Row, row, row your...
March 19, 2013
If you happen to be driving over the Granby Street Bridge Saturday morning and you see a pair of racing shells moving slickly across the water’s surface, coxswains shouting commands at their rowers, don’t be shocked. And don’t think you’ve passed through some type of time and space warpr and have been transported to Iffley Lock on the River Thames in England during the 19th century.
You’ll still be in Norfolk. It’ll still be March 23, 2013. And like me you’ll be wondering why that danged ground hog had to see his shadow this year (please, can someone tell me when spring plans to show up?).
Things change. Sports increase in popularity (just ask the soccer and lacrosse communities). And women’s rowing is now a sport at Old Dominion University.
So far, it’s a sport that has stayed somewhat under the radar. Its home base is tucked at the back end of Lakewood Park, a couple of miles from campus. And as far as hosting meets … well, the Monarchs haven’t done much of that so far.
Two years ago, there was the meet against the University of Miami. It was such a big event that the team had the affair catered. Then last year the Monarchs hosted Delaware and North Carolina.
“We had a bagpiper open the event,” coach Daniel Garbutt said. “You’ve got to put a little extra into it when you host a rowing event. I mean, there isn’t a lot of the race that you can see.”
Here’s another point: the Monarchs are unbeaten in head-to-heads on its home turf, er, water.
So anybody crossing the Granby Street Bridge at 8:50 Saturday morning should get an eye full as the Monarchs and the University of North Carolina duke it out (the finish line of the 2,000-yard course is east of the bridge and the teams will come beneath the bridge at very close to that appointed time).
In a sports world where the NCAA tournaments for both men’s and women’s basketball begin this weekend, a sport like women’s rowing can get a little lost. Let’s face it, there will be a lot more interest in ODU’s football team taking to the practice field for “spring football” this week than there will be buzz about the rowing team having its only home meet of the season. But Garbutt isn’t sweating that.
Garbutt is about building a reputation at ODU for putting out quality teams and creating a quality program. So far, he is on schedule. The team might have been born out of the necessity to balance ODU’s Title IX budget – adding a women’s rowing team was necessary after adding so many football players on the men’s side of the ledger – but that doesn’t make them a competitive afterthought.
Just the opposite. The Monarchs have been traveling coast to coast and bringing home hardware from races with intriguing names. If anything, these rowers know how to name an event.
There was the Head of the Hooch (that’s in Chattanooga, Tenn., on the Tennessee River). And there’s the Rivanna Romp and the Head of the Schuylkill. Coming up soon on the schedule is the Knecht Cup. I personally love it when I run into names that look like monster scores on a Scrabble board. It gives the sport flavor.
And Saturday will give the team a bit of exposure as they race along the banks of Colonial Place.
“We’re out so early in the mornings practicing that few see us,” Garbutt said. “I mean, who’s going to see you before 6 o’clock? But some of the neighbors wave at us and know we’re out there in the mornings.”
The Monarchs and their competition should be out there for five races this Saturday and will likely cause of some rubber-necking and finger-pointing.
Garbutt will welcome the attention and those who want can stop by the crew team’s home base for a cup of coffee afterward. Garbutt and the team will more than likely watch a replay of the races on their big-screen TV at the facility, and Garbutt will likely face a moment when he realizes his first recruiting class is about to depart.
“Maeghan Pardy is in her third year as our captain,” Garbutt said. “That’s hard to replace. This senior class has been special in many ways.”
Garbutt has a painting at the rowing center of boats racing along the Lafayette River. It’s from the 1800s. It paints a picture in his mind when he looks at it.
“When I look at it, I think that maybe this community will embrace a day of racing on the river,” Garbutt said.
And if not this Saturday, maybe some Saturday in the near future.