A history of winter park high school rowing
As related by Jonathan Rich*,
Past President of the Millennium Rowing Association
at the McAllister Boathouse Dedication and
Alumni Reunion on January 27, 2001.
Winter Park Crew began with one hand-me-down shell 39 years ago, in 1962. There was no team property on a lake. There was no team boathouse filled with shells. The group (I don’t think we could call it a “team” yet) had no non-profit corporation or organized group to support it. There were just enough boys to fill the one shell. There were no girls, and the girls’ participation would not begin until more than a decade later.
The team rowed from the Rollins College boathouse, which is significant. Rollins was the first college to introduce rowing as a collegiate sport in Florida. When Winter Park emulated Rollins starting in 1962, it became the first high school in this area (and we believe in the state) to begin a rowing program. This illustrates a pattern in this sport (maybe any sport) that is worth noting: as go colleges, so too will go the high schools. Therefore, if you want to see what high school rowing may look like in a few years, look at what is happening at colleges.
The first group of rowers was formed back in 1962. Don Ogilvie wanted to put a group of high school boys together to row. He had rowed at Rollins in the 30’s. He had the support of Mr. Brewster, who was a member of the North Orlando Optimist Club and owned a ladies’ clothing store on Park Avenue. They put up a notice at the school and some boys came out. There were only nine of them that year. No alternates, just nine. The Optimists bought them a junk boat from Rollins. Rollins had received it from Yale .It was a true hand-me-down old wooden Pocock shell that somebody had later coated with fiberglass, apparently to extend its life and make it stronger. The fiberglass also made it heavy, absurdly so by today’s standards. It was so heavy that the nine could barely lift it! They called it “The Barge.”
They rowed against the Rollins JV team and against collegiate JV teams that visited Rollins. They were undefeated. They never rowed against a high school team, there were none in the area, and travel was not even considered. They rowed only on Lake Maitland from Kraft Azalea Gardens, using the old, small wooden boathouse that Rollins had before it built the one that stands there today. It was a “fluke” that the group was formed. There was no expectation that they were starting an institution, or a lasting tradition. Imagine how daunting it would have been for that first group to see the team’s future. That, in order to expand, the team would eventually need to buy more equipment and would need regular access to lake front property. That coaches, shells, oars, launches, motors, uniforms, docks, ergometers, trailers, and a boathouse would be needed to raise the team from an improvised, shoestring operation to a full-fledged rowing program.
Imagine how astonished and pleased they would be (or are, since some of them are here) to see this property, this boathouse and this equipment. Yet all that progress happened because the most dedicated among team supporters, each year, found a way to take the program as it was inherited from past supporters and make it better.
Today, for that reason – because every year there have been advances – Winter Park Crew is the best it has ever been. Probably no team (at any level) in the City of Winter Park’s history has been so dominant so consistently. The team is in fact one of the most competitive high school crew teams in the nation. It consistently wins gold, silver and bronze medals at the national regattas.
Alumni, thank you all for being here. You have built a heritage of sportsmanship and honor that the present team has been proud to inherit. This is a team which, when it loses, congratulates its opponents. When a rower had fallen very sick and was pulled from his boat at the last minute before a race and was replaced with an alternate, his teammates rowed to victory and then gave their trophy to the boy who couldn’t row with them. This is a team that when unfairly denied a gold medal at one recent regatta, quietly accepted the judge’s mistaken decision and graciously declined to accept the gold medals offered them by the team that knew it had not won. You built that team by your example, handed down, class by class, rower by rower. You can be proud of this team, and they should be proud of you.