Chartered in December 1994, Penn State Crew began with 28 members and a distinct absence of rowing equipment. Instead we persevered through early morning dry-land practices with only the vision of a serious program guiding our efforts. With the generous assistance of Bucknell University, we finally made it out to the water (after our lake thawed) in a borrowed Schoenbrod Intercollegiate 8+.
The next, and first full year, of our program saw many changes and advancements. We spent the majority of Fall 1995 fundraising in order to purchase our own equipment. By selling concessions at home football games, cleaning Beaver Stadium, and selling crew paraphernalia we were able to afford our own used Schoenbrod 8+, two wooden fours, a wooden 8+ (the “Mahogany Dream”), and four ergometers.
The advent of this equipment and the diligence of our determined athletes enabled us to attend our first competition in April 1996. We attended the Merrill Lynch Collegiate Rowing Championships in Indianapolis, where we joined the remainder of the Big Ten rowing teams in our conference championships. Again using borrowed boats, this time from the Indianapolis Rowing Center, we were fortunate enough to send out two men’s 8+’s and one women’s 8+ to represent Penn State at this challenging regatta.
Later that same season we sent a men’s 4+ to the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Crew Championships at the Occoquan Reservoir in Virginia, where we placed seventh. Ultimately winning the Novice 4+ Petite Final.
We followed up this success with a men’s pair entry at the American Rowing National Championships in Syracuse. This pair represented the Penn State club with a seventh place finish in the men’s pair medal final.
For the 1996-97 year, we boasted an increased membership of over seventy men and women, of which the majority were novice rowers. We experienced a full season of racing beginning with the Occoquan Chase in early October and ending with Dad Vails in early May. Our success during this full racing season was tremendous.
Thanks to our diligent fundraising work, we were also able to afford two newer Vespoli 4+’s, four additional ergometers, a newer set of CII hatchets, a trailer, and additional items necessary for increasing the size and strength of the Penn State rowing program.
For the 1997-98 season, our membership continues to grow and as always, we are attempting to expand our equipment ownership to keep up with the demands our increased growth incurs. Our program successfully maintains male and female competitive programs for novices, lightweights, and heavyweights. While we remain a club program and cannot offer financial aid or acceptance assistance to high school or transfer prospects, we have started to actively recruit students that desire active athletic participation in our chosen sport.
We remain committed to creating boats capable of competing at the highest possible levels and strive to actively promote the sport of rowing within our school and community.
All of the success experienced by this program is due solely to the work ethic and desire of our dedicated members. It has been an honor to work with such determined individuals and to be witness to such expansive growth in a program that was nothing more than a dream a couple of years ago.
by Colin Upson
In the fall of 1998 Penn State Crew left infancy and took its first steps without the likes of Colin Upson and Mike Dugan, our two founding members and coaches. That summer Dugan took an engineering position down in Virginia and Colin took a position with Vespoli USA in Connecticut.
Enter the fall ’98 class of novices, about 50 strong. I stepped in as interim coach, while the officers took on all duties needed to accommodate the now 100+ person team. We purchased a ’91 Vespoli 8+ C hull from Bucknell and were given use of a new Millennium 4+; these two boats pushed our number of racing seats up to 34. Hot-seating has never seen better days. All these boats also had a refurbished trailer to transport them to races, as over the summer Equipment Guru Greg Shoup and I spearheaded a several hundred-hour team project to paint and repair the decrepit trailer mentioned earlier in this history. The team now had 12 more seats and a legal, safe trailer. This fall also saw the arrival of Penn State Crew’s first model C ergometer, a donation of the Rex family.
This large group of people enabled us to move into a larger concession stand at football games, sell more clothing, and of course collect more dues- it all went into the new (to us) equipment. Our race schedule included the Head of the Housatonic, Head of the Schuylkill, Frostbite, and Bill Braxton Memorial Regattas. By Braxton we had more than 70 rowers racing.
Spring ’99 saw me step down as interim coach and return to rowing, while two men familiar with our program stepped up to take on coaching responsibilities. During December and January, a few team members refurbished the pair under the direction of a grad student from Pitt, Joe Cendrowski. We did this work in the basement of the Natatorium. During the months of March and April the team built its own pole-barn, designed by President Bill McLain. This finally gave our boats shelter from the sun and weather.
During the summer, the team still living in State College finished painting and roofing the pole-barn. When that was finished, Shoup and I spear headed another team project: re-painting, re-decking, and repairing our 20 year old Shoenbrod 8+; it was painted black and re-named the “Spoustallennium”, and Bob Spousta down at George Mason loved it.
As of fall ’99 long-time rower and officer Greg Shoup took over coaching responsibilities in his last semester before graduation. Joe Cendrowski assisted him on the water. Fall saw another huge crop of novices join, about 30, and many exciting developments. Most important, the team purchased its first new boat, a ’99 Vespoli Racer 4+. It took minimal payments to our coaches, selling hundreds of shirts, cleaning Beaver Stadium, and working all 7 home football games to pay off the boat. By this time the club’s annual budget is close to $35,000 a year, with about $5,000 a year coming from Penn State.
