dangerously off course, but coxswain Carlyle Fay managed to steer the borrowed Syracuse shell back on the path.

Syracuse won the JV-8 event and Columbia the frosh event; UW had no entry on the two junior events. Only a handful of spectators watched in winter garb. The UW boating: Richard E. Tipple (bow, who skipped competing last year), Thomas Blacklock, George C. Crandall, Gordon Grimstead, LeRoy A. Jensen, Robert A. Hedges, Clifford F. Rathcamp, Floyd Nixon (stroke) and Carlyle W. Fay (cox).

The “Big Red,” Curt Drewes' handmade boat was not taken to Syracuse because of the shipping costs. UW must commandeer a whole baggage to carry the shell Tickets for 35 people must be purchased, whereas only 14 Badgers made the trip.

Also on May 8, UW's frosh (5:57) eight met St. John's Military Academy on Lake Mendota and – never extended - won by five lengths on the one mile course. UW's frosh boating: Norman Folts (bow), Donald Haack, Frank Hefty, Ronald Gebhard, James Moran, Peter Wachman, Trevor Jones (Oconomowoc), Earl Lapp (stroke) and R. Duane Daentl (cox). Al Roberts was the frosh coach.

May 15, eastern coach Harrison “Stork” Stanford - a former teammate of UW coach Sonju for two years at Washington (1925 and '26) and co-coach with Sonju at Cornell for 10 years - brought his Cornell crew to meet Wisconsin. . Cornell's crew had snapped Harvard's winning streak earlier this year. The 2,000-meter west to east course, on Lake Mendota , starts near Babcock Drive and ends near St. Frances Street, just short of the Edgewater Hotel. A crowd of 2,500 watched the three races.

The Wisconsin State Journal describes the varsity race:

Wisconsin got away well and opened up a quick lead that it built up to a good length by the time the crews had passed the half-way mark. Booth crews were slugging away at about 37 strokes to the minute; Cornell's blade work was smoother, but the Badgers seemed to be getting a lot of power into their stroking even thought they were having some trouble on the ‘catch' in the choppy water. Cornell lifted its stroke to 39 and closed rapidly on the Badgers. Cornell pushed the bow of its shell a few feet ahead of Wisconsin 's, then couldn't gain another foot as the Badgers closed with a savage rush. Cornell's Big Red edged out Wisconsin by ten feet, clocked at 6:19 versus Wisconsin 's 6:20.5. Wisconsin lost no caste in being shaded by a Cornell eight that has been rated as the finest in the east this year.

Sonju was highly pleased with the showing of his Wisconsin crews. ‘We need lot of work and it's likely that a couple of the junior varsity oarsmen will change seats with men now in the varsity shell.' UW's varsity boatings today were: Dick Tipple (bow); Tom Blacklock (no. 2); George Crandall; Gordon Grimstad; LeRoy Jensen (Mr. Jensen signed his name with a capital “R,” as indicated); Robert Hedges; Clifford Rathcamp; Floyd Nixon; (stroke) and Carlyle Fay (cox).

In a race where there never was open water at any time between the two shells, UW's JV-8 (6:21.8) won a scorching duel” by ¾ of a length over Cornell's jayvee boat (6:22.8) on the same course.

The junior varsity threw their coxswain, Donn Linton 'to the ducks' but his wetting came after that of approximately 16 spectators. A crowd of about 13 spectators grew so excited during the junior varsity race they jumped with glee - standing on a pier. The pier collapsed sending the cheering section into the water. Three persons in a canoe started out from the armory pier for a better view of the varsity race but two strokes of the paddle later the boat had turned turtle and three more had been dunked. A crowd of 2,500 people watched the action.

The JV-8 boating was: James Connell (bow), Ralph Falconer, John McBratney, Donald Peterson, William Sachse, Frank Harris, John Jung (stroke) and Donn Linton (cox).

Also May 15 - Lane Tech ( Chicago ) was scheduled to meet the UW frosh on Lake Mendota on May 15. A last minute change resulted in the substitution of the catholic high school, also sponsored by the Lincoln Park Boat Club. The Badger's fourth boat ( 5:37 ), stroked by Jim Kress, stroked to a six length victory over St. Michaels in Chicago . The race was held on a one mile course on the quiet water of the club lagoon.

In a separate news account, the UW frosh (5:01.2) raced and won by 7 lengths against the Lincoln Boat Club (5:27.6) of Chicago on Lake Mendota at 1:45 PM . The UW frosh boating: Jack Schlick (bow), James Kress, Paul Benton, Harry Mussman, James Moran, Peter Wachman, Trevor Jones, Earl Lapp (stroke) and Duane Daentl (cox).

May 22 – frosh against Lane Tech at Lincoln Park , Chicago

In an article by Bob Wolf in the Milwaukee Journal (undated, but the week of May 17), the sportswriter comments on the Coach Sonju's winless first season in 1946-47, after the wonderful Walz crew of 1946. Wolf describes some fans questioning Sonju as being ‘too easy going' and not using the ‘slave driving' methods of his predecessor.

Sonju teaches a precision stroke with a beat of around 32 as compared to Walz's system which required a beat of 38 or more. ‘My system is the harder one to teach,' Sonju explains,' because it demands better oarsmanship.'

May 26, the Badgers left Portage on the Olympian Hiawatha train, arrived May 28 and stayed at the Edmond Meany Hotel. The crew's travel itinerary, prepared by Manager Bill Gittings, noted the following training rules: “DO NOT collect souvenirs on trip (towels, school or train equipment, etc.)” On May 29, Washington (10:17.2) defeated Wisconsin (10:39.8) in Seattle over a two mile course by 5 lengths and the jayvees (11:13.8)) lost to Washington 's jayvees (10:39.2)) by 8 lengths.

