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Eric Rothstein's Retrospectives

A History of the TJ Crew Team

by Eric Rothstein

At the awards ceremony following the 2000 season I was the last presenter at the end of a long evening. Feeling rushed, I neglected to give the kids on my boats the kind of recognition that other coaches had. Since these guys deserved more, especially the seniors, I decided to write each one a letter thanking them for their contribution to the team. That project turned into a rather long tribute that I had published on the team web site. Having enjoyed the experience, I decided to make it an annual tradition and to also write something about each crew I coached in the past. I hope to get caught up by the spring of 2002, which will be my tenth season at Jefferson.

A caveat to the reader: this is not an attempt at a complete history of Jefferson Crew. It is really about the men's varsity, with some details about the second eight as well, and a few mentions of significant events involving other segments of the team. This is, of course, written from my perspective. I'm sure that others will remember things differently.

One of the hardest things about writing this is dealing with things that I view negatively. As great as my time with TJ Crew has been, there have been many conflicts and controversies that upset me at one time, if not still today. In many cases I have left these events out, but the ones that were essential in shaping my experience are included. As much as possible, I have left out the names of those involved and taken a critical view of myself where appropriate.

I apologize for writing so much about myself. As I am the only character who is constant among each piece of writing, I appear often. Though I am writing this to document some of the history of this team, and as a celebration of the successes of the young men whom I have coached, Jefferson Crew has been such a huge part of my life that I couldn't write about it without interweaving my own life story during these years.

Finally, I look forward to hearing from any alumni or parents who can clarify matters, add pictures, or just want to reminisce about old times.


Written October 2000

When I began coaching at Jefferson in 1993, hatchet blades were a very new thing. Wooden boats were common, and wooden oars were still being used. TJ had two Dirigos that had been purchased new the year before, but we had only five other shells (all eights) that had come from other teams. The speedcoach didn't exist, and most lower boats did not use coxboxes. We got our first four model-B ergs that year to go along with four model-A retrofits. There were empty racks at Sandy Run, and most of the Prince William shore was in as natural a state as the Fairfax shore remains today. Rowers raced in cotton tank tops with shorts, no unisuits.

When I began coaching at Jefferson, half of the teams that now row in the DC area did not exist. Our local championship was called NOVAs. At that race, every single rower competed at the Occoquan in one day with heats and finals for everyone. The SRA Regatta began at about noon on a Friday (we would drive up that morning) and finished in the middle of the afternoon the next day.

When I began coaching at Jefferson, Ron Lim was already there. By 1997, the other coaches who were with us in my first year were gone. Eight years after I started, Ron and I are still coaching together and have worked with more than 25 different people on this staff and with four different athletic directors.

When I began coaching at Jefferson, I had never heard of the internet. Coaches rarely learned the results of a race that they didn't attend. Communications within the team were spread by the newsletter and bulletin board, not e-mail. Monthly booster club meetings were attended by about ten people.

When I began coaching at Jefferson I was young and single, didn't even have a dog. I had a full head of hair (already starting to turn gray) and could out-run almost everyone on the team.

Times have changed.

How I got involved in rowing

This sport has become such a huge part of my life that I cannot imagine what I would be doing now had I not found rowing. Given that, it is hard to believe that I didn't find it until I was 20 years old, and then very much by accident.

There was no rowing team at my high school when I went there. I played freshman football, then switched to soccer. Had there been a rowing team, I probably would have been interested. Had it been as expensive as rowing is here, my parents probably would not have let me do it.

When I was a freshman at Michigan State, I knew that there was a rowing team. A friend of mine even suggested that we go to an interest meeting because there was a very attractive girl in the dorm who rowed. But we never did go to that meeting, and it wasn't until two guys in my fraternity started rowing that I gave it another thought. These guys would come in all sweaty during breakfast and tell us about their workout. I was highly impressed, but I could hardly conceive that I could row.

At lunch on the last day of finals during my sophomore year, I happened to sit next to one of the rowers. Just to make conversation, I joked that I was going to come out for the team the next year. I was sure that he would dismiss that notion as ridiculous, but he said, "Good, we need some big guys." Somehow, I had gotten the impression that in rowing it was better to be small, and I thought that it required incredible arm strength. He explained that neither of my perceptions was accurate, and suggested that I run during the summer to prepare myself.

Though I was very active in intramural sports and had played soccer and football in high school, I was in lousy shape. To work on that, I regularly went to the track at a school near my parents' house that summer. When I was able to run continuously for a mile, I thought that I had really accomplished something. In a few years I would be running 15k races in 7:30 miles, but progress was very slow in the beginning.

As the next school year approached I was up to three miles, but I knew that an even bigger challenge awaited. The crew at Michigan State had early morning practices, and I was in the habit of avoiding classes that started before 10am because I liked to sleep in. My plan was to run at 7:30 every day one week, then at 7:00 the next week, and so on until I was up and running at 5:30. I ran at 7:30 once, then shut off the alarm the next morning. I decided that I could never be a rower.

Somehow, my fraternity brothers got me down to the river that fall. We ran three times a week and rowed three times a week. At first I did well, but at some point I started crabbing and could not stop. After crabbing multiple times at several practices, one morning I was so sick of it that I came very close to jumping out of the boat, swimming to shore, and staying away from rowing forever. Soon, I got past that, and I have never crabbed in a race.

To become a rower, I overcame a lack of fitness, an entrenched habit of sleeping late, and early technical problems. When a kid with some challenges comes out for the team at TJ, I see myself. And when someone isn't willing to work hard to overcome his or her challenges, I am always bothered.

The rowing team at Michigan State was a club. Some college clubs are well established, some have the benefit of alumni support, and some (like GMU) get significant help from their university. We had none of these things going for us; we were at the bottom of the world of collegiate club rowing. Our best hull was not nearly as nice as the shell which TJ's 5th eight now rows. We had one set of composite oars, the rest were wood. Within our team we shared everything-no crew had their own shell or set of oars. Our boathouse was named worst in the country by USRowing's magazine. During my junior year we had a coach who was a grad student. He rowed in my boat, the varsity four (we were, therefore, uncoached). My senior year, we had no coach. Students ran the team to the best of their ability, but chaos reigned. Somehow, we had some racing success and managed to not kill ourselves on long drives back from regattas in the middle of the night. It was a great experience, and when I graduated I wanted more.

While living with my parents and taking graduate classes in education, I started rowing with the Ann Arbor Rowing Club. They needed coaches, so I took a squad. Though I coached the morning group, one day I came to an afternoon session and took out a crew. The new coach of the University of Michigan team was there and rode along with me. At the end of practice, he offered me a job with the novice men. As has happened so many times in my involvement with this sport, I was in the right place at the right time that day.

My year of coaching at Michigan was incredible. I may as well have never been exposed to the sport previously, because I learned everything from the other coaches. I had a terrific bunch of guys and they won several races, including the Midwest championship. My brother was on the varsity eight, so we got to spend more time together that year than we ever would again as adults. At the end of the spring, I was offered a position as varsity men's assistant and some members of the women's team wanted me to be their head coach. But I had just finished a teaching certification program and owed it to my parents, who had supported me through grad school, to go get a real job.

That spring I had been given the day off from student teaching to attend a job fair. I didn't know where I wanted to teach, but I knew that I was ready to leave Michigan. The first booth that I saw was for Fairfax County. I hadn't heard of it, but their display showed a map indicating its location. I had been to DC for the USRowing convention in December and again that spring for a race against Georgetown. I knew that I liked DC and that there was a lot of rowing there, so I signed up for an interview. Thirty minutes later they gave me a contract. I had arranged for some other interviews, but I decided that Fairfax County was probably as good as any other place, and I wanted the rest of the day off.

How I became a coach at Jefferson

At the end of the summer, when Fairfax County assigned me to a school, I looked on a map and saw that it was very close to the Occoquan River. I had heard of Occoquan because the national team scullers trained there and my brother had raced there with a development camp. Several times at the end of a school day I drove around looking for the boathouse. I went to Fountainhead, Occoquan Regional Park, and the town of Occoquan. No luck. Finally, one day I had a hunch and drove down Van Thompson Road, allowing me to make my first foray into Sandy Run.

The first person I saw there was Bob Spousta, head coach at George Mason, whom I had met the previous spring at the Dad Vail Regatta. I told him that I was looking for a place to row or coach, and he said that he knew of a high school that was looking for a head coach. He gave me the number, and that evening I called Lee West, who was the head of the Gar-Field High School Crew Boosters. We had a good talk, and I agreed to meet with Lee and some of the rowers at their boathouse.

Looking back, agreeing to coach at Gar-Field was not a good idea. For one thing, their boathouse was very inconvenient for me. Secondly, I was not ready to be a head coach. Third, most of the kids on the team at that time viewed rowing as an activity, not as a sport. The year was not without successes, and I enjoyed working with some of the kids and parents, but near the end of the season I decided that I would not return.

