The late 60’s leading into 1970 represented the peak of campus protest and unrest, with escalating disruption making a profound impact on every student there. Even the crewhouse – as hidden away as possible – was close enough now as the demonstrations expanded beyond the previous boundaries of campus. The Seattle Times, in their 1996 Centennial Series, documents this time on campus and the streets of Seattle in the article Outrage and Rebellion.
Meanwhile Dick Erickson was not-so-quietly pronouncing it business as usual at the Crewhouse. The middle of Lake Washington was about as far as one could get away from the distractions and Erickson liked it that way. He also liked to plan for the future, and as such his own values would ultimately shape the coming decade. Competition in far-off lands – a dream that had come true for him as an athlete – was high on his priority list, as well as re-invigorating the sport in a city that had been so supportive in years past.
Hard to know whether the vision he had of what rowing could be at Washington – and in the city of Seattle – was how it exactly played out, but by the end of the decade it was Erickson who had built Opening Day into a showcase for the sport, re-established Women’s rowing at the University, and taken his crews to four different continents to race. Not unlike Conibear himself, Erickson shared many of the same personality traits: passion for the sport, passion for teaching, part crew coach, part salesman, part evangelist, part enigma. And like Conibear, he ultimately, fundamentally, changed the course of rowing at Washington.
But for Erickson, out in the middle of Lake Washington in the spring of 1970, there was also the season ahead to consider. And with a returning nucleus of experienced young men, the goal was simply to “compete with the best”.
Back to the Firs on Lake Whatcom for the spring break camp and a return to Seattle to finish the week with Class Day. The seniors prevailed in a close race over the sophomores.
The first test came on the Estuary against Cal, where the team defeated a Bears program really struggling now in the climate of the times on the Berkeley campus. The Husky varsity won by over two lengths, the freshmen by over four, but the Cal JV’s stayed with the Huskies all the way down the course, Washington crossing the line by a half-length.
Meanwhile, Dick Erickson had been working with the Seattle Yacht Club and Seafirst Bank (now Bank of America) to tie crew races into the annual boat parade on the Montlake Cut. UCLA, the top protagonist of the Huskies on the west coast for five years, accepted Erickson’s invitation to participate in this unknown and untested event that would become known simply as “Opening Day”.
On May 3rd the event went off on a sunny day in front of an estimated 50,000 fans lining the log boom and the Montlake Cut. The JV’s, in a furious finish, came from behind to defeat the Bruins by about a half-length. In the featured event of the day, UCLA shot out of the gate to lead early in the race with Washington getting a typically slow start, then slowly drew away, leading by six seats with 500 meters to go. But at that point the Huskies began to sprint, rapidly closing the lead. The crews crossed the finish line almost dead even, both timed in 6:04.9, but there was enough margin to call UCLA the victors. Jerry Johnsen, Washington class of ’64 and now head coach at UCLA, noted “it’s nice to come home to a city that knows what crew is and get a welcome like this before such a big crowd.” Dick Erickson was notably silent (at least publicly) other than to call the first time event a “majestic site”.
At the Western Sprints two weeks later at Long Beach, on a blistering day with the temperature reaching close to 100, the opportunity for revenge was at hand. The frosh began the day by winning by open water over UCLA. The JV’s then had another incredible race, like Opening Day, coming from almost a length behind in the last 500 meters to draw even with OCC; this time the judges proclaimed the race a tie. The varsity got a much better start against UCLA, leading in the first 500 meters, but the Bruins moved ahead in the middle of the race and then out-sprinted the wilting Huskies to the line to win by about a length. “UCLA just has a fine crew, we’ve got to accept that” said a very disappointed Erickson, losing the featured Sprint race for the first time in his career.
Erickson mostly stuck with the same players for his IRA crews, but workouts were intense and he did shift guys around, including the move of Cliff Hurn out of the middle of the boat to the stroke seat. The team left for the IRA’s three weeks later with more confidence and a boat that was going faster than it had all season. UCLA did not take a team to Syracuse due to final exam conflicts.
Lake Onondaga was in prime form upon arrival, a steaming warm amalgam of algae and pollution so thick that it stuck to the oars, the smell wafting over the lake like a toxic cloud. All three teams advanced to the finals on June 13th where the freshmen finished second by about two seats to a streaking Brown squad, and the JV’s fell by less than a half-length to Pennsylvania. With two very close second place finishes Erickson was now seething on shore.
The varsity got a slow start and was behind in the pack in the first 500 meters. Pennsylvania, the three-time defending champion, was out early and up by a length, but were over-stroking the competition in a series of flutters. The last one – with about 800 meters left – was a fifteen stroke burst at a forty-four, answered by Washington with a power twenty that brought the Huskies rushing past the now fading Quakers. In the sprint to the finish, the Huskies, boosted by the adrenaline of moving so quickly through the favored crew, rapidly pulled away from the pack to win by open water over Wisconsin and then Dartmouth, Penn fading to fifth.
“Oh my God. It’s been a long time.” That is what Dick Erickson said, and it is hard to know whether he was referring to the series of losses earlier in the season or the twenty year hiatus Washington had taken from the top rung of the IRA. Probably a little of both. And to round out the hardware heading for Seattle, Erickson’s team received the Ten Eyck overall trophy by virtue of two second place finishes and a first in the major events.
The coach came home and tried to organize a last minute trip to Henley but the famed regatta was only two weeks away by then. Instead, by virtue of the IRA win, the crew (with Dwight Phillips in for Jim Edwards at coxswain and Fred Schoch replacing Mike Vierick) continued to train for the national trials in late August to represent the U.S. at the FISA World Championships (recently established in 1968). Erickson secured summer jobs for the men, who trained in the morning, worked during the day, then trained again in the afternoon from late June through mid-August. On August 15th, in a tune-up race, the men squared off against UBC on the Cut and won, although the race was stopped midway due to the crews becoming entangled and then re-started. They then followed that up with a race against New Zealand on the Oakland Estuary.
Days later at the trials on the Cooper River in New Jersey, the eight finished second behind Vesper. The only consolation was that they finally defeated UCLA, their nemesis all season, who finished fourth. Erickson then quickly re-shuffled the line-up and entered a four into the trials the next day, and this time the men earned the right to represent the U.S. at the world’s with a come from behind victory (and another national championship, this time in the elite class). At the world championships at St. Catherines on September 2nd, the team advanced through the repechage to the semis but finished fourth and did not make the finals.
Only under Dick Erickson could a season start in early October and end in early September, and include a new regatta in front of 50,000 fans and end with not one but two national championships and a trip to the world championships. It was a breathless season of high highs and low lows – and the next one started in about three weeks. Hang onto your hat.
The varsity pulling away from the pack to win the IRA crown. Pennsylvania was favored to win this race and had gone undefeated on the season. Their trademark was a series of flutters, where they would bring the rate up from a standard pace (35-37 strokes/minute) to a 42-44. By doing so, they had successfully taken the lead before 1000 meters in their previous races and cruised to victory. The Huskies knew this, and had planned ahead of time to counter each flutter with power tens or twenties. The strategy worked; by the last flutter 1500 meters in, Penn was out of gas, and the Huskies poured it on to win by over two lengths. Dick Erickson Collection photo.
Three weeks after Erickson and his men had returned from the world championships in Canada, the coach was back welcoming, along with his frosh coach Lou Gellerman, a new freshmen class and a solid group of returning varsity oarsmen. Fall turnouts were in the afternoon and were again augmented by increasingly intense weightlifting under the watchful eye of Harry Swetnam, Erickson’s right hand man for training techniques and development.
Morning workouts in the winter culminated at the Firs in Bellingham for the now traditional spring rowing camp on Lake Whatcom. The juniors won the Varnell Trophy on Class Day to finish up the training season and point the team toward collegiate competition.
After a sweep on the Dexter Reservoir at Eugene over OSU, Stanford and Oregon on April 17th, Erickson felt “both crews (varsity and JV) are slower at this stage of the season than last year”. The team had two weeks to prepare for California and Opening Day, and turnouts still did not measure up to Erickson’s expectations, which was made clear to the men.
But the races on Opening Day were not close. Spurred on by the large crowd, Washington won the varsity by three lengths, the JV by four lengths, and the freshmen by four lengths. “The crew performed superbly… they were under a lot of pressure from the big crowd but they rowed better today than they have in practice all spring.”
A week later, on the Long Beach course, the men, with Bill Byrd moved into the stroke seat, faced off in a dual race against UCLA for their first real test of the season. Aided by a flood tide and a tail wind, the team stayed even with the Bruins through the first half of the race and then just pulled away, winning by open water over their west coast rivals in a course record 5:51.7. “That course is like rowing down a gutter” said Erickson of the debris laden course. “Dwight Phillips did a great job…there were beach balls, beer bottles and he steered right through it.”