On the same day, May 29, the Wisconsin freshman were surprised by St. John's Military Academy on Lake Nagawicka in Delafield. St. John's oarsmen upset the Badger frosh in a return match over the mile course, by stroking out a 5:35 to finish a half-length winner. Trevor Jones stroked the Cardinal squad, as it pulled in one of the English style boats of the host school.

May 29 at 11:00 A.M. the first meeting of the “W” Club was held at the fieldhouse with a buffet lunch before the Big Nine Conference track meet.

June 12, on Lake Mendota (2,000-meters), “ Cal gave UW a sound trouncing on Monday afternoon over the sun-drenched waters of Lake Mendota ” with California (7:21.4), beating UW (7:32.3) by over 3 lengths. “Rowing is hard work; it's a lift applied to a boat, but it was obvious that the relaxed California oarsmen were doing the job with as little effort as possible. Wisconsin . On the other hand, was having heavy-going; the oarsmanship wasn't neat, either in board or outboard. The Badgers were digging their oars too deep, they weren't ‘feathering' neatly, they were ‘washing out' before the and of their stroke, and they experienced natural trouble inboard getting their hands away quickly and biting the water in unison.”

In the JV-8, race, “there was no competition after the first 100 yards,” as UW (7:53.5) lost by 7 lengths to Cal 's JV eight (7:29.2).

UW's freshman crew (5:57 and 5:01.2, respectively) went undefeated in two dual meets defeating St. John's Military Academy by five lengths over a 1-mile course and Lincoln Park Boat Club (5:37.3; the meet was on May 15) by eight lengths over a mile course.

The frosh defeated St. John's Military Academy by 5 lengths over a 1 mile course and later defeated Lincoln Park Boat Club of Chicago by 8 lengths over a 1 mile course.


In the IRA's:

After a ten-year hiatus in protest of the four mile varsity course distance, Penn returned to the war-suspended IRA's when the distance was dropped to three miles.

The Badger, the last crew to arrive in Poughkeepsie , shared the Columbia boathouse on the west side of the Hudson .

The IRA finish in the varsity eights (3 miles) were Washington (14:06.4), Cal, Navy, Cornell, MIT, Princeton, Penn (14:40.3), Wisconsin (14:41.2), Syracuse (14:43.8), Columbia, and Rutgers; in the JV eights - Washington, Cal, Navy, Penn, Columbia, Cornell, MIT and Syracuse;

In the freshman eights, George Varneil of the Seattle Times wrote on June 23,

The Washington freshman had to fight like demons to catch the early leaders in the two-mile opener. In this race, Navy and Wisconsin made things decidedly tough for all opposition.

It was only after passing the one and one-half mile mark that the Washington Frosh caught Wisconsin and Navy which had alternated in setting the early pace.

The battle over the final half mile between the three leaders was something to see. In the final analysis, the Husky boat came up on the outside, probably aided by a bit by the early tide which did not reach the middle lane in which Wisconsin was rowing.

Thus, in the sprint, Washington pulled out two lengths over Navy, which, in turn, finished a length ahead of Wisconsin . The Badgers had plenty at the finish, however, and easily staved off a challenge from MIT.

The order of finish: Washington (9:46.9), Navy ( 9:54 ), Wisconsin (10:00.7), MIT ( 10:05 ), Princeton (10:05.2), Cornell, Columbia , Penn, Rutgers and Syracuse .

Washington won the Poughkeepsie Regatta Trophy, the predecessor to the Marietta and Ten Eyck Trophies, for the best average finish of its three eight-seat boats.

On July 1, 1948 , in Princeton , N. J. on Lake Carnegie , Wisconsin (6:10.9) was eliminated in the third heat of the trials of the Olympic tryouts by two and one-half lengths by Washington (6:01.9). In the “repechage” second elimination, the West Side Rowing Club of Buffalo (6:38.8) defeated the Badgers ( 6:40 ) by a half length. California eventually won the right to represent the U.S. Cal later went on to win the Olympics.

Carlyle Fay, UW's senior coxswain from Minneapolis , was named the winner of the annual Western Conference medal at UW for proficiency in scholarship and athletics. He is the smallest athlete to have won the award at Wisconsin . The first winner in 1915 was Martin Thomas Kennedy, who lettered in crew and football. Other crew winners have been Harold Jack Bentson (also football and Water basketball; in 1924), Jefferson DeMent Burrus (also football; 1927), Louis Ernst Oberdeck (1931; deceased 12/22/68 ) and Howard Thurston Heun (1936).



May 16 - V8 over Cornell at Wisconsin

May 16 - V8 over Cornell at Wisconsin


Varsity 8
April, 1948

Varsity 8


Frosh over Lincoln Park by 8 lengths
May 16, 1948

Frosh over Lincoln Park by 8 lengths


Frosh celebrate over Lincoln Park
May 16, 1948

Frosh celebrate over Lincoln Park


JV leaving dock
May 16, 1948

JV leaving dock

Don Peterson, ‘49

Don Peterson, ‘49


Varsity before Cornell
5-15 Cap Time Sports p 2

Varsity before Cornell


Norm Sonju coaching on the Yahara River


Thomas A. Blacklock
James C. Connell
George H. Crandall
Ralph C. Falconer
Carlyle W. Fay
William D. Gittings
Gordon T. Grimstad
James Grootemaat
Frank L. Harris
Robert A. Hedges
Paul A. Honzik
John C. Jung
Donn Linton
John McBratney
Floyd S. Nixon
Donald J. Peterson
Robert Rath
William R. Sachse
Richard E. Tipple
Otto F. Uher
Arthur Weise


return to top

contact the webmaster