Our racing schedule was the most ambitious yet, with the Head of the Ohio, Head of the Housatonic, Head of the Connecticut, Head of the Schuylkill, Head of the Charles, and the Bill Braxton Memorial Regatta. We finished out the fall season with our “Silly Sprints/Length of the Lake” scrimmage against Susquehanna University’s varsity and novice rowers on our paltry Lake Perez. Within days after the Silly Sprints, the University begins draining Lake Perez for dam repairs. It is expected to be a one to two year project.
Spring ’00 faced the team with an even greater challenge than losing its founding coaches- no lake for rowing. The team officers hired two grad student coaches in December with solid experience- Joe Cendrowski as our men’s coach and Holly Dunsworth as our women’s coach (of Florida Gators fame). The team continued to thrive: we attended spring training in South Carolina for the fourth straight year, purchased four new hatchet blades (thanks to parental contributions), three new model C’s (courtesy of Club Sports), two resurrected model B’s, and aluminum boat slings.
The fleet now rests on the trailer, parked at an OPP refuse lot near Beaver Stadium. Each Saturday that the team does not race, we trailer the boats up to Shamokin Dam for a daylong practice. This is the site where Bucknell and Susquehanna practice. Susquehanna is generous enough to lend us full use of their launch and docks. During the week (still at 5:15am) the team ergs and does cardio work.
Our schedule for the season is the Bucknell Spring Invitational Regatta, Knecht Cup, Murphy Cup, Mid-Atlantic Championships, and Dad Vails. For financial and competitive reasons, the team will not travel to Indiana for Big Tens. As of April 11, the team has placed boats in the top three of all major races except the men’s heavy 4+, as we have no men’s heavy 4+ this semester. It is our most competitive season in the club’s history. Who knows what we could do with water on a daily basis?
by Jesse Hallowell
Penn State Crew took another major step in the fall of 2000. The team hired John Biddle, former rower at Rutgers and Richard Stockton College, and former coach at Navesink River Rowing and the Peddie School in New Jersey to be head coach. John was an incredible addition to the program with his knowledge and time commitment, finally bringing stability to the coaching position. Along with the help of graduate students Jason Monnell and Holly Dunsworth, Penn State Crew had a well-rounded coaching staff in 2000-01.
That fall also saw the arrival of a large class of about 50 eager novices. With Holly and Jason’s help, John conducted weekly practice at Bald Eagle State Park. Unfortunately, this picturesque setting is over 30 minutes away from campus, so only weekend water practices were possible.
The team also purchased an almost new Vespoli Heavyweight Racer 4, and was the first club in the country to order a new set of “Vortex” hatchet oars.
The racing season was a successful one, consisting of the Head of the Ohio, Occoquan Chase, Head of the Charles, Frostbite Regatta, and Bill Braxton Memorial Regatta.
A long, intense indoor season then started, with the team showing its erging strength by winning several medals in Pittsburgh and Bucknell Erg races. Several members of the team also traveled to Boston to compete in the Crash-B World Indoor Rowing Championships.
All this hard work paid off on the team’s memorable spring break at Camp Bob in Summerton, SC. The team was aided on the trip by the expertise of Susan Saint Sing.
Upon returning to State College, the team had to again trek to the Susquehanna River at Shamokin Dam to practice on the weekends. This was due to the seasonal draining of Bald Eagle and the lack of a replenishing spring thaw.
However, indoor facilities were greatly improved at this time. With the opening of a new fitness facility in the White Building, Penn State Crew said goodbye to Rec Hall. The facility allowed for a much larger erg room and closer access to weight and cardio equipment, as well as several gymnasium floors and matted areas for circuits.
During the spring, to increase the number of available racing seats, the team purchased a used Dirigo 8. All members of the club donated $60 for the purchase of the boat, so it was appropriately named the “Sixty Bucks”. The boat allowed novices to row in a more competitive 8 during the spring season.
The team performed extremely well in the spring. All four varsity 4s medalled at the Mid Atlantic Championships in Fairfax. That day, in a surprise ceremony, the Heavyweight racer purchased in the fall was named the Jesse C. Hallowell, in honor of the former rower, coach, and equipment manager. Jesse was shocked and thrilled when his name was unveiled.
In the week preceding the Dad Vail Regatta, the team repainted the trailer and practiced at Shamokin Dam. Vails were moderately successful for the team, with several boats reaching the semi-finals against stiff competition. After the race, Penn State Crew unveiled the Mark McGreevy Award for positive attitude and team spirit. The award will be given each year to the rower or coxswain who best identifies with the devotion and spiritedness that Mark always displayed during and after his career with the team. Mark was there to present the award to novice Lori Simon.
In a final team activity, President Emily Burns presided over the naming of the Lightweight racer as she had with the heavy racer the week before. The light racer was named in honor of William R. McClain, former club president, and current rower, equipment manager, and men’s captain.