Two weeks later the team would meet UCLA for a re-match on Lake Washington on the Seward Park course for the Western Sprints. After a dominating win a week earlier in the Steward’s Cup on the same course over UBC and OSU, the team was ready. “Be as hungry as you can. Don’t just win. Be hungry” were Erickson’s parting words to his crew as they made their way to the starting line. Privately, in an interview with Sports Illustrated covering the Sprints, fittingly titled “Lurch, Wobble, and Gobble Them Up”, Erickson noted “we are not the epitome of rowing perfection.” But he also noted that this crew was the “best one I’ve had”.
The crew had to fight off a hard charging UBC crew in the later stages of the race, but kicked it into gear to win by a length and half. The lightweight varsity, nicknamed the “fighting lightweights” by their coach Rick Clothier, finished an undefeated season by open water over UCLA. The JV’s won their event convincingly, and Gellerman’s frosh won by open water to complete the first sweep at the Sprints since 1965. It was a dominating performance and set the team up as favorites heading into the IRA.
In Syracuse on June 19th, on a sunny day perfect for rowing, the varsity got a typically slow start. But by the 1000 meter mark, they had advanced to second behind a surprising Cornell team. Cornell – winner of just one race the entire year and who finished dead last in their first heat at the IRA – held off the Huskies until the final 300 meters. In a rush to the finish line the Huskies brought the stroke rate higher and crossed needing another 100 meters – Cornell won by .8 seconds. It was a stunning win by an underdog Cornell team that had just swapped out of a Pocock shell into a Stempfli a few days prior to the race. Both the Husky freshmen and JV’s fell short in their races to complete a disappointing Saturday at Syracuse.
The Pan Am trials and elite national championship offered an opportunity at redemption for the team. Held three days later on Lake Onandaga, the Huskies narrowly advanced to the final in a stirring .2 second win over a Vesper composite crew. In the final, they faced off against Steve Gladstone’s Harvard lightweights, Vesper, and two other composite “all-star” crews (Cornell dropped out after losing two of their members). The race was close, with it all coming down to the last 500 meters, where Washington pulled out of the pack and raced Vesper down to the wire, winning by about a half-length. “Well, we’re not collegiate champions but we are national Pan-Am champions” said an upbeat Erickson.
Lake Calima, site of the 1971 Pan-Am’s, is located 4,950 feet in the Andes Mountains, ninety miles north of Cali. The road trip in from Cali was harrowing, with the team gawking over the cliffs of a winding mountain road for three hours before arriving at their pre-fabricated concrete hut located on the water. Shadowed by the towering mountains, with security provided by paramilitary forces with sub-machine guns, the scene resembled something out of an Indiana Jones movie.
On August 2nd, the crew rowed in the final against Mexico, Argentina, Canada, Cuba, and Chile. The race figured to be between the Americans, Canada, and Argentina. Argentina used the strange race configuration (holding different events on different days) to their advantage, moving their star athletes around, including the reigning world singles champion Alberto Demiddi. The Argentine eight subsequently stole the show, stroking smoothly with the elite perfection of their moniker – “the golden boys” – and won by nine seconds over the second place Huskies. “Under the circumstances, we felt grateful to get a silver medal” said Erickson. “Argentina was clearly superior. If we had raced for five consecutive days, we would have lost all of the races.” He told his crew “Smile and enjoy it – we have learned a lot here”.
Once the initial disappointment had subsided, enjoy it they did. The medal was the first in international competition for Washington since the 1952 Olympics – the first in eight-oared since the 1936 Olympics – and would also be the last U.S. national team championship eight-oared event represented by a collegiate team. Now all they had to do was get out of the Andes in one piece. Like Indiana Jones, they did that too.
The team at the Cali race course. Cliff Hurn: “We stayed at an abandoned military installation, in the barracks. Each country had its own small building. Fortunately they fumigated before we got there – I found a small (2-1/2″) scorpion under my bunk. The Canadians got there early and were lounging when a bunch of guys in military uniforms & masks came to fumigate. Not sure if they asked in Spanish for the team to vacate but they started spraying. The guys were jumping out of the windows to escape the spraying.” Frances Mast, (crewhouse cook) scrapbook.
The highlight of the Lake Whatcom camp was the standing ovation given Fred McElmon – class of ’04 and the first name on the Big “W” board – as the guest of honor at the Parent’s Night banquet in Bellingham. Still active, the spry eighty-eight year old laughed and joked with the coaches and team throughout the evening.
The juniors won Class Day by a half second over the seniors on April 1st, and the season was officially underway three weeks later at Corvallis. The varsity won but only after coming from behind on a rain-swollen Willamette. The best race of the day was turned in by first-year coach Rick Clothier’s freshmen, who won by over five lengths.
On April 29th the men swept the Bears by open water in every race. “They really busted out” said Erickson of the pent up energy his crews had before the races.
OSU and UCLA came up for Opening Day on May 6th and the Huskies scored another sweep, winning the featured varsity event by six seconds over OSU with UCLA trailing. One week later for the Steward’s Cup it was the same story, with the Huskies scoring an open water sweep over OSU again and UBC.
The Sprints were held at Long Beach. Erickson was frustrated with the poor equipment on hand (the team was borrowing shells) and the lane selection process on the windblown course and was outspoken in his dissatisfaction. On race day the freshmen powered to an open water victory with a strong California crew pushing them down the course; this was the best finish by any eight-oared California crew since 1966 at the Sprints and put the competition on notice that the storied program was on the rebound.
The JV’s could not shake OCC and lost by about a length, but the varsity prevailed over the only other undefeated varsity crew on the west coast, a strong Long Beach State squad. The Huskies jumped out to an early lead and were up by almost a length when Long Beach State, cheered on by the partisan crowd, closed on the Huskies in the last 500 meters. Washington sprinted as well, and finished a half-length ahead. An excited Erickson said “We passed the maturity test today. We had to reach down where we live to pull it out. Our guys knew they would have to pay the price this time and the beauty of the thing is that they went out and did it.”
The IRA’s were moved up in 1972 to the first weekend in June. East coast schools, on a different school year than the west, had long complained of the two to four extra weeks after school was out that ate into summer schedules. Now with the 1972 Olympic team being chosen at a national camp, it gave them the opening to bump the race up two weeks to allow the men more time at the camp. But this change now put the race right at the end of spring quarter – and finals week – at Washington, a move opposed by Erickson.
The men begged off their Professors and maneuvered their schedules and set off for Syracuse. On June 3rd the frosh began the day finishing fifth in a disappointing finale to their previously undefeated season. The varsity got off strong but so did Pennsylvania, moving out to a length lead. With 500 meters to go the Huskies were in second – and moving – but by now were completely spent, and were passed into the finish by Brown and Wisconsin and limped into fourth.
But the JV’s had the race of the day for Washington. The crew, a makeshift JV boat that had seen wholesale changes in the weeks prior to the race, got a good start and opened up a lead on the pack through the halfway point. Stroking within their race plan, the team entered the final 500 meters trying to hold off a streaking Wisconsin crew, who moved into the lead in the last 200 meters. With ten strokes left the crews poured it on, and in a photo-finish Washington won by “the diameter of a bow ball” said an elated Dick Erickson. Mike Bronson, the stroke did a “whale of a job” said Erickson. “That was a real gut-check.” OCC, victors at the sprints two weeks previous, finished sixth.
The Olympic camp, held at Dartmouth, was led by head coach Harry Parker of Harvard. Dick Erickson was an assistant. Forty oarsmen – of which eight were from Washington – and thirteen coxswains had been pre-selected to attend the camp. In the cut down to eighteen, Jon Buse, Greg Miller, Chad Rudolph, Chuck Ruthford and Dwight Phillips all made it (over half of the remaining men were former or current Harvard oarsmen). In the final cut, both Rudolph and Ruthford made the coxed four. Many of the men went on to race at the trials in straight fours and pairs, with Phillips, Cliff Hurn, and Bruce Beall coming the closest, finishing second at the trials and missing out on an Olympic berth by two lengths. Miller, who teamed with other Huskies for the straight four but lost in the prelims, said “We can’t get a job. Who’s going to hire anybody who is going to be on and off the job? I have a very understanding father…”
Ruthford and Rudolph ultimately finished fifth in their event in Munich on September 2nd, with Parker’s camp eight winning the Olympic silver behind the famed 1972 New Zealand team.