During the fall of 1991, Ron Lim worked for the Gar-Field Crew Boosters as a coach in their fall program. I didn't get to know Ron well, but when he left the program in November he told me how much better things were at Jefferson and suggested that I leave G-F to join him there. I was already disillusioned and was interested in making a change, so Ron had Cathy Coffman call me. I chose to stay with Gar-Field because they paid much better (and as a first-year teacher, I really needed the money) and I didn't want to be a novice coach again. My ties to TJ were beginning, though, and that spring I often talked with Ron and observed how much better the situation at Jefferson was.

That summer, the man who had been coaching the Jefferson women during their first three seasons left the team. Accounts vary. Some say that he had had inappropriate relations with some of his athletes, others dispute that. What everyone agrees on is that he and Cathy did not get along. With his departure, Cathy was moving to the girls' side (though she would continue to coach the lightweight boys for one more year), and the position of head boys' coach was offered to me.

Winter of '92-'93

Winter training was held on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays because those were the late bus days. The few ergs that we had were stored in large classroom in the math hall and pulled out into the hallway during training. The teacher who occupied that room, Paul Thomas, coached a couple of sports and was one of the main winter training coaches. It was customary for every coach to do the same workouts that the kids were doing.

Each day about 12-20 kids would show up, many from other sports. I remember Alex Chinoy, Jeff Scruggs, Byron Cocke, Brian Meffle, Jason Borovies, Bliksem Tobey, and Andrew Stack being there on a somewhat regular basis. I don't think that any other boys made more than a token appearance. Neither of our captains was on a winter sport or trained.

Every training session began with everyone doing a calisthenics routine together in the hallway. We did some erging, but running seemed to be the primary activity. We went on some long runs off campus, but we also had access to the track on many days and did quite a few Indian Runs as well as some bleachers.

There were some interest meetings, and I guess that someone was recruiting, but I was essentially oblivious to it all.

Spring of '92-'93

There were about 25 boys returning to the team that spring. Most of them seemed to want be on the lightweight eight. That crew had pulled out a bronze medal at the SRA Regatta the previous spring (rowing in the Soulcraft) and was considered the pride of the boys program. The team handbook listed what we now call the "Varsity Eight" and the "Heavyweight Eight," and it used the term "Varsity Lightweight Eight," which I found odd since it was the only lightweight eight we had. They had several boys returning, so Cathy still wanted to coach them.

Mike Epply, who had coxed the varsity eight since the team started his freshman year, was the only boy returning from the previous years' varsity boat. Nils Bunger, also a senior, had been the alternate to the V8. Just about everyone else I had was in his second year of rowing.

After a few weeks of practice and experiments with some lineup variations, the varsity became:

  • Cox-Mike Epply (sr)
  • Stroke-John Thrall (jr)
  • 7-Rob McInturff (jr)
  • 6-Nils Bunger (sr)
  • 5-Alex Chinoy (sr)
  • 4-Khalid Hanif (jr)
  • 3-Bliksem Tobey (sr novice)
  • 2-Jeff Scruggs (sr, cut from light eight)
  • Bow-Andrew Stack (sr novice)

I have to say that I remember almost nothing of that year's jv eight. They did not win any races but they improved a lot, and by the end they could glide the Old Leaky for virtually an eternity. I think that they came in fourth out of four at NOVAs, and in those days we didn't take the jv to Stotes or SRA, so that was it for them.

There was only one other boys' crew that year. Colin Buckner coached the novice crew with about 12 rowers, some of whom hardly ever got on the water. Colin was an ex-Marine who had rowed at GMU and was legendary for having played a prominent role in a well-known martial arts movie. He was a tough leader and did a nice job with the kids he coached.

At the first race of the year there were eight varsity eights entered. In those days, heats were held without finals until late in the year. We finished at the back of the pack in our heat, though it was fairly close. West Potomac won the other one by a lot, but overall the rest of the times were similar to ours, so I thought that we had done okay.

The night before the next race, we ran over a submerged log and jammed the skeg into the hull. For their demolition to that piece of wood, the crew became known as The Lumberjacks. Tony Thrall, John's dad, did a great repair that you can still see. The varsity had to race in the Soulcraft, which was much too low in the water for them, and came in far behind in the fastest heat.

During spring break we held a row-a-thon, with everyone expected to raise $50 and row to the bridge with a bunch of ten-minute pieces along the way. The varsity was very competitive with the lightweights, which was a surprise to everyone. Improvement was starting to show.

The GW Invitational, a large collegiate regatta on the Potomac, had a couple of high school events in those days. The varsity drew a tough heat, but they had been rowing well in practice and I thought that they could make it to the final. They rowed a great second thousand but finished a few seats down to TC Williams and Robinson.

One workout from that spring sticks in my mind. We did three sets of 15 minutes, 40 seconds on at high rating, alternated with 20 seconds of paddle. The workout was very intense and was memorable because the jv fought very hard and because there was a cold, miserable rain. I was very proud of both boats for working hard in those conditions and felt that we were becoming a formidable crew.

I wish that I had kept records. At the time, everything that happened was so vivid that I was sure I would remember it forever. I really don't recall much about the rest of the regular season, except that we stopped finishing last.

One thing that I remember well is the kind of erg scores we had. The standard test at that time was 2500m. I chose to make our test 1500m because it would get the testing over with more quickly (we had just four good ergs), it better reflected the physiology needed to succeed in the high school race, and because I wanted to give everyone a fresh start without comparisons to the previous year's team. Our top score that spring was by Matt Hemm, a jv rower, who pulled a 5:01. To put this in perspective, on the 2000 team there were close to 20 guys who could have broken that score. One reason for the slow scores was that the team wasn't well trained, our winter conditioning program was mediocre at best. A bigger factor, I think, was expectation. I'm sure that if Rob McInturff were on our team today, he would pull one of the best times.

The varsity made the finals at NOVAs, knocking off Woodbridge, I think. They did not row well in the final, however, and finished sixth. The order of finish was:

  • TC Williams
  • West Potomac
  • Woodson
  • Wilson
  • Yorktown (I think)
  • Jefferson

At the Stotesbury Cup Regatta, Nils Bunger stepped into a hole on the warm-up run and was unable to row. With the alternate, Byron Cocke, in his place, the crew rowed well and was competitive with the top three, but failed to make it to the semi-final. We were so uncompetitive in my first couple of years that I was oblivious to who made the final and really didn't know who the good crews were.

For some reason, the SRA Regatta at St. Andrews was much smaller than Stotes. We were in a heat of five crews, the top two of which would go to the final and the next two to the petite. All we had to do was defeat Hylton, a first-year team that had never beaten anyone, to advance. The guys finished fourth in the petite the next day, 10th overall. The girls won their petite, as they had done the previous week at the Stotesbury Cup.

My first year with the team was a lot of fun. I enjoyed the kids and felt so positive about the future of the team that I abandoned thoughts of leaving the area and bought a townhouse that summer. The guys got me a great gift, a pair of sculling blades that I still have.

The 1993 varsity eight heading out for their final row together

The 1993 varsity eight heading out for their final row together

Class of '93

Nils Bunger (Virginia) - One of the original four-year rowers. Nils was a talented rower and a good leader.

Alex Chinoy (Virginia) - Alex surprised me by rowing all four years at Virginia. He brought an intelligent sense of humor to our team and always made things interesting.

Mike Epply (Virginia Tech.) - Bound to be the only person in the history of this team who will be in the men's varsity for four years. Mike was a very good coxswain, but it was tough for me to work with someone who had been influenced by another coach for so long. He coxed for four years at Tech.

Jeff Scruggs (Virginia Tech?) - Jeff joined the varsity after not making the light eight. He worked hard and rowed well.

Andrew Stack (Virginia Tech?) - A senior novice, Andrew was perhaps the most intense kid on the boat.

Bliksem Tobey (Carnegie Mellon) - Another senior novice, Bliksem was a natural athlete who would have excelled had he come out earlier.


Written December 2000

If I could take back one year of coaching and do everything differently, there is no question that the 1994 season would be my choice. I would not have chosen to try to coach three boats. I would select the line-ups and coach the crews much differently. And, most of all, I would not have supported the hiring of a freshman coach who turned out to be a disaster for the program.

Summer of 1993

The best thing about being a teacher was having the summer off. In 1993, I decided to devote all of that time to rowing. I was determined to break the single-season OBC mileage record held by Paul Coffman, Cathy's husband. I got in a few miles during the spring but really started in earnest when school ended. I usually rowed 11 times a week. A typical day was an 11-mile row in the morning and a 7-mile row in the afternoon. I surpassed my goal by accumulating 1,321 miles, but I've never felt great about the accomplishment. My obsession was so focused on mileage that I lost sight of a lot of other things. Had I approached it better, I probably would have made much greater improvements in my rowing.

