Thursday, December 31, 2015



Rowing Ruminations Part 10

(There are no spoilers in this post. In fact, there is no rowing in this post.)

Like I’ve mentioned, the premise of the league we rowed in was that all the athletes were studying to get the same diploma. (I was not shooting for a diploma in rowing, although my mother would have protested that it certainly looked like I was trying to earn a bachelor's in rowing at the time.) We didn’t have athletic scholarships or athletic admissions or athletic anything. Even if you won in the Japan High School National Championships in baseball/ basketball/ volleyball/ speed skating/ rowing/ distance running/ gymnastics/ kyudo, if your high school transcript and admission exam scores weren’t good enough, that would be the end of the discussion. Oh, and our school didn’t have legacy admissions.

We got new rowers by recruiting them. Aggressively. Recruiting began even before the day of registration. Most of us came from prep schools (not prep schools in the American or British sense, but as in academically oriented schools that found purpose in sending students to big name universities and other academically competitive programs), which meant that people from your high school would probably be in the incoming class. One school in particular generated a large number of boat club members, and a disproportionate number of those were from the high school choir. I might be remotely able to understand if they were coxswains (projecting is the same in the water and the concert hall, especially in the pre-cox box era) but they were all rowers, and the most well built ones on the roster at that.

The upperclassmen frequently complained that the department was admitting “too many” girls. This was annoying, but also understandable. Four years ahead of our class, there were 10 women in a class of 100. In my year, the number was closer to 35. If you wanted to field men’s boats, you needed men, and you had to beat out clubs like rugby and baseball and soccer to get them.

Once we had their names, we’d build a plan. Kind of like how the NCAA forbids coaches from calling high school students before a set date, we were forbidden contact with new students (unless they came from your own school), and even then, we could only call from ten in the morning to nine in the evening. Once you had contact with them, you’d take them out to lunch, or up to the lake where we practiced, or to an amusement park, or wherever. When it was time for them to move in, we’d show up at the new apartment with brooms and mops and dusting cloths, and most importantly, cars (the kids from Tokyo and their families had no real clue how crappy public transportation was in this part of the country), and help them and their families shop for kitchen utensils and household items.

The plan was to show them and their parents how nice we could be when we were trying, and also to isolate them from other clubs. This was the era before everyone had cell phones. Beepers were only for doctors and firefighters. Once we had them in our car and away from their home phones, they were ours. We were intentionally vague about how long and how often we practiced. We played like psychopaths manipulating our targets into abusive relationships.

I heard awful stories about 18 year-olds being taken to places where they shouldn’t be, and there was that one guy who was served enough alcohol to float the Stampfli Express, got too drunk to see straight, and forced into saying that they’d join crew while being secretly recorded (and having it played back to them when they were sober). He has become a successful professional, is married with kids, and participates in alumni rows on a regular basis, so all’s well that ends well, I guess.


Annie Crow said...

And why were you doing all this again? I need to go back to your first posts. That's a lot of effort, though now I see you weren't the only girl on your team, just your boat.

pumpkinmommy said...

What do you mean by "all this?" Recruiting? We needed to replace the graduating class to have boats on the water. Staying in crew? I don't know if I've talked about it yet, but it seemed like I should stay until there was another girl on the squad who would stay. I thought it would be essential to the survival of the club. In the end, it was for nothing but it seemed like the thing to do at the time. And once the lineups for the season are announced, you don't quit. You just do not quit mid-season :)

Annie Crow said...

Well, and I'm coming from the US collegiate background where there's a lot more money for sports, even at my Division III college.

How did you like being on the water? I guess I'm reading a lot about the struggle of it and not so much about what you enjoyed.