The championship crew, left to right: Wes Clingan, Bill Mickelson, Mike Cole, Tom Henry, Dick Erickson, race official, Mark Norelius, Dave Reese, Jim Hart, Mike Bronson. Front: Jim Maxwell (cox). The 1972 team was the last Washington team to compete at the IRA Regatta for two decades. Dick Erickson Collection photo.
The first “Head of the Lake Tournament”, as Erickson called it, was held in the fall of 1972. The three mile course, with racing beginning in front of Conibear Shellhouse, was modeled after the Head of the Charles Regatta and featured turns around buoys and staggered starts. UBC, Western Washington University, and other crews participated in this event in November.
The other major event of the fall of 1972 was the “recommended” policy of the NCAA to eliminate athlete-only housing on campus. Joe Kearney, the current athletic director at Washington, asked the Pac-8 (the precursor to the Pac-10, before Arizona and Arizona State were added in 1978) to give the husky crew “special consideration” due to the unique setting and the non-NCAA status of the sport. That consideration was ultimately granted, paving the way for the year-around occupation of the crewhouse by the crew team. The fall of 1972 was the last year the football team (freshmen) lived at the crewhouse during fall quarter. At the time, each oarsman paid $120.00 per month for room and board at the shellhouse.
And more change was brewing: Erickson was looking for opportunities beyond the IRA Regatta. The schedule change in 1972, putting the race square in the middle of Washington’s spring quarter final’s week, was the final straw. So after training at the Firs on Lake Whatcom, with fierce seat-racing dominating much of the training, the team came home for the annual VBC banquet with 450 alums and friends joining the team in the HUB ballroom. At the banquet, featuring George Pocock as the speaker, Joe Kearney made a “grand finale” announcement to a receptive crowd that the team would bypass the IRA regatta and instead go to Henley – provided that the team won on the west coast.
A week later, the team began their quest at the first annual San Diego Crew Classic on Mission Bay, with a clean sweep over a contingent of crews including Navy, UCLA, Long Beach State, and Orange Coast. They followed that sweep with another against Cal a few weeks later on Opening Day, and finished the season with a dominant performance at the Sprints in Los Gatos, sweeping the regatta by open water in every event. The Henley trip was sealed for the varsity and JV with those wins.
Actually, the Henley trip was a whirlwind of three regattas for the crews, including elite races at Nottingham and Lucerne. In the Nottingham regatta, the varsity finished last in the final behind national teams from Russia and Hungary, although they also finished behind Northeastern and Wisconsin. The JV’s had the best race of the day, but finished second to Eastern Sprint winner Harvard by a half-length.
At Henley, the varsity advanced through the first round of the Grand by defeating France, but were eliminated in the next round by Russia, the crew that would go on to win the trophy. The JV squad advanced in the Ladies Plate as well, but were defeated by a Dutch squad, with the event ultimately won by the same Harvard team that had defeated the crew at Nottingham.
Disappointed but not deterred, the team went to Lucerne where they finished in the middle of the pack behind East Germany and West Germany, defeating the Dutch and the Swiss.
Meanwhile, by virtue of their undefeated season and a fund-raising drive of the alums and friends, the freshmen went south to Mexico City to compete in the Inter-America regatta. At 7,300 feet high, the Xochimilco course was the site of the 1968 Olympics. In the final, the eight, complete with assistant coaches Bill Byrd and Charles Ruthford as the stroke pair (substituting for two freshmen that could not make the trip), came from behind to win the only gold medal of the games for the U.S.
Dick Erickson said after the season was complete that “the trips to these fine regattas were very consistent with what I believe to be the philosophy of the University, the Athletic Department, and the individual aspirations of the men at the shellhouse. That is to measure and strive for the highest level of performance.” Although the results were not perfect, certainly these trips fit squarely into Erickson’s now accepted philosophy of creating global opportunities for the men to compete.
This freshman tradition has upperclassmen subconsciously reaching for their hair. 1973 VBC Yearbook photo.
George Teasdale, Manager ’73-’82:
Fundraising and promotion was big part of Dick’s job in the slow economic days of the 70’s. He would hit all the places where the “power hitters” were at – places like Vitos and others down town. As he told me, “I am buying the coach a drink, then another would say I am buying the coach another drink. Then he would hit the next venue” That is why by afternoon practice sometimes he was a bit sedated. It was also why when he needed money for the team he would put on the jacket and tie (remember the chicken-shit-green coat and the faded-pink coat?) and head downtown. I remember him telling me (after picking up the newest Pocock shell —high value then of $10,000) “George I just picked up a $10,000 new shell and I don’t know who is paying for it. I will have it by noon”. I was having late lunch and I heard him yell, “Teasdale!” When I looked over to his office he was waving a check at me with a big shit eating grin. A couple of guys asked me what that was about and I related the story. They couldn’t believe it.
Dick would drag me around to the Rotary and Kiwanis club lunches with his “dog and pony show”. He would grab a slide projector, slides, carry projection screen, extension cord and “do dads” (part of an oar, rigger or shell part) and head out the door. He would have me help him get a few things and carry them to the event. Dick would have asked them “what amount of time do you want me to use?” He would tailor things to that time allotment. He would tell me “Eat. Go for the meat. It is a free lunch. Talk to these people about the program and the athletes – God, Country and UW Rowing”. Many of these Rotarians and Kiwanis people would know me by sight later on.
You will remember how we would all be organized to go downtown for a day or two at late morning to lunch with jackets, oars and Crew buttons to raise money in downtown Seattle at a dollar a button. Dick would enlist the press to make a big push about announcing it during the Sports part of the TV broadcast about the “Washington Crew Team being down town raising money on the street corners”. We all hated it but did it anyway. We would raise $5,000+ that way (big money then). Business people would be walking past and line up to buy the buttons and pressure their friend to buy one too. I met the girlfriend of the Coxswain (team captain— “her beau”) of the “first Washington crew to go to Poughkeepsie (National Championship) by steam boat” outside the Washington Athletic Club. She couldn’t afford the $1 (retired). She and I talked for about 10 minutes about Washington rowing and OF COURSE I gave her a button. She was REALLY happy and proud of Washington rowing and the current team. It is a great story.
This would be the first year that the VBC would take over the crewhouse management year around, with the Commodore and Purser responsible for collecting the house bills and forwarding to the Athletic Department. It also would be the beginning of a “golden time” at the crewhouse, where there was often a waiting list to get into one of the rooms there, and where crewhouse law was enforced via lakeshots – even if it meant breaking the ice to do it.
The first major test of the season would come at San Diego against Wisconsin, the defending IRA champion and a team that had defeated the squad in Europe the previous summer. The varsity got a slow start, but by midway through had drawn even with Irvine and Wisconsin, and by 1500 meters was up by over a half-length. The Badgers made a charge at the end, but the Huskies prevailed by 2 seconds. The JV’s and freshmen both won by multiple lengths of open water to confirm the sweep. “They showed tremendous staging power” said Erickson of his varsity, “it’s a big day for Washington crew.”
Three weeks later, after minor skirmishes in the northwest, the varsity went to the Estuary facing an unknown in California, a team that did not race at San Diego. The freshmen and JV’s began the day with convincing open water victories. The varsity got a decent start, but at 500 meters in Cal slowly began to inch away. Even a furious sprint by the Huskies made very little headway, and the Bears, for the first time in nine years, won convincingly by a length. This was also Erickson’s first loss to Cal in his seven-year head coaching career.
A week later, on a perfect Opening Day, it was UCLA looking for revenge against a shaken UW squad. The Bruins took the lead early, but two intense moves by the varsity team – at 1000 meters and at the entrance to the Cut – had the Huskies pulling away to an open water victory. Still somewhat under whelmed, Erickson said “It’s still a one speed operation. We’ve had thirteen oarsmen in and out of that varsity shell and we’ve got to find the very, very best combination for the Sprints.”
Two weeks later on the Burnaby Lake B.C. international 2000m course, the Huskies would line up as underdogs against Gladstone’s undefeated California team. California moved out quickly on the Huskies in a replay of the race on the Estuary. At 1000 meters, Cal led by about a half-length. But the lower stroking Huskies took a power twenty and moved to even at about the 500-meter mark, an unexpected move that had the crowd hushed as the crews came in view of the grandstands. As the sprint began it was now a closing Cal Irvine – coached by a young upstart named Bob Ernst and stroked by an even younger Bruce Ibbetzen, that drew up to match the Huskies. In the final flurry, Washington’s rate went to forty as the crew crossed the finish a half-length ahead of Irvine, with Cal falling back to third. Erickson called the outcome “very, very satisfying – certainly one of the big wins” in his career.