Winter of 1994

As was the case in my first year at TJ, winter training was held three days a week. Most of the top returning rowers were on winter sports teams (which is great), and most of the others were only marginally committed to training. Jason Borovies, a senior with a military mindset, developed a very intimidating way of counting out push-ups. Other than that, I don't recall anything of interest.

Spring of 1994

That spring we took delivery of two new Dirigo eights. The Catherine Coffman was for the lightweight boys and the Incitata was for the lightweight girls. We also got two new sets of oars so that both varsity and both lightweight crews had hatchets. Tony Thrall organized a group of volunteers who renovated our old trailer to hold one more eight and a lot of extra equipment. The trailer sat in front of the Thrall home for many months and came back to us much improved.

With Cathy moving completely to the girls, I chose to work with all of the upper boys boats. This was partly because we were short on coaching (again, just two men's coaches) and partly because I wanted control over the program. With the lightweights having been the focus of the team previously, I wanted to make sure that I was in charge of them so that I could make the new priority clear. At the same time, the second eight is the understudy to the V8 and really needs to spend time with the varsity coach, so it was important for me to work with them as well.

The plan was that each day I would take two of the crews out at the beginning of practice, then make a switch at the mid-point. The crew not on the water had a land assignment. Since this was complicated, each week I wrote out a very detailed plan that I posted on the locker door.

We started the season in three fairly even squads, called the Red, White, and Blue. Each day two of those squads would row together, often doing pieces by sixes, so that I could evaluate the talent. I think that this arrangement lasted for about three weeks before line-ups were set.

One of the biggest challenges that year was that of the 25 or so boys returning from the previous spring, only two were coxswains. I took a freshman whose sister had already been on the team and tabbed him as the jv coxswain. Though he did a fine job, it was difficult for him to be rushed into that situation.

The initial varsity line-up was: Ken Patricio, cox; John Thrall, stroke; Evan Burfield, seven; Khalid Hanif, six; Rob McInturff, five; Sean Koenig, four; Matt Hemm, three; Stewart Young, two; and Byron Cocke, bow. Stew and Evan had been in the lightweight boat the previous spring, Matt and Byron the jv, Sean the novice, and the others were returning from the varsity.

There were two other seniors who were probably good enough to be on that varsity boat. Everett Meyer had been on the lightweight boat the previous spring and was a contender for the varsity, but he had plans to go away during spring break. Missing that week is really like missing two weeks of practice, and I felt that it wasn't fair to give him a shot at the varsity. I also wanted to set a precedent so that we wouldn't be in this situation again (and we never have been with a varsity contender). Because league rules at the time prevented seniors from rowing in the jv, and because we didn't have fours, Everett was relegated to the third eight. He handled it with a great attitude and ended up in the varsity for the SRA Regatta when Matt had to attend a funeral.

The other senior on the bubble was one of our captains, Ryan Erdman. Ryan was one of the best wrestlers in the area and had been on the lightweight eight the previous two years. I definitely liked his toughness, but I was concerned that his stroke was not long enough to blend in with the rest of the crew. I also needed him to stroke the lightweights. We only had eight returning boys who were at or below weight, and we had purchased a new hull for the lightweights, so I didn't want to disband them or bring in a novice. I wish now, though, that I had given Ryan a chance in the varsity. It was sad that he had to row with some guys who weren't up to his level of racing.

Though I never changed the personnel, I did shuffle people around within boats. There was quite a bit of nonsense surrounding this, as some of the rowers felt that rowing a certain seat was beneath them, or that they were more worthy than someone who was sitting closer to the stern, and therefore were being treated unjustly. I remember blowing up at them one day in the erg room for their pettiness, reminding them that Everett Meyer would be happy to row any seat in an upper boat.

As is our custom, we held an erg test at the beginning of the season. The only other one that we did was around the end of March. The scores improved dramatically and were much better than they had been the previous spring. Looking back, they aren't very impressive, but at the time there was great optimism on the team. Everyone felt that the rowing was good, the erg scores were good, and that the very large bunch of guys in the varsity eight should win lots of races.

The first race for the upper boats was at TC Williams, their annual Run vs. Row Regatta. TJ lost all six races, and I don't remember any of them being close. At that time, TC was a much better program than anyone else in the area.

One of the other early races was at St. Andrews. I remember being very optimistic about our chances. When it was time to launch, the varsity guys were all over the place (changing clothes, in the restroom, lost???) and we weren't ready. Finally, I sent them out. I returned to the trailer to rig another boat, and almost immediately saw a race coming by. I couldn't believe that it was the varsity boys race and that we were far behind. They had just begun to warm up when they were ordered to the starting platform for the beginning of the race. Our lack of organization on land had cost us any chance of contending. I was furious.

Because our trailer could only transport six eights, we had to do a lot of hull sharing at St. Andrews. This led to a controversy when the parent of a lightweight girl became upset seeing the novices rowing a new boat. He and Cathy got into an ugly shouting match. Later that spring a parent came down to the boathouse and tore into me in front of a bunch of kids and coaches. It amazes me now that we lived through so much acrimony. I cannot imagine something like that happening today.

I don't remember much about the next few races. The varsity continued to be a disappointment. The lightweights did not accomplish much and developed an attendance problem. Some weeks they ended up running at Burke Lake as often as they rowed because they couldn't get a full line-up together. One of them made the comment at practice one day that he wouldn't be there the rest of the week because he refused to put crew ahead of schoolwork. While his priorities were certainly in the right order, any kid could come up with an academic excuse any day of the week. Being a rower, especially at Jefferson, means learning to balance training with academics. Unfortunately, we didn't have the depth to replace those who couldn't find that balance. The lightweights barely took the bronze medal at NOVAs but didn't distinguish themselves at all that spring.

The one bright spot was the jv crew. Even with four novices in the boat, they improved tremendously and won some races. One of the most incredible things I have ever seen in rowing was a 1500m piece that they did against the lightweights. The two boats were side-by-side all the way down the course, matching strokes, with neither able to gain an advantage until the last few strokes. The jvs should have been a lock to medal at NOVAs, but prior to that race two of them got injured goofing around at school and another got sick. With hardly any time practicing together for a couple of weeks, they could only manage fourth place.

We also had a freshman eight, a novice eight, and maybe a third eight. The freshman coach whom we hired that year did a great job of getting them all on the water. Early on, though, my working relationship with him began to deteriorate. He resented, it seemed, that the upper boats got the better equipment while his rowers were left in inferior hulls. While I would certainly like to see everyone on the team using great equipment, I can't fathom the mindset of anyone who thinks that novices should be prioritized over kids at the top of the program. We made it through this season without any serious arguments, but the remainder of his time with Jefferson was a nightmare for many people.

At the end of April there was a district championship regatta. All of the teams which practiced on the Occoquan had a race there, and the rest had a race on the Potomac. Surprisingly, Robinson took first with West Springfield second and Woodbridge third. We had beaten these crews earlier in the season, but at this race we finished far back in fifth. It was one of the most devastating losses I have experienced.

I felt that the crew was much better than their performances indicated and that mental blocks were the explanation for the problems. That winter I had attended a seminar in mental training and peak performance given by Dr. Nate Zinnser of West Point. Desperate for a solution to our woes, I called Dr. Zinnser, explained the situation, and asked him how I should handle it. He gave me some ideas about changing our approach to workouts and races.

Based on what he told me, I suspended the customary "no talking in the boat" rule and encouraged the varsity guys to make jokes with each other on the water. This was a boisterous group and I felt that their nervousness on race days was because they were trying to do something that didn't fit their collective personality. To introduce this change, we spent a day doing relays on the hills, playing tag at the grandstand, and a few other non-rowing activities. At the rest of the races they were supposed to relax by telling jokes to the other crews while they waited at the start. While I don't think that this was the proper way to approach the sport of rowing, and it didn't bring us great results, I think that the crew needed a major change and this certainly was one.

On the Saturday between districts and NOVAs we did a scrimmage with West Springfield. Their crew had no seniors but they were very strong and rowed nicely. We did five 1500m races in the rain, trying a different strategy each time. On every piece, they pulled away from us and kept us about a length behind. On the last one, they had some sort of equipment failure and we won. It was a hollow victory, to be sure, but the guys felt that they had rowed much better on the fifth piece and that gave them some confidence. That evening, all of the varsity guys came to my house for pasta. Later, the Coffmans and most of the varsity girls came over to watch "Terminator 2" with us.

At NOVAs, the varsity made the final but finished fifth. Going from fifth in the district to fifth in the region was a nice improvement, and it was a step ahead of where we had been the previous year, but it was not very satisfying. The order of finish was:

  • TC Williams
  • West Springfield
  • Woodbridge
  • Wilson
  • Jefferson
  • Robinson

The day after NOVAs, the Champion Regatta, a major championship for second-tier college teams, was held on the Occoquan. My brother was in his first year coaching the Michigan varsity women (a club team at the time), and he stayed with me for a couple of weeks afterwards. During that time he coached Everett Meyer in a single and generally hung out. With him there, I became ashamed of some of the antics that our team displayed (some of which, of course, I had promoted with the changes I had made after districts). I vowed to have a more disciplined squad the next year.