Beginning during Dad Vails week with the new officer transition, the structure of the club was given a major overhaul. Committees were set up under each officer, fundraising, social, archives, etc. Finally noting the growing role of the women’s team, the position of equipment manager was split, with one man and one woman. Neil Pernick and Melissa Jordan were elected for the jobs. Finally, because of its incredible growth, the club’s constitution was rewritten to better reflect the current state of the team.
In the fall of 2001, Penn State Crew turned a major corner on the way to becoming a major regional program. Susan Saint Sing was hired full time, so along with Coach Biddle, the team now had two extremely experienced full-time coaches. This allowed for much more personalized attention on and off the water, as well as regularly scheduled afternoon water practices at Bald Eagle.
Furthermore, Penn State dramatically upgraded its fleet. The team purchased its first new 8, a racer DL from Vespoli. Thus began the tradition of a Men’s Heavyweight 8 at PSU. Also, due to a fortunate mix-up between the University of Miami and Vespoli, Penn State was able to purchase a brand new Millennium DS 8 at a discounted price. With 16 new top-of-the-line seats and the racer 4s, Penn State finally had a complete complement of top-notch boats. Also, an older Vespoli 8 was purchased mainly as a novice racing boat. At the end of the fall, the team’s fleet consisted of four 4s, 4 eights, a pair, as well as the Catch Me, Squeeze Me and the Spoustalennium.
The varsity faired extremely well during the season, winning several medals at Head of the Ohio, The Occoquan Chase, and the Head of the Schuylkill. The team also participated in the Head of the Charles, with a women’s 8 rowing in the maiden voyage of the Millennium DS. During the final weekend of the season at the Frostbite and Bill Braxton Regattas, Penn State had over 90 racing members, including almost 50 energetic novices.
The future looks bright for Penn State Crew, with dozens of returning varsity and novices, excellent coaching, new boats, a restructured team, and a hopeful return to Stone Valley in the spring of 2002.
by Evan Neft
In the years following ’02, the team began making major strides forward. With the guidance of John Biddle, and the addition of Ph.D. candidate David Keith Hester II and former team member Josh Organist to the coaching staff, the team was ensured a solid staff for years to come.
The ’05-’06 season was an exciting time for the team. The Women’s Varsity 4+ had a strong fall season that included a 3rd place medal at the prestigious Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston, MA. This was a sign of things to come.
At the Dad Vail Regatta that May, the team produced multiple medal winning boats: bronze in the men’s pair and gold in the women’s varsity 4+. But the women were not yet finished with that season. They packed up immediately and, the next day, received another gold medal at ECAC’s.
Over the summer of the 2006 the team continued to progress with the hiring of Jamie Francis as the novice coach. Coach Francis was an incredibly fortunate hire for the team, considering where he was coming from and where the team was asking him to go. Jaime possessed years of coaching and rowing experience in Florida (and rowed for the same university as Keith: the University of Central Florida). Accepting the job as head novice coach meant moving his family up from sunny Orlando, Florida, to the not-so-sunny State College.
The year that followed also saw a great deal of success. A 4th place finish at Head of the Charles by the Men’s 4+, and a 2nd place finish by the Women’s 4+ highlighted the fall season with strong recruiting classes on both varsity and novice teams showing rapid improvement. Thanks in part to a generous donation by a rower’s parents, the team was able to purchase a new Hudson Elite Model 4+, to replace a boat that had been destroyed in the spring of 2005.
The following spring showed continued success, as varsity and novice spent the winter months lifting, rowing, and erging. In the spring, the team’s hard winter training paid off as the team saw success on all levels at indoor rowing races. At Bucknell’s Erg Armageddon, the team swept the podium and 4th place in the men’s varsity lightweight event, captured gold in the women’s varsity event, as well as medaling in many novice races. The team looked to carry this success into the spring racing season.
After a spring break in which the weather cooperated better than usual, the team entered the racing season right where they left off in the fall with the women’s varsity 4+ and the men’s light 4 leading the charge. As the season moved on the team was saddened to hear the Coach Biddle would not be returning the following year, and that Jamie Francis would take over as head coach. In a tremendous act of generosity, Coach Biddle donated a brand new Resolute 4 to the team, arguably the fastest 4 shell that money can buy. At the Dad Vail Regatta, the team had its sights set high. The women racing in the brand new “Coach’s Legacy” flew through heats and semis of Vails. In Finals they faced stiff competition from multiple crews. The boat finished 2nd, less than 3 tenths of a second off of 1st. The light men saw similar luck finishing 2nd, only 2 seconds behind first in another very close race. Overall, it was a very successful showing, and the team parted with Coach Biddle with 2 sets of silver medals from Vails.
Coming into the ’07 season, the many of the team was unsure of what to expect. A good number of the most experienced rowers had graduated, and the varsity had a new coach it barely knew. Coach Francis had decided to try to take the team up to the next level by transforming the team into on that prioritized the 8 man boats instead of 4’s as it has the past several seasons. The fall proved to be an invaluable experience for the team as they were fortunate enough to send 5 boats to the Head of the Charles. Despite no medals this year, the team continued to put out strong showings in men’s and women’s races.
Written by Evan Hodes
Made better by Keith Hester II