Earlier in the season, Erickson had finally convinced Harry Parker to come west to meet the Huskies on the Cut. The date was set for June 22nd. “I think it’s going to be a close race, but the onus will be on us to make it close” said Erickson the day before the race.
The freshmen started the day by beating their Harvard counterparts by almost a length of open water to establish themselves as likely the best in the nation (IRA winner Cornell had narrowly defeated Harvard at the Eastern Sprints), with coach Rick Clothier saying “we peaked perfectly for this weekend.” The JV’s had a rough time – crabbing early, coming back, but then failed to move in a twenty at the 1000 meter mark and losing by a length.
The varsity came out hard but could not get a good settle, with the Al Shealy stroked Crimson pushing a solid thirty-five after an excellent start. By the midway point, Harvard was up by three-quarters of a length and continued to cruise, winning the race by a half-length of open water. “This is the best crew I’ve put together,” said Erickson “and they did it to us… we’re pleased with the success of this regatta, but deep down, it kind of bites.”
The only solace Erickson could take was the knowledge that the re-match was already in place for 1975. “Dick deserves a tremendous amount of the credit for creating this event” said Harry Parker. “Maybe we’ll even talk them into a four-mile race”. In regards to the IRA for 1975, Erickson also added “right now, their schedule doesn’t look like it is compatible with ours. They are going to have to make the change. They know where we stand now, loud and clear.”
Three Huskies extended their season by making the National Team in 1974, including Chris Allsopp in the double, Bruce Beall in the straight four, and Mark Norelius in the eight. Mark and his teammates in that crew surprised the world by winning the gold – a re-play of that race is at JAMCO 1974 WRC M8+ Final.
From Jeff “Rollo” Benedict, ’78:
I could go on for hours about the things I saw and loved about Husky Crew. It is hard to pick out a couple of them because there are so many of them. They all involve Dick Erickson because my relationship with Dick was part and parcel of my relationship with crew. May as well start at the beginning:
Benedict meets The Coach:
It was fall of 1974 and I was a new freshman at the UW. I had a buddy who had been invited to try crew and he wanted me to come down to the boathouse and see if there was something for me to do. First day,
first thing, I met George Teasdale. As I remember it, he looked about the same as he does now. Asked him what a manager does and he gives me the rundown. George takes me down to the launch house and shows me a long, white boat called the Husky. Pretty cool. Has a straight-eight motor in it, too. Then he goes to another boat, a black boat he called the Hart Launch. “The main thing a manager does is drive launches. This is Coach Erickson’s launch.” He started it up and it had the throaty roar of a hot rod. I thought to myself, “Works for me.” Next George took me to the Graves Building and introduced me to Dick. George says, “You’ll smell him before you see him.” Huh? Hope this Erickson guy takes showers. Went down a hallway and went in a door. There he was. Sitting behind a desk with jug ears and short gray hair, with his Sperry-Topsidered-and-white-socked-wearing feet sticking out of a pair blue and white checked doubleknit dress pants and resting on the desktop and with a smoke belching pipe sticking out of his mouth was the man who was called Coach Erickson. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of one of the most important relationships of my life.
Benedict goes to turnout:
The next day, I showed up at the boathouse at 2:00 P.M. like George told me to do. The freshmen hadn’t started going out on the water yet so I was to work with the varsity crew for a while. Seems that the guy who usually drove the launch didn’t show up so Coach Erickson asked me to go with him. “What’s your name?” Jeff. “Hell,that will be easy to remember. I have a kid named Jeff. Ever driven a boat before?” No. “Well, I’ll start and you can drive some in the middle. It isn’t very hard.” And so it began. I got to drive the boat a little and Coach Erickson took the helm to put it away. “So, Jeff, ya gonna come again tomorrow?” Yep. “Good, good. I’ll see you tomorrow.” It was a Thursday and the next day was Friday.
Benedict’s eyes get big:
I didn’t know it at the time, but the crew had what Coach Erickson called ‘ham and eggers’ on Friday where the lineups for all the shells are kinda pulled out of a hat and they go and race. Seems Coach’s buddy Charlie “Pull-Hard” Bower worked at Boeing and fed all the guy’s names in the computer and the computer picks ’em out and keeps reams of statistics and stuff that Coach liked to look at. Anyhow, on Friday, all the varsity guys show up at the same time and they took out what seemed like 25 shells and rowed them out to the Evergreen Point Bridge. Coach Erickson’s regular driver showed up for this, so I just rode in the launch. The sun was low in the sky and I just couldn’t believe the sight I saw as the crews gathered up
for the star of the runs. The guys seemed to be in a really good mood and were screaming and yelling at each other and staging up like soldiers going out to battle. Coach Erickson had a big grin on his face. I must of looked kind of stunned sitting there in the launch because Coach looked at me and said, “Hey, Jeff! Isn’t this f***in’ great? Yeah, this is f***in’ great!” I had to admit it. This was f***in’ great.
Benedict gets scared but finds out where he stands:
I drove the boat the next week and got more confident. I was worried about doing a good job because this whole scene really impressed me. Coach Erickson liked to run the crews up and down the Evergreen Point Bridge and sometimes he wanted me to squeeze between the side of the bridge and a shell. This scared the **** out of me but I knew I had to do it. I guess I got a little close to one of the shells and the guy in the back that they call the coxswain turned and yelled at me. I felt bad because Coach wanted me to be in there. I dropped back a little and Coach waved his arm for me to get back in there. The guy yelled at me again. I didn’t say anything to Coach because I, well, I didn’t. At the end of the run, the coxswain, a guy with a mustache and a blue hat, took his megaphone off and mouthed the words, “F**k off!” at me as he waved his hand. This was the last run of the day, so I followed the crews back to the boathouse and put the launch away. As I walked across the boat bays, the little guy with the mustache and the blue hat looked at me with a look like he wanted to kill me. I continued to my car. The next day, Coach did about the same thing as the day before. When he told me to drive between the bridge and the shell, I said, “Gotta be careful today. Yesterday, that guy (I gestured at the guy with the mustache and the blue hat) got really mad at me.” Coach said, “He did, huh? If he does it again, tell him to eat s**t and to come and take it up with me.” I filed that away but noticed that Coach gave me a little more direction as to how to drive. I learned fast. I just had to please Coach Erickson and do what he wanted me to do. The guy with the
mustache and blue hat didn’t glare at me. I guess I did fine. I found out that the guy with the mustache and blue hat was a senior, Steve Thomson, who eventually became a really good friend and one of
the people for whom I have the greatest respect.
Benedict gets a nickname:
I kept coming to practice and was really enjoying myself. I had learned to put the launch away without hitting the dock and, in general, Coach Erickson seemed pretty pleased with me. I would come
to the boathouse a little early each day and noticed that lots of these guys had nicknames. There was a “Smitty”, a “Kebo” a “Woodeye” a “Gilbilly”, a “Sopp”, a “Roscoe”, a very large, muscular fellow
called “Blimp”, a really tall guy (taller than the others) called ‘Zoomer” an “Ike”, an “Oly”, a “Jay”, a “Swifty”, a “Stumpy”, a “Gordy” and a wild looking guy with a Land Cruiser called “Lucky Pierre”. Lucky Pierre was also a manager and another guy called “Bomar” was, too. I was walking through the boat bays going to the shop where Coach held his meetings before turnout and noticed a curly-haired guy named “Stu” kind of holding forth, telling jokes and pointing and laughing at the other guys. There was one called “Hess” that a lot of the other guys would tell to shut up while they pointed and laughed at him. The one called “Roscoe” asked me loudly, “What’s your name?” This was the first time any one of these guys actually said anything to me. Before I could answer, the one called “Stu” said, “You look like a Rollo. Yeah, that’s your name. Your name is Rollo”. In those days, I was kind of scared on my feet and, before I could correct them, the other guys stared saying things like, “How ya doin’ Rollo? Hey, man! It’s Rollo! What’s happenin’, Rollo? Yeah, man! Rollo’s the guy who drives Dick’s launch! Guys, Rollo’s here! All right, Rollo!”. I didn’t particularly like it but I guess my name was now Rollo. This must mean that they accepted me. How wonderful it is to be liked. Oh, joy.