At Stotesbury, the only one of my crews to get to the semi-final was the light eight. At SRA, none of them made it. The season mercifully ended and I was left to ponder what might have been. Without question, I made coaching mistakes that spring from which I could learn a lot. I only wish that I had learned them earlier so that the fine group of seniors we had could have enjoyed some success. But most of all, I know that our lack of training in the off-season was to blame. That lesson I learned from the following year's crew.

The varsity girls rowed an incredible race at the SRA Regatta. They held a very narrow lead against a hard-charging TC boat as the race came down to the wire. As the two crews crossed the line, nobody knew who had won. The margin could not have been more than a bowball. Initially, someone indicated to our girls that they had won, and there was much rejoicing as they brought the boat in. When the official announcement that TC had won came out, the pain of the situation was more than intensified by the misunderstanding.

We unloaded the trailer on the day after SRA. Laura Curley brought her dog, Willie Mays, to the boathouse with her. Laura saw me playing with Willie and encouraged me to call about a sign for lab pups that had been posted along Hampton Rd. I had wanted a dog for some time, had even purchased a townhouse so that I could get one. And that's how Kudra came into my life. Anyone who knows me knows that my dog is extremely important to me. I realize that over the years there have been rowers who have found her to be an annoyance at the boathouse, but nobody can convince me Kudra is anything but the world's greatest dog.

Class of '94

Jason Borovies (The Citadel) - Jason's choice of colleges tells you a lot about him. He was a hard worker and very focused.

Byron Cocke (Virginia) - Byron rowed for four years and ran cross country. He is now an investment analyst in Atlanta.

Ryan Erdman (Navy) - "Dumpy" was the toughest kid his size who ever rowed at Jefferson.

Khalid Hanif (GW) - The only TJ male to ever get a rowing scholarship, Khalid rowed all four years in college. At 6'5" with a shaved head, he was an intimidating presence in the boat. I think that he is the only varsity basketball player ever to row on the men's team.

Matt Hemm (William and Mary) - The Hemster was one of the biggest kids who has ever rowed at TJ and he could produce a lot of power. Very gentle by nature, Matt was a little bit intimidated by the highly competitive nature of high school athletics. I really enjoyed having him on the team.

Robert McInturff (Princeton) - Rob rowed for three seasons and never got on an erg or picked up an oar outside of the spring season because of his commitment to swimming, but he had the best score on the team by far. Had rowing been his priority in high school, he probably would have been a lock for the junior national team. Rob rowed for Mike Teti and won the freshman eight at Eastern Sprints, but a non-rowing injury the next year ended his career.

Brian Meffle (Virginia) - Brian introduced the team to a martial arts exercise which we still do and call "Meffles." The last time I saw him, Brian was running an alternative rock radio station in Charlottesville.

Everett Meyer (Yale) - 'Ret was one of the nicest and most mature kids who has ever rowed at TJ. His attitude is a good example for everyone to follow.

John Thrall (Washington and Lee) - John was the captain of the football, wrestling, and crew teams and was one of the top students at TJ. He played football in college and then rowed while he was in graduate school at Oxford. John was a natural leader and much admired by his peers.

Stewart Young (Princeton) - Stew stroked the freshman lightweight eight at Princeton, then went to Japan as a missionary. I haven't heard from him since.


Written January 2001

The 1995 varsity eight did not have good erg times compared to their successors. They were not as fast as any of the crews that have followed them, and they were not nearly as successful. They didn't even win a single race. But in the history of men's rowing at Jefferson, it can be said that no crew was as important as the 1995 varsity eight. They laid the groundwork that made possible everything that has happened since their time.

Summer of 1994

I coached the OBC boys during the summer of '94, and I have to say that it was a great program. We rowed every morning from 6 to 8, and most afternoons there was an optional session, either rowing singles or running Burke Lake. The eight won the Independence Day Regatta and came in third at the Canadian Henley. The crew featured four rowers who would later compete for the U.S. at either the junior or senior world championship.

The best thing about out-of-season programs is that the kids learn so much from each other. What the TJ rowers learned that summer is that the Woodbridge varsity, which had been surprisingly successful that spring, trained at 5:30am all winter. It was a dramatic illustration of the commitment necessary to go fast. The vast improvement in our winter training program can be linked to the example set by Woodbridge.

As great as the summer program was, it turned into a disaster at the Canadian Henley. I was not able to depart with the rest of the team during the week because I had to complete my summer school job. When I got there late Friday night, the girls' coach informed me that some of the kids intended to go to the Henley party Saturday night. We agreed that, since alcohol would be served, it was not appropriate to let the rowers attend. When word of this got out, all of the kids blamed the decision on me since it appeared that I had arrived and laid down the law. The focus of our trip turned from racing to bitter arguments about the party. I was disappointed in everyone involved, including one of the assistant coaches who did not support the rest of the staff. The low point came Saturday evening when I was getting in my car to go find some food and one of the TJ grads said to me, "Have a good time at the party." He actually believed that I was going to go to the party which I had forbidden them to attend.

I was very discouraged with coaching after that trip and spent a couple of months thinking about whether or not I should return to the team. One of the things that led to my decision to return was the sense that people often quit something difficult right before they are about to make a breakthrough. I decided to persevere, but that I would make sure that I took tighter control of the team and make sure that things were done on my terms.

Winter of 1994-95

By tradition, winter training began on the Monday prior to Thanksgiving. In 1994, a bunch of guys said that they wanted to begin in early November. Winter training had also been held just three days a week, but these guys wanted to go all five. More than anything else in the history of this men's team, I have to say that the dedication of this small group was the turning point that took us from mediocre to highly competitive.

Evan Burfield was a team captain and the catalyst behind the change. Ironically, once he sold a bunch of guys on the idea of training, Evan left us to be in the school musical. Greg Lee, Dan Fine, Brian Fujito, and George Makris were his followers, or the "Four Horsemen," as Evan called them. They, in return, referred to Evan somewhat facetiously as "Fearless Leader." Chris O'Dwyer was also a very regular participant in winter training.

In a few years we would have about a dozen returning boys committed to serious training and many more who are there quite regularly. Some days there are 40 guys working out. By comparison, the winter training of 94-95 doesn't sound so impressive, with just a few guys working so hard. I cannot stress enough, though, that these were the pioneers who showed everyone else the way. By working much harder than anyone had previously, having a good time doing it, and then using it to fuel some racing success, they set a standard that has been followed ever since.

This was the final year of winter training being held upstairs. Our ergs and a bench-pull were stored in the large room in the math hall. We would pull the ergs into the hall to row. Once a week we did a 30 minute piece and recorded scores. The standard of excellence was 8000m (1:52.5), a score which several of the guys were eventually able to reach. We also did a weekly bench row test.

Dan Fine had lingered as the third or fourth best on the team throughout the winter, always behind Greg Lee, on the 30 minute pieces. Dan came to practice for the last test determined to finish on top. He pulled the most amazing piece that I have ever seen, going all-out the entire way, and blew away everyone else's best score for the year by over 100 meters. His performance was so impressive that I essentially retired 30 minute testing after that.

The hard work of winter training paid off with erg scores much better than we'd had before. Five boys would break 5:00 for 1500m by the end of the spring, up from just three who had reached that milestone the previous spring. The boat average dropped significantly from those of the '94 crew, and these scores were achieved by a crew that weighed twenty pounds less per man!

Spring of 1995

A major change for 1995 was that the boys' team would, for the first time, have three coaches, as Ron Lim moved over to coach the light boys. For me, it meant a chance to get back to working with two boats. For the lightweights, it meant a coach focused on their rowing. And for Ron, it was an escape from some girls' parents who had hassled him mercilessly. On the girls' team, Jay Brooks moved from freshmen to lightweights and Duwayne Turner was hired to be the freshman coach.

After a few weeks of practice, the varsity crew was:

  • C-Mike Choi (Jr)
  • S-Sean Koenig (Sr)
  • 7-Greg Lee (Jr)
  • 6-Ray Britt (So)
  • 5-Evan Burfield (Sr)
  • 4-Brian Fujito (Jr)
  • 3-Dan Fine (Jr)
  • 2-Rusty Talbot (Sr)
  • B-Mike Makowsky (Sr)

We rowed a lot of different combinations because Evan was out with injuries much of the time. In his absence, George Makris filled in and did a great job. Rusty Talbot was still small enough to be in the lightweight boat, and there were some angry guys on that crew when I took their best rower.

