Rolling On A River


March 28, 2012 by David Gillaspie

Wrestling and Rowing, The Ancient Sports

(originally posted on

Chesapeake Boat House in Oklahoma City, OK

Sports fans love a race. Land, sea, or air, it doesn’t matter. Line two of anything up, turn them loose, and someone will watch. It’s the nature of competition.

From ‘The Greatest Spectacle In Racing’, to Michael Phelps’ eight golds, to Baxter Auto Parts Night at Sunset Speedway, a need for speed draws them in.

Whether a Daytona 500, or a Mayor’s Cup at Portland Meadows, sports fans turn to the drama between death and endurance. They love the stress and strain, the machine vs man, and winning; they love making the call most.

I’m making one now.

If millions and millions of fans enjoy horses and horsepower, and everyone but Mark Spitz celebrated the Phelps/Beijing Olympics, then the same fans need to see crew teams of  of eight, four, and one go head to head rowing their guts out. They might be surprised to see pasty-Euros rowing through chameleon-like color changes during their races, but it’s part of the sport.

If you lived in Great Britain, Belarus, or Germany, you’d be surrounded by rowing fans. You’d have a favorite sculler. Sports fans in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston are not rowing slouches either. They are the sort who could raise the sport’s profile as far away as Oregon, and should.

Boathouse Row illuminated at night Credit: R. Kennedy for GPTMC

If you’ve seen the movie Rocky, you remember him running up a wide staircase in his sweats and hat. Those stairs lead to the front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. At the top he runs in place and turns around with his arms in the air, giving a Rocky growl-out to the city below him.

Walk to the back of the building and drop down toward the Schuylkill River where you’ll find Boathouse Row, a series of beautiful buildings housing the Schuylkill Navy. It is an institution, a long-term commitment for storing race boats on rare real-estate. It’s part life-style and part hobby, if you call soul draining, mind bending, exertion a hobby.

East coast rowing, along with their field hockey, and lacrosse, don’t all resonate to a larger audience. Finding more fans, the sort NASCAR pulls, means winning. Reputations are built on success, and nothing creates more excitement for a sport than taking down traditional powers. (Think Tebow and Denver over the Steelers last year.)

The Universities of Washington and California do their part. They often take the big trophy, the one Harvard and Cornell and Princeton row for. But new schools and winning traditions aren’t enough.

Men’s crew is not even sanctioned by NCAA. They have the prestige or their own governing body. It adds a special quality to rowing culture, a sort of “I paid for the ball, so I’ll play however I want,” quality.

Women’s crew, however, is an NCAA sport. Title IX asks schools to spend equal money on men’s and women’s sports, and

courtesy of OSU

crew fits the ticket. They need boats and gear and storage and trailers and the rest. It’s a lot of stuff, and it costs a lot. Women’s crew soaks it up, which is good for all sports.

Oregon colleges with crew pales in comparison to the number of eastern states. Here they are OSU, PSU, UofO, Willamette, and UP.

Oregon high schools are no better with five clubs. Tiny Connecticut has more than thirty.

What then, does a high school freshman girl rowing for her future have to look forward to in Oregon? Go to OSU if you want to row with the big fish. Or go out of state. Washington and Cal might open the door, but they only want certain athletes. Height, weight, erg times? They all matter. So do injuries.

The east coast has their own priorities, and plenty of choices.

Why not look to schools adding the sport of rowing to comply with Title IX. Find a school looking for real athletes to compete in real sports. The University of Oklahoma sounds right. They know how to win. They embrace the ancient sports like wrestling.

Rowing would be an excellent fit for a school like the University of Oregon. Girls from all over the west coast would flock to a new program in a school with demonstrated greatness. Women’s indoor track collected their third straight national title. They know how to win. Rowers would take a winning place in the sports program.

Women’s rowing at Oregon makes even more sense when you consider the latest multi-million dollar television contract for football. Add women’s rowing, add men’s wrestling, and you’ve got a pair of the oldest sports known to man. Add the Duck fan base and you’ve got a winner heading out of the chute.

With the lakes and rivers of our state, why not launch an athletic program that puts people out on them. Sports fans love a good race, whether it’s go-karts or youth rowing. They will show up when kids they know compete. Find a way and stand back. The women rowers will lead.


9 thoughts on “Rolling On A River

    • David Gillaspie says:

      No excuses now. Rowing class at half price and a river running four times faster than usual equals a winner.

  1. SA says:


    The idea of having wrestling at the UofO sounds great for the kids in Oregon. But I personally think what it would be best for wrestling on the west coast is if UW start back up their program and further more UCLA start back up their program. It would strengthen the Pac 12 and give kids in Washington and southern cal a place to wrestle.

    There is a small handfull of kids in our state that can actually compete in Division 1 wrestling. The goal I think for Oregon is to create more opportunity at some of the smaller universities and community colleges to give all kids with different levels of skill the ability to compete after high school.

    • David Gillaspie says:

      Great points,

      UW, UCLA, Cal, and the rest of the PAC 12 need wrestling to show the west coast is more than afterthought in sports. How did rowing at UW and Cal jump up on the Ivy League while wrestling faded? If Oregon had wrestling, and recruited the sort of guys who could go where ever they wanted, then the Ducks would rise to the top the way Penn State has.

      The right coach in the room is a magnet for ambitious guys who want their moment at the top of the podium. Dale Thomas came to Oregon State. Jim Zalesky came to Oregon State. Ron Finley went from Oregon State to Oregon. Greg Strobel went from Oregon State to Lehigh. Gable went from Iowa State to Iowa. Cael Sanderson went from Iowa State to Penn State. A coach on a mission could come to Oregon if they had a program; no team, no coach.

      All wrestling knows that success breeds more success. A great coach in the room would produce great wrestlers, who would make those working out with them better. Les Gutches, come on down.

      Thanks for coming in Mike,


  2. markmmullins says:

    Nice touch Dave. That’s really a viable concept to re-introduce wrestling at U of O.

    • David Gillaspie says:

      One small step, right? Further more, did you know the International Olympic Committee and the NCAA organizations are both based on rowing club framework? Those guys have been around long enough to create a sports world in their image. So far, so good.

      • markmmullins says:

        Where the hell do you get this stuff? Who would have figured

        • David Gillaspie says:

          Here’s my secret: I’m a history grad and dedicated blogger. If I get it wrong, or miss the good points, I’ve got a problem. It’s a very delicate balance, a thin line to walk, and I’m on it all the time, much like a doctor with a new patient. Plus I’ve got friends who enjoy the ‘one-up’ as much as me, so I’ve got to stay sharp.

          After this rowing post, I started rowing in the gym, doing the 2000 meter time test to try and beat my 14 year old niece. I’m at 8:45 and huffing like a steam engine. She’s at 7:45. Will I close the gap? I’m chasing it.

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