(For those who forget, Stu is Stu Johnson,’76, Smitty is Steve Smith,’76, Kebo is Keith Ikeda,’76, Woodeye is Stu Ketchum,’75, Gilbilly is Gil Gamble,’75, Sopp is Chris Allsopp,’76, Roscoe is Ross Parker,’76, Blimp is Jim Brinsfield,’75, Zoomer is Mark Umlauf,’76, Ike is Dwight Roesch,’75, Oly is Mark Oleson,’76, Jay is
Jesse Franklin,’77, Swifty is Scott Hansen,’76, Stumpy is Mike Stager,’76, Gordy is Greg Gordon,’76, Lucky Pierre is Kirk Knapp,’77 and Bomar is Walt Hansen,’77. The one called ‘Hess’ would eventually be Captain of The Crew and Stroke Oar of The Varsity, Mike Hess, but, at this point in time as I would discover, he was an inferior subspecies known as a “Rookie”.)
Benedict screws up and someone else gets blamed:
One of the tasks of the launch driver is to move rowers from one boat to another and one seat to another. One week, Coach seemed to be doing seat changes a lot so I had to learn to do them with confidence. I was very tentative at first but, with a little coaching, I was doing fine. During one of the last turnouts of the week, Coach was getting more and more perturbed. He was trying to get them to move the oar faster through the water and some guys were having a hard time getting the hang of it. He was getting madder and madder. He was having me move guys from here to there, there to here, having shells come together and changing guys around and, to my inexperienced eyes, it seemed like he was playing a shell game in a carnival sideshow. I thought, however, that I was doing great. I was doing exactly what I was asked to do and didn’t need to be told how to go about doing the job any more. Well, I wasn’t quite as good as I thought because, on one of the changes, I came into the shell at a funny angle and caused Chris Allsopp’s oar to disappear under the launch. Sopp was in the process of being lectured and moved and, because I had pulled the launch over his oar, he couldn’t remove it from the oarlock to take with him when he moved position. As Coach yelled at him, Sopp pushed the launch away and that was enough to set Coach off. “What are you doing? Get out of the damn shell and get on the launch!” Sopp said that he couldn’t because the launch ran over his oar before he could get his oar out, something that I had caused from my inexperience. Coach’s voice went up two octaves as he yelled “THAT”S THE WHOLE PROBLEM, ALLSOPP! YOU. JUST. AREN’T. QUICK. ENOUGH!” Before he sat down, he kicked at the bulkhead in front of his seat and then bit the top of the windshield of the launch, leaving a half circle of teeth marks in the wood. I didn’t say
anything. Too scared. I finished moving Sopp to where he was to go and Coach turned the shells around and started them back to the boat house. He sat down and didn’t say anything the whole way back. I guess he was done coaching for the day.
Benedict sees a fight.
Later that fall, almost at the time turnouts were stopped for the fall, Coach had the crews off of Laurelhurst Beach Club and was having them do a variety of drills to build rowing technique. The last of these was a funny sort of drill that they were doing kind of as a goof called the “GZ Paddle”. I gathered that a “GZ” or “Golden Zooker” was a guy who wasn’t good enough to be in the racing boats but was handy to have around as cannon fodder. This drill involved pulling the oar slowly through the water and then pushing it forward to take another stroke as fast as possible. This seemed like a very inefficient way to row but I suppose that is what it was called the “GZ Paddle”. There was a lot of splashing and grunting but not much
movement. One of the hazards of the GZ Paddle is that if one guy comes forward too fast, his oar handle can hit the guy ahead of him right at the base of the back. I was right beside a shell with Steve Thomsen (the guy with the mustache and the blue hat for those who haven’t been paying attention) at cox, Jimmy ‘The Blimp’ Brinsfield at stroke, Fred Fox at seven, Mark Umlauf at six and I do not recall who the other people were. Fred came forward a little too fast and jammed Jimmy in the back. Fred did this three strokes in a row and, when the boat stopped, Brinsfield turned halfway around and said something to Fred. Fred said something to Brinsfield and then Brinsfield stood up, turned around and slapped Fred a couple of times
on the side of his head and then Fred pulled him down and kind of slid back in the boat and the two of them began fighting in Mark Umlauf’s lap. Steve Thomsen was yelling at them to stop and Coach Erickson said, “Let’s get out of here!” Thomsen yelled, “Where the hell are you going, Erickson???” Knowing my instructions, I pulled away kind of slowly and watched the fight go on for a while as Fred struggled to throw Jim out of the shell and Jim struggled to stay in. Mark just wanted them to stop. The fight died a natural death and Coach looks at me and says, “I don’t think we’ll do GZ Paddle anymore.” Good idea.
Benedict grows up:
I could go on and on and on spinning stories about Husky Crew and how it helped me grow up and become a man. I am grateful that Husky Crew was available to me at that time of my life. I came in as a self-conscious, immature kid and came out much different than I was before I started. My experiences are quite different because of the difference of my job to that of the rowers but it was the nature of that job which taught me the things I know. When I left six years later (after graduate school), I was confident and willing and able to go out into the world and be the person I was always destined to be. This opportunity has been there for 100 years for many boys and girls who wanted to be successful men and women. Coach Erickson was both a product of Washington Crew and a person who passed it on in better shape than it was in when he arrived. Washington Crew and the people who comprise it can continue to provide this opportunity to others for another 100 years and more if we all continue to support and build this thing which was provided for us. I am going to do my part. I hope you do yours.
Jeff Benedict, ’78
In the summer of 1974, freshmen coach Rick Clothier announced that he was leaving Washington to accept the head coaching position at Navy. In his place, Dick Erickson hired Bob Ernst, the coach of the Cal-Irvine team that had so impressed at the Sprints at Burnaby in May. Ernst welcomed over one hundred frosh candidates on the first day of turnouts in October.
After the juniors barely eked out a win over the seniors at Class Day, the team got down to serious business at San Diego. “I’ve got no allusions: I don’t think we’re where we ought to be” said Erickson before the race.
But the freshmen won handily on April 5th by ten seconds, and the JV’s startled San Diego newcomer Harry Parker’s Harvard squad, winning by a length in their event. “The JV’s just impressed the heck out of me – those guys really rowed a boat race” said Erickson. But the varsity did not have their best race, finishing second to Harvard by over a length.
Erickson went back to the drawing board, and by Opening Day had arrived on a new line-up to face California on May 4. The weather was one of the nastiest on record, with a southwesterly wind gusting over forty miles an hour and a driving rain, forcing the officials to shorten the course. But Washington swept the regatta, with Cal coming closest in the freshmen event by less than a length; the others won by open water.
Two weeks later the Western Sprints were held at Long Beach. In a bit of a stunner, the Cal freshmen rode neck and neck on the Huskies down the course and prevailed by about two feet. The JV’s, however, won by three-quarters of a length over OCC, and the varsity rowed “the best race I’ve had a crew row. I really didn’t think the race would be that lopsided,” said Erickson of his varsity squad’s ten-second victory in the final. Oregon State finished a distant second in the race followed by Cal.
Off to New London to meet Harvard (who had earlier swept the Eastern Sprints) for the promised distance race on the evening of June 21. In excellent conditions, the freshmen took advantage in their two-miler of a Harvard crab midway through the race to take a two-length victory. The JV’s, in their three-miler, had an excellent start and powered to a dominant six length win.
The varsity lined up for the sweep near the New Haven railroad bridge against a familiar Al Shealy led Harvard squad. The crews stormed out together, but in the second half-mile Harvard moved up by a length, and just held that margin down the course, winning by a half-length of open water. “No one ever rowed four miles better than that” said an animated Harry Parker after his varsity prevented a Washington sweep. “I think it is the strongest race any crew of mine has ever rowed.”
And in a scene permanently etched in the minds of every Husky there, the wire report noted “afterwards, a can of beer in his hand, Shealy called the victory ‘decisive’”. Dwight “Ike” Roesch, the humble captain of the Washington team, quietly noted, “It’s become personal”.
And a shame that was. This event arguably featured the two deepest and best crew teams in the nation, fighting it out for the first ever Tom Bolles trophy. Bolles, the former Washington and Harvard coach and the essence of class, likely agreed with many in the crowd that, from the perspective of pure athletic effort, this was one of the best collegiate crew events seen in many, many years. Had Washington won that race, Erickson planned to take them to Henley. As it was, the Harvard varsity did go to Henley, where they lost in the final of the Grand by two lengths to the British National Team.
Huskies that extended their season as members of the 1975 U.S. Pan Am team included Bill Byrd in the straight four and Mark Umlauf and Mike Hess in the eight. All three came home from Mexico City with gold medals.
Left to right: Norm Millar, Mark Oleson, Dan Lewis, Tom Giovanelli, Gil Gamble, Steve Smith, Stu Johnson, George Naden, Chris Wells (cox). Husky Crew photo.