The theme of that season for the varsity was "Quiet Intensity." It came from a passage in a book that I read to the returning boys on the first day of practice. What I told them, essentially, is that in order to be successful we would need to be more focused than any other team. We instituted a lot of routines that season, the most significant being an agreement that nobody would say a word between getting hands-on to take out the boat and the time that it was back on the rack. The guys carried this over to their stretching, which was done in complete silence. In the years since we have found ways to be focused without so many rules, but anytime that things aren't working my first instinct is to go back to quiet intensity.

Our first race of the year was at TC Williams. They row on a very wide, unprotected portion of the Potomac near Old Town. When we went there for the first time in 1994, it was a calm morning. This year, it was awful. The combination of wind and current created conditions that made rowing very difficult and not entirely safe. The race went off, though, and TJ pulled a shocking upset by winning four of six events. The varsity girls, in fact, won by about 30 seconds. As a milestone of team success, this was one of the most important days in our history.

The downside was the two events that we lost, and those were the boats that I coached. The varsity boys had actually gotten a slight lead early but had lost by nine seconds. The JV was at least 20 seconds behind. The mixed feelings of a day like this are always difficult. I was happy for Cathy, Ron, Jay, and all of the kids who had pulled off those impressive wins. I felt awful, though, that my guys weren't sharing in the fun.

The next week we were on the Occoquan. There were probably just seven teams entered in the varsity eight, because we only raced two other boats (in those days, there were no finals at weekly regattas). We drew TC and Father Judge, a school from Philadelphia that was fairly competitive at the time, and came in second. We hadn't made up any water on TC, but beating a "name" school was somewhat satisfying.

At some point around this time we had a pivotal practice. Evan was out with a back injury, and the crew was rowing very poorly. About two miles after leaving the boathouse I yelled at them "Evan must be really #%^@ing good, because you guys can't do @#<% without him!" Then I sent them back to the boathouse to think about it. I rarely use profanity with the kids, I don't even like to yell, but I have to say that it is very effective when used sparingly. The next day, they had a great practice, and the rowing continued to improve from that point forward.

Around this time I made an important change in the way that I coached. The focus of my coaching had, for years, been on the drive (the time when the oar is in the water). During the middle of this season I started to emphasize the recovery much more. I was surprised that this new emphasis got results right away. Anyone whom I've coached since then has done about a million repetitions of the two-pause drill, my favorite device for getting the crew to emphasize proper body preparation. Ron and I both believe that when we see one of our crews doing that drill well, we know that they are ready to win races.

I made one other significant coaching change that year. Standard training doctrine calls for an easy day alternated with each hard day. The focus is on long technical rows more than race-pace work. During the 1994 season, that was how we practiced. What I noticed, though, was that both Cathy and Ron put their crews through tortuous workouts every single day, and their crews were very successful. In 1995, the level of intensity at our practices increased dramatically, and we pushed for speed all the time. While I still think that there is a place for distance work and easy technique rows, I firmly believe that going fast is a different skill and must be practiced a lot.

In the next two races, we finished second behind West Springfield. One of those races came down to the wire and the other was not so close. West Springfield was fast that year. They had returned everyone from the crew that had been second at NOVAs the previous spring. Three rowers in that boat would go to the junior national team selection camp at least once, and two made the team. I knew that we were making progress as a team when the guys were unhappy with coming in second to such a crew.

NOVAs 1995

Through the early nineties, all NVSRA teams brought all of their crews together on the second Saturday in May for the regional championship, NOVAs. Eventually, the growth of the sport made it nearly impossible to do this, and a variety of solutions were tried. In 1994, it was heats Friday evening. In 1995, all lower boats were moved to the week after the SRA regatta.

The heats were arranged by district, which were not well balanced. In our heat we were second to West Springfield; Hylton took third ahead of Robinson, a big deal for their young program. The jv advanced to the final but took fifth.

The varsity had developed a routine of meeting in the woods prior to a race to get away from the nonsense at the boathouse. We called it "sequestering." That spring, the movie "Pulp Fiction" was very popular and we often quoted it at practice. As a pre-race speech, I paraphrased the biblical passage that Samuel L. Jackson repeats throughout the film. Something about the "evil of West Springfield, and the tyranny of TC..."

As was the case with most of our races that year, the crew got off to a bad start. I believe that their problem was a mental block, since I had seen them execute the start very well in practice. In this race, one of the rowers took air shots for the first few strokes, and the crew was in sixth place early on. They came on hard through the middle of the race, though, and made up ground on the front-runners. It was enough to get them the bronze medal. The order of finish was:

  • TC Williams (sixth year in a row)
  • West Springfield
  • Jefferson
  • Woodbridge
  • West Potomac
  • W&L

The crew was not particularly happy just to have medalled, especially since they felt that they had been even with the top crews once they got going. It was an important step forward for the team, though, and I was thrilled.

The girls, who had beaten TC so easily early in the season, took second to them.

Stotesbury Cup Regatta

It amazes me how quickly the internet has changed so many aspects of our lives. Today, everyone sees the Stotesbury schedule online on the evening of the Sunday prior to the regatta. It used to be much different. Sometime during the week of the regatta, someone in Philadelphia would fax a copy of a schedule matrix to someone in the DC area. By the day that we loaded the trailer, we usually got to see a copy of this. Reading the thing was unbelievably difficult. You could rather quickly figure out what heat and lane you were in, but finding out who your opponents would be took quite a bit of effort.

There must have been just four heats that year, because we needed to be in the top three to advance. From what we knew of the other schools, it looked like we could pull it off. A couple of other crews weren't so lucky. The West Springfield guys drew a tough heat and didn't advance. In the girls' varsity eight there were six heats, so only two crews would advance from each. Our girls drew two of the crews who would go on to medal and Holy Spirit, a traditional power. It was a very frustrating situation.

The varsity boys advanced for the first time in our history. At dinner that night, the rest of the team applauded when we entered the dining room. Though they came in last in both the semi-final and petite final, they had taken another important step.

SRA Regatta

The SRA Regatta was held at Mercer County Park in New Jersey. We didn't see a schedule until we got there, but found that we would be racing Bonner, a crew which had medalled at Stotes; West Springfield, whom the guys had beaten soundly in a scrimmage during the week; and two other teams of no apparent distinction. Everyone felt confident and settled down for the day. I remember hearing a discussion about religion that carried on from trailer unloading to hands-on hours later. Clearly, the focus was not on racing.

It turned out that one of those unknown crews was Riverview of Florida. We actually knew some of the names of their rowers because they were always at the top of the junior national team testing printout under the name "Sarasota Scullers." The race did not go well for us; the crew had trouble staying in their lane on the poorly marked course, and they didn't qualify for the semi-final.

The jvs, who had not had much success all season, were involved in an interesting situation. There were four heats, and the top three crews of each would advance to the semi-finals. When they went to race, though, some crews didn't show up. Our crew came in third, but the officials said that since so few boats actually raced they would only take the top two from each heat straight to the final and skip the semi-final. Coaches protested, of course, and our jv was eventually put into the semi.

The girls overcame their disappointment from the previous week to capture the bronze medal.

NOVAS Lower Boat Regatta

The novice boys squad was absolutely loaded with talent. The freshmen had won most of their races with ease and took bronze at Stotesbury and silver at SRA. The novice eight won every race and had several guys who would contribute to the varsity and lightweight eights the next few years.

The freshman boys were expected to win their race at the lower boat championship, but TC beat them by a considerable margin. I would not learn until those guys were seniors that the freshman coach was so upset that he threw their sliver medals into the water rather than distribute them. It was the crowning act on a season of immature, irrational antics on his part.

The Class of 1995

Evan Burfield (Fr-JV8; So-Light 8; Jr-V8; Sr-V8) - I first encountered Evan during his sophomore year. Often he would sit in the hallway eating pizza while his teammates were erging. I gave him a hard time about it, and within a couple of years he led the revolution that can be credited as the backbone of our success today. When most guys graduate, my contact with them dwindles to the alumni run, an occasional e-mail, or a game of basketball in the summer. It has definitely not been that way with Evan. When he decided to put off going to college, Evan and I started a business, shot baskets, and played Madden Football together. Later, Evan would start a software company with the parent of another TJ rower. Today, I am one of the eighty or so employees of that pre-IPO company, netDecide. Recently, someone asked me if Evan is still as cocky as he was in high school. The answer is yes, but now he has a lot more to back it up.

Sean Koenig (So-Nov 8; Jr-V8; Sr-V8)-Sean fit the mold of what I'd like a TJ oarsman to be about as well as anyone. For starters, he had the height and strength to be a great boat-mover. I also appreciated his quiet, mature approach to his rowing. Though everyone looked up to him for his physical prowess, Sean displayed no ego at all, just the desire to improve. Sean is a UVA grad.

Mike Makowsky (So-Nov 8; Jr-JV8; Sr-V8)-"Majik" was a great role player. He was light and smooth enough to row bow, but he filled in at the five seat for much of the season as well and used his intensity to fill the shoes typically worn by giants. At UVA, Mike developed his basketball game and picked up a couple of degrees. He now runs his own company in DC and drives the lane with the same tunnel vision that made him a successful rower.

