March 28, 2012 by David Gillaspie
Wrestling and Rowing, The Ancient Sports
(originally posted on oregonsportsnews.com)
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.
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
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.