On October 10, 1975, the inaugural Arnold F. “Spike” Eikum regatta – named in honor of the former General Manager of the state ferry system and 101 Club president – was held on Lake Washington. Actually a similar event had gone off a year earlier, but only by accident when the crews, out for an interclass ham’n’egger, happened by a 101 Club “meeting” on the lake. But this regatta featured the entire varsity squad – heavies and lights – split into eights by the coaching staff and sent out to the bridge to race 2000 meters, followed by the yachts of the 101 Club. Now a permanent fall fixture, the winning crew is usually some anonymous group of guys, likely picked to finish dead last by the coaching staff, which prevail over the multitude of shells lining the lake.
By the springtime, Erickson was not sure what he had. Prior to leaving for San Diego, he said “It’s kind of scary, especially considering the magnitude of the San Diego Regatta.” By now the San Diego Crew Classic had been established as the only event that would pit east (including Harvard and later Yale) versus west, an all-comer’s event that would help establish bragging rights for the remaining year. It was beginning to be taken very seriously, and Erickson knew it.
The frosh began the event with a decisive victory over California, as did the lightweights, but the JV’s were challenged all the way down the course by a tough Penn squad, and were beaten to the line by less than a second. The varsity, having finished third in their heat, was relegated to an outside lane and was really never in the final, losing to Harvard, Penn, California, Wisconsin, and Navy in that order. Chris Wells, captain and coxswain said “I don’t know what to tell you. I think we can row better and can come back. The other crews ran just an aggressive race for this time of the season.”
On Saturday, April 24, the crews met a determined Bear team on the Estuary. The freshmen won a close boat race, but the JV’s fell by a length. The varsity race was over at 1500 meters, with Cal leading by open water, when the six man in the Cal boat’s back went out. With only the sprint left, Cal was faltering, and the Huskies, who had abandoned their race plan early on and were scrambling down the course, rowed through to a fortunate win by about six feet.
The U.S. Olympic team, including Husky Mike Hess, came to Seattle for Opening Day the following weekend. The Husky varsity, steadily improving, had one of their better races of the year, rowing close to their under-stroking Olympic brethren and finishing about a half-length behind. The stunner of the day came in the freshmen race, where a polished group of high school students from Brentwood College knocked off the Husky freshmen.
Two weeks later the team re-grouped at the Western Sprints on the San Pablo Reservoir May 15. The freshmen rowed their race, holding off the Bears to win. The lightweights completed an excellent season with a victory. The JV’s, after a tough year, were beaten by Cal and nosed out at the end by OCC. But the varsity, true to Chris Well’s word earlier in the season, attacked the course with a vengeance and finally rowed their race. Understroking both Cal and UCLA, the team saved it for the sprint and moved out to an open water lead as they crossed the finish line. “They rowed the race the way they were trained to row” said an elated Erickson. “They really did what they had to do.”
Unlike previous years – dating back to 1970 – this would be the end of the 1976 season. Not for California however, as Gladstone took his crews back to the IRA two weeks later and won the Varsity Challenge Cup for the first time in his career. That had to be bittersweet for Erickson and his Sprint champion varsity, the coach vowing not to take his crews back to the IRA’s until they changed the dates. Regardless, this young Husky team, although not perfect, never gave up. The consistent improvement in boat speed, as the season progressed, in the end established this crew as one of the top in the nation.
Chris Allsopp (sculler alt.), Mark Norelius (8+), and Mike Hess (8+) made the U.S. Olympic Team in 1976, competing in Montreal. The eight finished ninth in an Olympics dominated by the East Germans.
George Yeoman Pocock, born March 23, 1891, died at the age of eighty-one on March 17, 1976. Coaxed to Seattle by Hiram Conibear in 1912, Pocock became a trusted friend and invaluable advisor to Conibear, Ed Leader, Rusty Callow, and Al Ulbrickson. Pocock’s multitude of achievements are well documented, but the simple quality most remembered by those who knew him – including the thousands of young men who watched him at work – was his open ear to any who ventured into his shop. A man of integrity and purpose – a man for all seasons – it is Pocock’s spirit, then and now, that is forever linked to the spirit of Washington Rowing. Husky Crew photo.
Opening Day 1976, after the crew races. Seattle Times photo.
From Kirk “Lucky” Knapp:
I once attempted a solo dock sweep on the entire freshman class…not just any dock sweep. I had a huge beam lashed to the front of my Land Cruiser, which was stashed just inside shell storage. With the varsity on the deck, and the grunts on the dock, the bay door came up and I drove out onto the dock. Some did go into the drink, but a few of them got the hood open and were trying to “disable” me…a hasty retreat was made. Trips through the locks and across to Bainbridge in the Hart launch and HUSKY II, or making Old Nero disappear and driving Dik nuts….Like most of the guys, the more I think about it the more tales I come up with…
Bolstered by the late success of the 1976 campaign and a solid group of returning oarsmen – including two Olympians – Mike Hess and Mark Umlauf who had missed the 1976 season – the crew left for San Diego confident. Harvard had chosen not to come to San Diego this year, but instead perennial east coast contenders Cornell, Pennsylvania, and Princeton made the trip.
On April 2nd, on a windy Mission Bay, the freshmen began the day losing a tight race to OCC. The JV’s followed with a half-length loss to Pennsylvania, but a tough Lightweight team won by over three lengths to set up the varsity event. In a see-saw race down the entire 2000 meter course, Pennsylvania was ahead by a half-length with 300 meters to go. Washington then poured it on, closing to dead even as the crews crossed in the identical time of 6:19.8, with a surprising Oregon State crew finishing third. After scouring the film for what seemed like an eternity, the race officials came back with their verdict: Penn by two inches. “It hurts,” croaked a dejected Dick Erickson.
Two weeks later the crew would face off against OSU on the Willamette. Erickson had his men out in small boats the week prior to the regatta, and then put together a re-configured line-up on the Thursday prior to the race. The result was a crew that had not rowed together, against a polished OSU crew that had defeated defending IRA Champion Cal at San Diego. The race was close, but the Beavers got ahead and sat on the Huskies over a shortened upriver course, winning by two feet. “We didn’t get the desired results” said a now perplexed and slightly embarrassed Erickson, admitting the men, coming into the race, did not underrate OSU, “but maybe the coach did”.
So it was now seriously back to the drawing board for a coach that knew he had the talent to go somewhere but had yet to find the magic, a theme that would carry through this season. By the Cal Dual on Opening Day he had settled on a veteran squad that got cute at the start and jumped the gun, causing the judges to stop the race, re-start, and warn Washington. The resultant second start saw Cal jumping to an early lead, with Washington finally getting back to even by 1000 meters. Cal sprinted early and moved ahead again in the early part of the Cut, but stroke Mike Hess took his crew into the sprint at the bridge and the crew powered forward, pulling ahead by almost a length in the final 350 meters to cap the sweep of the Bears by the team.
By virtue of that win in front of the huge Opening Day crowd, Erickson began the campaign to send this crew, and his dominant lightweight squad, to Henley. To seal the deal, both crews would have to win at the inaugural Pac-8 regatta to be held for the first time at Redwood Shores, in a single elimination, dual-race format on May 22nd.
On the day of the finals, it was the varsity lining up again against OSU, who earlier had nosed out California in a semi-final to advance. The Beavers started strong but the Huskies, under-stroking their counterpart by almost four strokes per minute, put it in gear and drove to a two length win. The lightweights dispatched their finals opponent, Cal, by eight lengths in a time three seconds slower than the winning varsity time, prompting Erickson to say his lightweight crew was “one of the finest crews I’ve been associated with. They are an incredible bunch.” The freshmen also won, but the JV’s were nosed out by California in their final.
Erickson would take one of his largest teams to Europe in 1977, and they were not given much of a chance. “Considering the Huskies (varsity) haven’t beaten Harvard in recent memory, the outlook for Washington may not be exactly glittering in surviving as the number one U.S. college crew either. Whatever, it seems ludicrous that it requires a trip to Europe to decide the U.S. collegiate championship,” said the Seattle P-I. As if to add to the uncertainty, Erickson was still tweaking the line-up of his varsity crew once in Europe.
But in a tune-up race at Nottingham the varsity served notice that the crew was ready, finishing second to the British National Team by a half-length, but ahead of Harvard (Eastern Sprint champions). An excited Erickson said “we just flat-out out-rowed Harvard. It was a big day for Washington over here. What happened here will really help our confidence as we train for the Henley Regatta.” The lightweight team also performed well, finishing a close second to the British National lightweight team.
On to Henley, where the lightweights, entered in the Thames Cup (an open event not limited to lightweight crews), advanced after winning their first race. In their second race, they were defeated in a nasty headwind, losing to a much heavier crew that powered into the weather. That same day, Garda Siochana (basically the 1976 Irish Olympic Crew), defeated Harvard in the first round of the Grand.