Rusty Talbot (Fr-Nov 8; So-JV8; Jr-Light 8; Sr-V8)-Rusty was born with a great aerobic system and could have succeeded in any endurance sport. At about 145 pounds he was often the smallest kid in the race, but nobody could match is desire. He took that determination to Dartmouth and had a great career in their lightweight program. Rusty is a management consultant in New York City.


A Tribute to the Men of the 2000 Varsity and Second Eights

Every rowing season has its own unique character, its own feel. For me, the spring of 2000 was a difficult season, often fraught with disappointment and frustration. The feel of the season was generally dismay. A month after it all ended, though, I can look back and say that the boys in the varsity and second eights accomplished a tremendous amount, and that this will be remembered as a great season. I am proud of each of them for persevering through adversity. And most of all, I think that the men of the class of 2000 deserve to be ranked as one of our best graduating groups.

The year began with a very optimistic outlook. We returned five rowers and the coxswain from the varsity eight that had won the state championship and made the finals at the Stotesbury Cup Regatta in 1999. Over the summer, two of those rowers had won the American Rowing Championship and Canadian Henley as part of the mid-Atlantic Development Camp. Winter training had been solid, especially for the younger guys. It appeared that we were going into the year with a powerful group.

In 1999 we had spent the first four water practices in mixed boats, giving the novices a chance to learn the basics by rowing with experienced rowers. It was such a success that this year we decided to extend the mixed period to two full weeks. While this undoubtedly accelerated the learning curve for the novices, the long time period took too much away from the development of the upper boats. Before the second week was over, all of the experienced guys were itching to get down to business.

On the third Monday of the season we had a 2k erg test. A major goal of the test was to select 28 rowers who would work with Marianne and me in the upper eights and fours for the next three weeks, through the second regatta. Everyone except the freshmen were eligible to be selected, so 38 rowers were in contention. The plan was simple: the top 16 scores and the next twelve best power/weight ratio scores would make the cut; everyone else would be with the lower boats. As it turned out, six novices pulled good enough scores to qualify for this upper group.

By the time that Marianne and I had our 28 rowers, we had less than two weeks to create line-ups for the first regatta. Marianne was coaching the fours, so most days I took all of the novices, reasoning that it would be easier for them to progress in a larger boat. Those sophomore novices had a large impact on the team; one would end up in the varsity and two in the second eight. The other three each raced at least once in the upper boats and have the potential to do good things in the coming year.

After reading quite a bit of detail about the early weeks of the season, you may be expecting to now find an intricate description of the first few races. Sorry to disappoint. I'm not going to elaborate on the first four races for two reasons. First, who cares? Those races mean nothing. Second, there isn't much positive to say, especially for the varsity boat.

Results from races in the early season were very frustrating for the varsity boat. I could offer several excuses: Ray Hohenstein missed quite a bit of practice and the first race with a bad back; the two weeks spent mixing with the novices, and more even more time with novices who had made the top 28, put us behind developmentally; and adjusting to the new Millennium was more difficult for the varsity than I had expected. This sport, though, is too crowded with people making excuses. In reality, the best explanation comes down to two things: the crew did not bring the best mental approach to these races, and competition in our area is getting much tougher.

At this point, I think that it is proper to pay some respect to each of the Virginia teams which gave us great competition throughout the season:

  • Hylton had never beaten us until this season, but they have been giving us great races for years. An undersized crew, these guys have as much of a fighting attitude as anyone in high school rowing.
  • Langley had never been close to beating Jefferson until they shocked us at the fourth race of the season. With former TJ assistant coach Jeff Lucier in charge, they are definitely going in the right direction.
  • TC Williams returned everyone from the crew that made the finals at both Stotesbury and SRA in 1999. They beat us at St. Andrews for the second year in a row. TC is the model for every crew in this area that wants to go fast; we have learned a lot from them over the years.
  • Robinson did not beat us this season, but they deserve a mention because they were closer than they had been in many years and are a team on the rise.
  • Woodbridge beat us three times. They are consistently competitive (we have medaled at NOVAs/VSRC six years in a row, they have done so five straight years). This team always races tough, and nobody likes beating TJ more than they do.
  • West Springfield had prioritized the four in '99, so nobody knew what to expect from them. With some incredibly strong guys, West Springfield was able to get fast starts and held us off a few times.
  • Yorktown beat us twice in the first four weeks. With most of the SRA finalists from the previous year returning, this crew lived up to expectations early. Had they not suffered injuries and other problems later, they would have been very tough to beat in May.

Losing is always painful. There is no doubt, though, that this higher level of local competition is a great thing for us. If you look at Stotesbury results from year to year, you will basically see that the Philadelphia/South Jersey schools are always in the final and take most medals, the DC area schools are step below, and then everyone else (New York, Florida, Midwest) tends to fall behind us. The simple reason is that everyone adapts to their environment. To compete in the weekly races on the Schuylkill, you have to go very fast. To compete in weekly races on the Occoquan, you have to go fairly fast. And to compete in races in most other parts of the country, you don't have to go so fast. If teams in our area continue to improve, we are going to learn to race very fast.

And now, back to Jefferson... The early season went somewhat better for the second eight. It was clear that this was a strong group, but they lacked experience and needed some time to learn to row well. The story of their season goes like this:

  • April 15, Occoquan - Lost to Gonzaga by a length, got nipped at the end by St. Albans after leading them all the way down the course.
  • April 22, St. Andrews - Last place out of four junior eights. Out of the race in the first 500m despite getting what they considered a decent start. Beaten by TC Williams by more than 13 seconds.
  • April 29, Georgetown - Defeated Gonzaga and St. Albans by seven seconds, a turn-around of 10 seconds in two weeks.
  • May 13, Virginia Championship on the Occoquan - Gold Medal. Led TC Williams from start to finish and won by less than a second. A turn-around of 14 seconds in three weeks.

Their row at Georgetown was a thing of beauty. There is just nothing like watching a crew in command of a race taking big, powerful strokes with great poise and confidence. Amazingly, it was the first time that anyone in the boat had ever won a race.

The varsity eight also got their act together at Georgetown. In the final they got beaten off the line by Yorktown and held even with St. Albans. Once the crews settled, Jefferson slowly crept past STA and made steady progress on Yorktown. With about 400m to go, TJ grabbed the lead and held on for the win in a very tight finish.

I cannot emphasize enough how important that win was. After a season of frustration, the crew had finally won a race and could go into the two-week period before the championship races with a positive feeling. All season we had been talking about winning the Virginia Championship, and now there was a good reason to believe that it would happen.

Due to the SATs, the NCASRA does not schedule a race on the first Saturday of May, giving us two weeks of training to prepare for the Virginia Championship and subsequent major regattas. To me, nothing we do all season is as crucial as the work done during this period. This is where we set final line-ups and the time when boats find their speed.

My favorite practice of the season is during this time, the only Saturday session we have once the racing begins. Since we had no juniors on the varsity, nobody would be taking the SAT, so we could have the benefit of two practices. A major wrench was thrown into this plan, though, when one of the rowers got into trouble with his parents and was grounded for the weekend. It was a situation emblematic of the way things went all year. This crew had great potential, but in many ways they shot themselves in the foot when it came to preparation. I can tolerate a lot of immature behavior early in the season, but I expect genuine focus during the championships. This year, we had focus problems all along the way which, in my opinion, held the crew back. This being a tribute, though, I won't go into detail about these problems or mention them again.

Though the two weeks preceding the Virginia Championship did not go the way I had planned, there was no question that the varsity was getting significantly faster. We made one line-up change, and developed a new sprint. Most importantly, we spent a lot of time honing the mental approach that is so vital to success in championship races. By the day of the championship, everyone on the boat expected to win.


Heats and lanes at the Virginia Championship are seeded from results in earlier races. Due to some poor early results and some quirks in scheduling, we were seeded 7th. Though the seeds did not accurately reflect the speed of the crews, the two heats came out very even. Racing in the heats, though, provided some surprises. In the first heat, West Springfield shocked everyone by coming in first, just ahead of Yorktown and TC Williams. Langley and W&L were so close behind that it was clear that nobody had had an easy race. In our heat, Woodbridge just edged us and Robinson surprised Hylton. Earlier in the morning, the second eight had won their heat with no problems.

Between races, both crews left the race course to get shelter from the oppressive heat. The opportunity to get out of the elements and focus in a quiet setting between heats and finals has worked well for us for several years. Only Zack Cooper, the second eight coxswain, stayed at the boathouse with me. Together we washed the boats and talked about what was ahead that afternoon.

Washing that boat was a labor of love for Zack. Like the rest of his crew, he had a great belief in the hull. The boat is a 1996 Performer, the lowest in the Vespoli line. We acquired the shell from the University of Michigan women, where my brother is the head coach, at the beginning of the season. Since Michigan does not name their boats, we referred to it as "The Michigan" early in the season, and that name was eventually adopted. The yellow striping was eventually peeled away and replaced with red, which, along with the blue decks, gives it a TJ look.

