Reasons for Stories
As no history is ever "complete" - since new information always emerges - the purpose of this "stories" section is to attract rowers of every age to recall and record their individual stories. We welcome them! All we ask is some common sense discretion as to both what stories and what language is appropriate.
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I guess I'm a purist about amateur sports, I think of sports, not in terms of the money they bring in, but rather in terms of the individual. There's the development of the individual, exposure to problems he will meet later in life, and adding some luster and polish to a college career. There are no material rewards in crew, but rowing is just as valid a sport to fulfill these ends as football or any other sport.
Coxswains are often berated. That's part of the tradition. Besides being light and good at steering, a good cox must be intelligent. He has to always be thinking about strategy. His highest skill is empathizing with the guys in his boat. Knowing what his rowers are capable of doing and a little more. When to take advantage of that adrenaline kick at the right moment to get the most from his teammates. And being mindful of not taking a ‘power 10' at the wrong time; if you take a ‘power 10' and your competitor then takes one and regains the lead, it can leave your the rowers demoralized. It's mostly empathy built up from a season of getting to know the rowers in the boat.
- Jim Derby, class of 1975
Its really funny because we always joke about how anybody can be a coxswain. But unless you have a guy who can make quick decisions and not make dumb decisions, it won’t go. If the coxswain isn’t a confident person, the rest of the crew isn’t either.
'We have a coxswain (Ray Mejia) this year who really took control of the boat,’ said Dave Evenson, the No. 2 man. ‘The night before the Cincinnati race in the hotel room Mejia stepped through the entire race, stroke by stroke, with the oarsmen. That was really neat,’ Evenson added. “He’d say, Now we’re at the 70-meter mark, Penn is four seats up and we’re going to take it up one stroke.” And it worked out just the way he called it.’
And you really need that the last 500 meters when you’ve got tunnel vision and can’t see and you’re hurting, sweat is everywhere and your legs are burning. If he’s up there saying ‘OK, we’re going! We’re doing it!’ That’s what you need to put you over the edge.
‘He has the quality that a good jockey has,’ Jablonic said of Mejia. ‘He knows when to drive the horse, when to pull out the whip and hit’em on the flanks and how hard to lay that whip on, so to speak. In rowing the whip is verbiage, telling them succinctly and precisely without getting into a great deal of conversation. You don’t have time to converse in six minutes with your team.’
- Dave Evenson, 2 seat, Interviewed in the Wisconsin State Journal, July 5 1986
From coxing and coaching crew, I can tell a good coxswain by how he lands the boat. If he is able to land the boat without one or more of the 4 or 8 rowers turning back to see where how the boat is docking, he's a good coxswain. With the right coxswain, the rowers never turn around to look. They have an unconscious confidence in the coxswain's knowing what he's doing.
Another measure is how they handle tough situations. Some coxes were initially boated before me, but I jumped ahead of them because I could deal with difficult situations. For one thing, don't panic if you get a little behind.
I also like to talk to the competitor crews. I'd often say, ‘I've got their three seat, give me their two.' The chatter inspired our guys and got the other team's rowers looking around, taking their mind of their race.
Boat sense was important. During the summer, I'd often take out a single. It gave me the idea of how to feel the boat…what it should look like along the water. I found it easier to coach the guys in the boat when I knew boats. Id' sometimes go out in the pickle boat to learn more about rowing. Also, coxes are smaller. Many don't see so well around the big rowers. ‘You have to bother to look.' And of course you have to steer a straight course.
I also looked at every practice as if a race. I wouldn't get fired up just on race day, but every day at practice.
- Duane Daentl, class of 1951
A coxswain may not necessarily win a race, but he can lose it. We lost to Brown in the final three or four strokes by four feet in 1979 IRA varsity eight finals because we didn't see Brown coming up strongly in lane 6.
Firstly, a cox has to pay attention to the coach and the coach's game plan so as to follow it accurately as the ‘coach in the boat' on the water. Another help is to watch for who's blade is late into the water and who's is early out. He has to say something to remind that rower to sharpen up his cadence.
Accurately and crisply describing where you are in the race is another important responsibility of the cox. Also, when doing '10's' and '20's' some motivational ideas help. Doing 'motivational 10's' for the "stadium steps" or for "running with the rope on the ice" is another way to rally the rowers and seek to create that ‘rush' of adrenaline needed at a certain moment.
And steering goes without saying. Not only can the rowers see a zigzagging across the course, but they can feel the drag hit the boat if the rudder adjustments are frequent and hard. Picking a point on the horizon and ‘keeping a point' can't be stressed enough.
- Al Erickson, class of 1980
It was 1949, Ivy Williamson replaced Harry Stuhldreyer as Head football coach. I was the UW Pep Chairman appointed by the Athletic Board. It was my job to produce and emcee the Pep Rally before every home game. The Pep Band, football team, football coaches and a program were held on the steps of the Memorial Union. The cheerleaders were all male in those days and they came to the Rally too. The Rally was held about 7 pm and about 2000 students would attend.
I began to run out of ideas to entertain the group after using Ivy, the players and various Campus dignitaries for program material. Homecoming was approaching and I needed ideas for this coming event. To digress a bit, the mascot at that time was a live Badger who entered the stadium on chains and spent only a few minutes above ground until he dug a hole and disappeared for the rest of the game.
I took a date to the Union for supper and a movie and spent a few minutes in the art gallery admiring a display of African masks made of papier-mâché. I thought to myself what great idea for a Badger head. We could get a cheerleader to wear it and have a contest to name the Badger. My friend Connie Conrad, an art major, constructed the head. Bill Sagal, the head cheerleader, wore it and I selected the name (as one of the entries), advising a group to use (include) it in the contest.
Buckingham Palace was in the news so that became the Badger's formal first name. U. was a substitute for "you". So his name was Buckingham U. Badger, Bucky for short. We used 50 towels to fit the head onto Sagal's shoulders and introduced Bucky at the Pep Rally and the Homecoming Game. He was an instant success. Bill Sagal was the first Bucky and I was his creator. Connie Conrad made him possible and as the years have passed his uniform has become more sophisticated.
Bucky is the most well known mascot in the World. He is the UW's best public relations specialist. He deserves an honorary degree in Political Science.
Bill Sachse (UW ’50)
Crew W Winner in '48, '49, '50