Meanwhile, a group of Washington spares – two lightweights and two heavies – formed a team that began their unlikely quest for the Visitor’s Cup (straight fours) by winning their first round over a favored St. Catherines College. Trailing much of the race, the Huskies moved through the Cambridge school and in the final sprint pulled away to a two and a half length win. The St. Catherines stroke oar collapsed at the end of the race and fell into the water, where members of a launch saved him. “What’s so surprising about that win is that this was only the third time the four have sat in the boat together,” said Erickson.
In the Grand Challenge semi-finals, the Washington varsity, which had drawn a bye in the first round, now faced the tough Garda Siochana (Irish National Team). The Huskies had a start “that put the fear of God in them” according to Erickson, and veered off course toward the log boom, but settled down and began to row their race. Once back in the race by Fawley, the crews were never separated down the course by more than a few seats, Washington sprinting to win by a half-length. “They rowed for their life today” said Erickson. The headwind and rough conditions played into the Huskies strengths, but Erickson privately worried whether his crew had anything left for the final the next day. The British National Team, in the other semi-final and rowing as the Leander and Thames Tradesmen, were also forced to row a tough race, defeating IRA Champion Cornell by only a quarter length.
After advancing through Downing College in the quarters and London Rowing Club in the semi’s, the four was now poised in the final on Sunday, July 3. The crew got a good start, were challenged for the first 500 meters, but then pulled away and never looked back, winning the Visitor’s Cup by multiple lengths of open water over Lady Margaret’s for Washington’s first ever win at Henley. It was as unlikely a win for Washington as it was a harbinger of things to come.
The final of the Grand was postponed for three hours after the crews had launched, rowed to the start, but then were informed that a broken foot stretcher in the Leander crew needed repair. Back at the tents the men ate cookies. Finally lined up at the start hours later, the crews were forced to wait again, as a flock of geese were escorted off of the course, the uneasy tension broken by friendly conversation among the opposing crews – a scene likely only found at Henley.
The team exploded off the start in the final, settled, and began to move to a half-length lead by the Barrier. Leander took a move, but the Huskies answered and began to pull away in earnest, and by the time they were in front of the enclosures were up by a length and cruised home to win the Grand Challenge Cup in 6:27. “We decided that if we got ahead we were not going to let them back. This is the one we’ve been working for all year,” said Hess.
On July 9, the crews rowed at Lucerne against more international competition, this time being defeated by the East and West Germans, the Russians, Bulgaria and other national teams, finishing ahead of the only other American crew entered, Cornell. “We found out how deep the water is,” said a humbled Erickson.
But he also knew that regardless of these results, nothing would tarnish the legacy of the 1977 team as the first – and second – Henley Champions at Washington. Yes, maybe it was “ludicrous”, as the P-I noted earlier, to choose a national champion in Europe, but that was the way it had to be. And there was no doubt, after this performance, that Washington had established itself as just that.
Seven Huskies made national teams in the summer of 1977, including Scott Donaldson, Mitch Millar, Mark Miller, Ross Parker, Chris Wells, Mark Umlauf and Mike Hess.
The varsity crew at Henley, bow to stern: Ron Jackman, Mark Sawyer, Ross Parker, Mark Miller, Mark Umlauf, Terry Fisk, Jesse Franklin, Mike Hess, cox John Stillings. Time/Life photo.
Left to right, some of the staff that would accompany the team to Henley: Jeff “Rollo” Benedict, Harry Swetnam, Stan Pocock, Keith Ikeda, Dick Erickson, Kirk “Lucky” Knapp. “Stan was a huge help to us that year” says Mike Hess, twenty-five years later. “He made us focus on the things that were important.” Erickson Collection photo.
Mike Hess, Mark Tuller and Stan Pocock christen the George Pocock in the spring of 1977. 1977 VBC Yearbook photo.
The stunning win at Henley made rowing at Washington very popular both locally and globally. Dick Erickson was quick to parlay that success into an invitation, via the NAAO, to the “Festival of Oars” on the Nile in Egypt in December of ’77.
The “Festival of Oars” was an Egyptian tradition of honor dating back thousands of years to the pharaoh Akhanton, and was rekindled in 1971 on the same historical course on the Nile. The event featured two main races, one in Luxor and one in Cairo, and also attracted an international contingent of competitors, with Britain and France sending national teams. As reigning collegiate national champs, the NAAO came first to Erickson with the invitation. Costs were covered by the Egyptian government from London to Cairo, and the Stewards (via an anonymous donor) paid for the trip to London.
All of that added up to a Luxor Regatta that looked great on paper but had some interesting results. The language barrier at the start caused enough confusion that the starter just yelled to start the race, but once rowing there was greater confusion as to the finish line. The French, British, and Washington crews kept rowing, stopping only after the Egyptians, way back of the pack, had stopped. The final results: France by a second over the Brits over the Huskies by a second. But no one is really sure.
Once back home the men got down to the serious business of training for what Erickson was now calling the “Rose Bowl” of rowing – the San Diego Crew Classic April 1st. “It’s our only national-level regatta of the year” he said, “it’s a pressure race”. The freshmen began the day with a strong race down the course, defeating OCC in a nail-biter with a tough sprint. The JV’s and lightweights finished third behind winning Pennsylvania crews, setting up the race of the day between Washington, Harvard, and defending champs Penn. The plan was to get ahead early, and that is exactly what they did, building to a half-length lead by 1000 meters. The strength and conditioning of the crew then held off a charging Penn, with coxswain John Stillings imploring his crew to “put the hammer down” in the last 300 meters to win by 2.1 seconds in 6:03.1. California finished in third just feet behind Penn, prompting Erickson to say “Cal was much closer than I cared to see.”
After continuing to hone his crews, Erickson took the squad to the Estuary on April 29th and swept the Bears at the Dual, including a six length victory by an improving lightweight squad. The JV’s and varsity both under-stroked their Cal counterparts through the middle half of the race and used the extra energy to power across the line with open water to spare. The frosh race was the race of the day only because it was the most bizarre; the fin fell off of the Husky shell somewhere before the race, thus rendering the tiller almost useless. Coxswain Gary Evans spent the next six minutes directing his starboard or port sides to ease off to keep the boat from crashing into the docks the length of the estuary. “We were going out of our tree” said Erickson of he and Bob Ernst, watching helplessly in the launch as the freshmen meandered all over the course. Amazingly the crew still won the race by about two seconds.
A week later at Opening Day the wins were decisive by all of the crews entered. The varsity defeated a visiting Oxford crew by multiple lengths of open water, and the varsity lightweights secured victory over a visiting Japanese crew (Tohoku University) – but more surprisingly six seconds ahead of the UBC crew that had defeated them at San Diego a month previous.
All of this was a set-up to the Pac-8 Championships on the Cut two weeks later with a return trip to Henley on the line. On a glorious spring day, the lightweights, freshmen, and JV’s all rowed to convincing victories, the frosh winning by over ten seconds over the Bears as compared to their experience on the Estuary in late April. But the Bear varsity came to race, and midway through the event had a half-length on a surprised Husky squad. Entering the Cut, the Bears brought their stroke rate up, but the Huskies slowly began to move up, until by the bridge the boats were locked in a classic dual to the death. “Did we win?” asked Mike Hess of cox John Stillings after gaining enough strength to talk. “Yes” said Stillings, and then Hess fell over backward. “I’m under a lot of strain” mumbled Erickson after this exceptional race by both teams, won by the Huskies by about four feet. Hess’s comment afterward was “everything was hurting”.
The crew was officially Henley-bound, and this time Erickson would take his varsity and a composite boat made up of four JV oars and the stern four of the dominant frosh eight, and two spares. After a week of training at Nottingham, the crews entered a series of races covering two days with mixed results; the composite eight and the pair (Dave McGee/Bill Walker) won their Senior-A races, but both crews dropped alternate events. The varsity, rowing at the Elite I level, lost to the Bulgarian national team the first day, and the second day finished a surprising fourth behind Bulgaria, France, and IRA winners Syracuse.
Once at Henley the composite crew drew Neptune RC, the only team that had defeated them at Nottingham. Neptune exploded off the start and the Huskies could not track them back down, losing by a length and subsequently knocked out in the first round of the Thames Cup. The varsity drew a bye and then met IRA bronze medalist Northeastern in the semi-final, cruising to a four-length victory. In the other bracket, it was Bulgaria dispatching first the British, and then IRA champion Syracuse by two lengths to gain entry into the final.