If the second eight was fond of their shell, then the varsity was madly in love with theirs. After years of racing against crews who had superior equipment, the varsity men finally had a high caliber shell that fit them: a Vespoli Millennium. The men named the boat "Tora No Me," with those words on one side and corresponding Japanese characters on the other. Translating the name is pointless, as it holds a meaning that is very special to the men of the class of '00 and would be lost on anyone outside our program.

When the second eight was ready to go out for their final, I told them that they only needed to row their normal race in order to medal, something which none of them had ever done. I told them that if they rowed a very good race, they would get a silver medal, and if they rowed their best they were going to win. They rowed with a lot of confidence and took a two seat lead on TC Williams early in the race. The two crews held that position all the way down the course as they pulled away from the pack, and TJ won by a little less than a second.

One of the biggest improvements that the NCASRA made this year was the addition of an awards dock at the grandstand, allowing medaling crews to be recognized immediately after their race. Pulling this young, inexperienced crew into dock to receive their medals, plaque, and trophy was an unforgettable experience. I couldn't have been more proud of a group of kids.

After the second eight raced, I had about two hours until the varsity was supposed to return to the boathouse. Near the end of the regatta, though, an announcement was made that the petite finals had been cancelled, moving everything up thirty minutes. This put me into panic mode, as the crew was not even in the park and it was suddenly time to begin the land warm-up. There was a lot of confusion for everyone, since from the boathouse it is difficult to tell whether or not the regatta is running on time. I talked with each of the other coaches whose crew would be launching out of Sandy Run, and we agreed to launch together within a five-minute window rather than try to separately guess at the best time to go out on the water. This is the kind of sportsmanship and cooperation among the coaches that I really enjoy. When the crew arrived, we were somewhat rushed but had no problems.

On the Occoquan, most coaches watch races from the finish line. You can definitely see more from the grandstand, but you can't always see who wins a close race. When I arrived at the finish line I found most of the TJ coaching staff and my wife, Seema. She had been waiting there for me for quite some time. With all of those people around, there is no opportunity to be nervous. I am always anxious waiting for a championship race to come down the river, running all of the possible outcomes through my mind.

My view of the race was blocked by trees and race officials, so I waited to hear something over the radio. The mid-course report was that Jefferson was far out in front, with only TC Williams chasing them. I would learn later that we had gotten an amazing start and had rowed incredibly for the first 1200m or so. By the time I could see the crew, though, TC was charging hard and we had run out of gas. I saw a couple of bad strokes as the crew approached the finish line, and I thought that we had blown it. The lead that Jefferson had gained early was enough, though, and they held on to win by about 1.5 seconds, with third place more than five seconds back.

I saw Matt Peterson, two seat, lie down, and Andrew Winerman sort of embrace him. Unfortunately, that was the last I saw of their celebration, as so many coaches came up to congratulate me. Having watched our guys win four of the past five Virginia titles, though, I can say that nothing makes me more proud to see them do so in a dignified manner. As much as I want to win races, it is more important to me that we exhibit a high level of sportsmanship whether winning or losing. Knowing the character of these guys, I feel fairly certain that they conducted themselves properly.

As Seema and I walked around to the awards dock, I felt so relieved. Through all of the difficulties of the season, I had always told the varsity men that they would be Virginia Champions. Now it was reality. For three of the seniors, it was the third consecutive championship, having won as jv sophomores and in '99 in the varsity. For everyone it was the highly anticipated reward for months of grueling work.

Many people have asked me whether or not I was surprised that we won. The truth is that having visualized it so many times, there was no way that it could surprise me to see the outcome. As David Ziegler said in the Washington Post, "I think a part of the reason we won was that we believed so strongly that we would win." Through all of the hours that I put in and the work that I do for the team all year long, I keep myself going with the image of the Jefferson varsity men winning another state championship. They've done it four times, but in my mind I've seen it happen ten thousand times.

TJ Men's Varsity Eight on the Awards Dock

Varsity men with their state championship trophy. Standing, from left to right: Erik Wichern, Andrew Winerman (obscured), Taylor Mitchell, Matt Peterson, Mike Gottlieb, Coach Rothstein, Ray Hohenstein. Crouching with plaque: Eric Brownell. Kneeling: Tommy Velarde, David Ziegler.

TJ Men's Second Eight on the Awards Dock

Second Eight men on the awards dock at the Virginia Championship. From left to right, Brendan Smith, Leo Hergenroeder, Alton Meyer, Matt Munyan, Ian Bone, Han Xu, Daniel O'Neil, Brendan Miller, Zack Cooper, Coach Rothstein.


For the first time, Stotesbury did not hold heats. Instead, events with 18 or more entries had time trials to determine who would advance to semi-finals. Though there was much consternation about this plan, it worked out very well and created very fair racing.

On Friday morning there was rain on and off and a couple of brief, but intense, thunderstorms. This delayed the time trials and, more importantly, kept the athletes at the river, hungry and cold, for far too long. Two times I took our second eight to the dock to launch, and two times they had to put the boat away to wait. When they finally rowed, they were shivering and ineffective, but they managed to qualify for the semi-final.

I watched the varsity from a point near the recovery dock, about 500m into the course. Time trials certainly are not as interesting as heats from the viewpoint of a spectator. After watching all of the crews, I was confident that we had qualified and felt that we would probably be somewhere between ninth and twelfth. The crew came in and confirmed that they had had a decent row, but nothing special. I was shocked a short time later when Matt told me over the radio that our time was the second fastest of the day. The men were pleased and full of confidence.

Saturday morning was a pure disaster. The second eight faced a difficult semi-final, but with a good race I felt that they could become the first crew we had ever put into the final in that event. I borrowed a bike from my friend Erik Nienaber, the Hylton coach, to watch the entire race. Viewing from a bike is great, because you get to see the progress of the race, but you also lose your view many times because of buses, tents, and people. About 500m into the race, we were solidly in third place and seemed to be moving on Prep and TC Williams. I got behind a couple of buses and some tents for a few seconds, then picked up the race at mid-course, shocked to see TJ several lengths behind the leaders, then stopping. I rode down to the water to investigate. Zack was spinning the boat back towards the start and told me that they had hit something, the skeg had come off, and the officials had told him that they could not protest and had to take it in. Though there is a rule against coaching from the shore, I told him to row by fours to the finish line and protest there. What an awful feeling, watching a proud crew limp down the course with their fate out of their hands.

The varsity had a very poor race and missed qualifying for the final by .04 seconds. It was devastating. I think that several factors played into this poor performance:

  1. Overconfidence. I started this early in the week by emphasizing that our focus was the final. I did this because we had made the final three of the past four years but had come in sixth each time. I felt that a reason for this was that we invested so much into the heat and semi-final that there was nothing left, mentally or physically, for the final. To medal, I felt that we would need to get over being satisfied with just getting there. In addition, our semi-final appeared to be very manageable, since we had such a fast time the previous day and would not have to beat anyone whom we had not previously beaten to make the final.
  2. Lack of focus. When the crew arrived at the trailer, I immediately sensed that they were not in a racing state of mind. We had several boats to move around in order to get the Tora down, and the guys moved around in the fog as if this task were completely foreign to them. I don't know whether lack of sleep, a poor breakfast, or some other factor influenced this.
  3. Improper rigging. Due to the very fast conditions, I had intended to make a change in the rigging. Because I spent so much time with the jv protest, and because it took a long time to get the Tora ready, I didn't get to it. I am not one to blame the rig of the boat, but when the margin is that close, you've got to consider every little thing.
  4. LaSalle rowed a great race to nip us out of second. When it comes down to it, that is all that matters. Someone out-rowed us.

The silver lining to the morning was that the officials accepted Zack's protest and put the junior eight into lane zero for the final. They rowed well and were competitive early, but fell off of the leaders by mid-course and ended up dueling TC Williams for sixth. We beat them by about a second.


Logic would dictate that a crew full of seniors, especially with several kids returning from a successful varsity the previous year, would be a coach's dream. My experience, though, is that these are really difficult crews. The weight of expectation hangs heavy over the season, as each disappointment is magnified by the impending culmination of so many careers. Before the end of the spring, the seniors are more than ready to move on. It is very difficult for them to keep their minds on rowing.

After the disappointment at Stotesbury, I was not looking forward to the SRA Regatta at St. Andrews. Even though we call this race "nationals," it does not hold the allure that makes Stotes so special. Though both boats had a chance to improve on their performance the previous week against most of the same crews, I don't think that any of us went into this race with a high level of excitement.