On July 2nd the crews started the race even, with Washington gaining a surprising lead early but the Bulgarians drawing even by the quarter mile. It was there they turned it on, methodically moving through the Huskies to take a boat length and more. Once at the enclosures, Hess brought the stroke rate up and the crew began to move, closing the open water and then some, but it was too late, with the Bulgarians winning by three-quarters of a length. Defeated by an exceptional eastern-bloc crew, Erickson said “We’ll have to reach a long way back to find out what we could have done better.”
1978 was a classic Dick Erickson year: two international trips, four separate overseas venues and races, an undefeated regular season for the varsity and a dominant freshmen squad. But it was also clear from the San Diego and Pac-8 results that the collegiate rowing scene was growing increasingly competitive, particularly on the west coast. In that atmosphere – and with leaders like Hess, Umlauf, and Stillings graduating – Erickson had to know the “strain” he was under was probably not going away.
In the summer of 1978, Chris Allsopp rowed in the double at the World’s, finishing 5th.
The varsity accepting the Copley Cup after a tough race against Pennsylvania at San Diego. Left to right: Mike Hess, Mark Sawyer, Mike Peterson, Greg Guiliani, Mark Miller, Terry Fisk, Kris Schoenberg, Brian Martin. In the front is Erickson with the Cup, shaking hands with a race official, with John Stillings looking on. Husky Crew photo.
Rowing in the same boat with future Hall of Famers like Hess and Umlauf was elusive for guys like me, except on those days when Dick rounded up a ham n egger. Among the joys of rowing in the Fall – no upcoming race pressure, great weather, steak dinners with the football team, stretching on the lawn while the cheerleaders worked out on the practice field – there was perfect ecstasy in pulling your guts out for pride, wanting to live up to the amazing luck of having your tongue blade dug out of the hat along with Mort’s.
Crossing Union Bay for warm-up – faces in the blazing setting sun – was smack-talk time. “Hey Walker, lemme know when you can beat your girlfriend on the erg” earned a wadded-up ball of gazortins in the side of the head, on and on… til we reached the bridge and powered up for the final swing before the start. Turning around at Medina and lining up at the East high rise, a last “hasta luego, Dago” or “hey Fisk, we racing for soft-shell tacos?” – “you sure you can handle that, Kebo?” then “Ready all? Row!” and the boat was swinging, whoop-glide, whoop-glide, and DAMN, so this is what it’s like. For a few golden moments George Pocock really meant it, and we really did go faster with every stroke. Stronger, smoother, 20 at 1000, rush-hour traffic honking, Dik and Rollo pulling up alongside, no comment, just watching. Your coxswain counting down the seats in the next boat, up to the bow ball and open water, screaming for more with 500 to go, lungs exploding, thighs on fire, wanting it to end but go on forever. All for bragging rights at dinner.
Easing toward the Connie with the sunset behind your back, haze on the glassy water and a big full moon coming over the hill, you hear the word “idyllic” used in a real sentence for the first, and maybe only, time in your life. “Shit guys, what an idyllic setting we have here tonight. What the hell, why waste it? Line em up and race em back to the boat house!”
-Bill Walker ’79
Bob Ernst, with graduate assistants Paul Quinney and Don Scales, welcomed in another huge class of freshmen at the crewhouse on the first day of school in 1978, and within days the men were worked into shifts out in Old Nero. The varsity squad began turnouts in anticipation of another trip to the Nile in December, with competition already heating up for the four varsity seats left open from graduation.
A team of eleven athletes accompanied by Erickson and Ernst made the trip to Luxor and Cairo. The men won their race at Luxor by two lengths and followed that up with a one and a half length win in Cairo over British, Irish, Egyptian, Canadian and Belgian competition. Highlights of the trip included the festival of oars (a parade and ceremony for the athletes) in Luxor and visits to the pyramids and Great Sphinx at Giza, before returning home.
Class Day capped two-a-days over spring break, with a fully returning class of ’81 sophomore boat leading the seniors by a half-length at the finish. All of that augured well for a return trip to San Diego for the opening of the season the following week. But once in San Diego the wheels began to fall off, especially when veteran varsity oar Brain Martin was pulled out of the bow seat the day before the races due to a flu-like illness that had infected the squad (replaced by a JV member). The varsity, with other members fighting the bug, could not recover the next day, finishing fourth in their heat and failing to make the final (won by Harvard followed by Cal) for the first time at San Diego. “We crashed” said an uncommonly pale Erickson.
The JV’s, now rowing with a member who was also rowing in a club event, finished fifth. The only salvation for the day came from the lightweights and the freshmen, both winning their events; the freshmen after catching a boat stopping crab in the last 500 meters, cranking it back up, and winning by 3/4’s of a length over OCC. But a quiet trip home reflected the shock in the squad. “The onus is on us now”, said Erickson, “California has a helluva crew and they’ll be real tough”.
Four weeks of training and northwest racing – and the opportunity to get healthy – had a re-vamped varsity ready to face California on Opening Day, May 5th. But Cal, with what Steve Gladstone was now calling “the best crew I’ve had”, was back on the Cut less than a year after losing by mere feet and were looking for vengeance. The crews battled through the first 500 meters almost even, but California took a burst – increased the stroke rate midway through the race – and in about twenty strokes had moved to a 3/4 length lead that they never relinquished. In fact by the finish the lead had grown to over a length, and California won for the first time on Lake Washington since 1965. “That’s the best race we’ve rowed all year” said an excited Gladstone. The JV’s fared no better, finishing a length behind Cal, but the freshmen and lightweights again defeated their Bear counterparts convincingly.
1979 would be the first year of the “Pac-10” (Arizona and Arizona State joining in the fall of 1978) and the first year that the conference championships would be permanently established at the Redwood Shores course south of San Francisco. The team, after two-weeks of deliberate and intense workouts, saw the Pac-10’s as their last chance at redemption for the year and were confident they could do it. “We’ve got to do something to turn (this) around” said Erickson. “They’re a good crew, there’s no doubt about it. But we’re a good crew too.”
True to Erickson’s word, Washington would break the course record in the finals on May 19th, but it was California finishing the race three seconds faster in 5:53.62, completing their season with only the loss to Harvard at San Diego and sending them off to Henley. “My hat is off to California” said Erickson after the race.
The year finished as a wake-up call to a program that had sat on the top rung of west coast rowing for the better part of a decade. California was back with a vengeance. The narrow win by the Huskies on the Cut in 1978, accomplished in part through the last ten stroke heroics of four now graduated world-class athletes, suddenly, in hindsight, looked more significant. California was on top and for good reason: as Erickson noted, Steve Gladstone had a “helluva crew” – and it did not look to be changing anytime soon.
In the summer of 1979, the following Washington oarsmen made the U.S. Pan Am team: Chris Allsopp, 2x, silver; Jesse Franklin, 4-, silver; Fred Fox and Mark Miller, 4+, bronze; Bruce Beall 4x (quad), bronze; Mike Hess, 8+, gold. The following made the World team: Dave Kehoe, 4-; Chris Allsopp, 4x; Mike Hess 8+.
The Class of ’82, left to right: Brad Schock, Al Erickson, Bob Schwartz, Charlie Van Pelt, Greg Hoffman, Al Forney, Dave Worthen, John Menefee, Eric Cohen (cox). Brad Schock photo.
The team at the festival of oars, front to back: Mark Allison, Terry Fisk, Mark Miller, Marius Felix, Charlie Clapp, John Zevenbergen, Frank Davidson, Mike Peterson, Brian Martin, Greg Guiliani, John Wunsch. Dick Erickson Collection photo.
Sources for the 70’s: University of Washington, The Tyee, 1971; Wood and Water, 1973 VBC yearbook; Rowing a Race is an Art, 1977 VBC yearbook; VBC Log Book, 1969-1973, MSCUA; VBC Log Book, 1974-1981, MSCUA; The Log of Rowing at the University of California, 1870-1987, Jim Lemmon; Ready All! George Yeoman Pocock and Crew Racing, Gordon Newell; “Way Enough”, Recollections of a Life in Rowing, Stan Pocock; Sports Illustrated, 6/71; The Seattle Post Intelligencer, various articles (specifics available on request); The Seattle Times, various articles (specifics available on request); A Short History of American Rowing, Thomas Mendenhall; www.Rowinghistory.net, U.S. Team Boatings; Files from the Dick Erickson attic; Conversations/interviews with Mike Hess, George Teasdale, Cliff Hurn, Irma Erickson, Dwight Phillips, and Dee Walker.
Thank you VBC Loggers, The Seattle Times and Seattle Post Intelligencer for providing the balance of information for these years.
The history content on this website is copyrighted © 2001 – 2015 by Eric Cohen, ’82, Team Historian.