The junior eight rowed fairly well and came down to a tight finish with Ridley and TC Williams. We took second, which proved to be detrimental, as it put us in what would turn out to be the fastest semi-final. That's racing, though, you have to do your best and accept the circumstances when they don't go your way. The kids took it well when they didn't make it to the final, though it was difficult for them to watch some crews rowing Saturday afternoon who were no faster than us. This crew accomplished a great deal all season and I'm very proud of them.

The varsity did not row particularly well in their heat, but they took second and eliminated a couple of fast teams. Our semi-final had Mainland (second at Stotes), Woodbridge, Burnt Hills, and Robinson. Not a row-over, but clearly a good opportunity to get to the final. Blasting out of the starting dock, the Jefferson men pulled a 1:08 split (meaning that at that pace they would complete 500 meters in a minute and eight seconds), then held 1:10 for about thirty strokes. The irony is that all season they had been trying to break 1:15, and had been very pleased when they finally did it at the last practice of the season. Though the calibration of the speedcoach device is not entirely trustworthy, this may have been the fastest that a TJ crew has ever gone. They settled into a comfortable pace after their blazing start and easily qualified for the final-just the second time that we have done that.

The final featured the top five teams from Stotes, plus TJ. Again, we got a good start. I sat at the finish line and got the call over the radio that early in the race we were in good position. Once I could see the crews, I was satisfied. For the last few hundred meters I could not tell if we were in second or fifth, but I knew that we were in the thick of the race, and at that level there is a lot of satisfaction in just being competitive. They beat two teams who had handled us easily early in the season, St. Andrews and Atlantic City. As I told them afterwards, I thought that it was one of the very best races ever rowed by a Jefferson men's crew. The medaling crews were:

  • St. Albans (Bronze) - As amazing as our turn-around was, these guys went a step further. At the end of April, they didn't appear to be a top-level crew, but they pulled out medals at both Stotes and SRA. Very impressive.
  • Mainland (Silver) - In only their fourth year, Mainland was extremely strong. Their coaches definitely had a good plan when they began this program, and now it is paying off. After years of the same teams taking all of the medals, it is nice to see upstarts like St. Albans and Mainland stirring the pot.
  • St. Joe's Prep (Gold) - These guys were on an entirely different level. I would rank them among the best high school crews I have ever seen. Up close, they appeared to be several years older than our kids. A month later they would win the Royal Henley.
The varsity guys were disappointed to have rowed such a great race and not medaled. Their accomplishments, though, are not diminished by the lack of hardware at the final race. I was proud of all of them, and especially pleased for the seniors who ended their Jefferson rowing careers with a great performance.

A common characteristic of our varsity men's boats over the years is that, even though there are several guys on area teams pulling better scores than our top man, our depth from one to eight is unmatched. Even though we had a true superstar this year, I think it is true once again that we got a lot of speed out of every seat in the boat and won with a team effort.

And now, a few words about the men of the first and second varsity eights:

Class of 2002

This group is shaping up to be among the best ever. The addition of six sophomore novices, three of whom were on the first and second eights, gives this group a depth of talent that we haven't seen in a while. Moreover, this class has shown a great attitude about training and a focused approach to racing for such young guys.

  • Ian Bone (5 seat, 2nd 8) - Ian matured a lot between his first and second seasons. If he continues to work hard and can stay find a way to stay healthy through the spring, he will fulfill the potential that the coaches saw in him from the beginning.
  • Michael Gottlieb (4 seat, V8) - Michael is following in the footsteps of Ray Hohenstein in more ways than I could name. He improved his erg score by several seconds every time he sat on the machine, and pulled the 5th fastest 1500m piece in team history at the end of the season. Without question, Michael Gottlieb will become a legend.
  • Leo Hergenroeder (2 seat, 2nd 8) - Leo has come a long way since the first time he showed up at winter training during his freshman year. He packs a ton of strength into a small body, and his intense competitiveness was often the fuel that kept this boat in front.
  • Brendan Miller (stroke, 2nd 8) - Brendan is such a natural stroke that he may never race in another seat at TJ. He displays a great work ethic by attending both winter training and swim practice.
  • Matt Munyan (4 seat, 2nd 8) - Matt was a novice who picked up the mechanics of rowing as quickly as anyone with whom I have ever worked. If he said more than two words all year, I never heard them; Matt lets his oar do the talking.
  • Brendan Smith (bow seat, 2nd 8) - Brendan didn't start attending winter training regularly until January, but once he committed himself, he improved more than anyone. Smitty is the next Andrew Winerman, a small guy with a ton of heart and a great work ethic.
  • Tommy Velarde (3 seat, V8) - When Tommy pulled a 7:03 the first time he ever sat on a TJ erg, I knew that we'd found someone special. I hadn't even considered a novice for the varsity since '93, but by the end of April there was no keeping Tommy out. He is as fierce a competitor as you will find.
  • Han Xu (6 seat, 2nd 8) - Another novice, Han distinguished himself at the beginning of winter training as one of the strongest men on the team. He showed his toughness week after week by pushing himself despite a painful hamstring injury.

Class of 2001

If this year's junior class was anything like the other classes on the team, we would be almost unbeatable. It is not the fault of those who are still on the team, though, that most of their class has quit crew. While this class will be remembered as a bit of a disaster, I respect each of the '01 guys who is still rowing and I value the contribution that they are making to the team.

  • Zack Cooper (coxswain, 2nd 8) - Zack lost his nervousness this year and became a very good coxswain. He runs a sharp practice, is extremely conscientious, and has developed a good leadership style.
  • Alton Meyer (3 seat, 2nd 8) - Alton moved up to the second eight late in the season. His long, smooth stroke was just what the boat needed, and he did his part to help this crew achieve their goals.
  • Dan O'Neil (7 seat, 2nd 8)-Dan is one of the many examples on this team of what can be accomplished through hard work. He has transformed himself from a non-athlete into one of the better rowers we have.

Class of 2000

Only nine boys came out for the team in the spring of 1997. Seven of them rowed all four years (Eric Clopper and Jae Lee, in addition to those highlighted below). The addition of strong novices during their sophomore and junior years bolstered the class of 2000. Though not a large class in numbers, this group became one of the best that we have had.

Eric Brownell (Princeton)

  • Fr: Stroke, freshman eight. Silver at NOVAs, semis at SRA.
  • So: 2 seat, second eight. Gold at VSRC, semis at SRA.
  • Jr: 2 seat, varsity eight. Gold at VSRC, 6th at Stotes, semis at SRA.
  • Sr: Stroke, varsity eight. Gold at VSRC, semis at Stotes, 4th at SRA. Honorable mention all-met.
Of the 48 boys rowing in the SRA final this year, Eric may have been the least likely. He is far from tall and came into crew with almost no athletic background. Yet there he was, stroking a boat in the hunt for a medal. Eric really made himself into a rower with his commitment to training during his sophomore and junior years. 

Glenn Evans (Virginia Tech)

  • Jr: 4 seat, lightweight eight. Finals at Stotes and SRA.
  • Sr: 2 seat, varsity eight for the first six races. Two seat on the first four. Semis at SRA.
Glenn was in the boat for every regular-season race, including the win at Georgetown. When I decided that Tommy was too good to keep out of the varsity, the tough part was deciding who to take out. It turned out to be Glenn, but that was not an automatic choice. Given his very limited experience in the sport and his size, I think that he did extremely well. 

Ray Hohenstein (Harvard)

  • Fr: 6 seat, freshman eight. Silver at NOVAs, semis at SRA.
  • So: 4 seat, varsity eight. Silver at VSRC, 6th at Stotes, semis at SRA.
  • Jr: 6 seat, varsity eight. Gold at VSRC, 6th at Stotes, semis at SRA. Team captain. First team all-met. Invited to junior national team selection camp. Won Club Nationals and Canadian Henley in the Mid-Atlantic Development Camp eight.
  • Sr: 6 seat, varsity eight. Gold at VSRC, semis at Stotes, 4th at SRA. All-time team erg record. First team all-met. Most Valuable Rower Award. Made the Junior National Team and will compete for the U.S. in Croatia.
Ray's bio speaks for itself. Nobody who has rowed on the Jefferson men's team accomplished more. As much as I will miss Ray the rower, though, I am going to miss his presence even more. Ray's deep, booming voice, his infections laugh, his earnest approach to every task, his upbeat, positive outlook, and the respectful way with which he deals with all people make him one of the most unique people I have ever known. 

Taylor Mitchell (Virginia Tech)

  • So: Third eight.
  • Jr: 5 seat, varsity eight. Gold at VSRC, 6th at Stotes, semis at SRA.
  • Sr: 5 seat, varsity eight. Gold at VSRC, semis at Stotes, 4th at SRA.
Perhaps nobody on this team was built for rowing as much as Taylor Mitchell. The first time that I ever saw him on an erg, I was amazed at the length of his stroke, and he was definitely a solid match for Ray these past two years. Taylor was the boat comedian, always keeping everyone loose. He loves to win, though, and could be trusted to push himself to the limit in every race. 

Matt Peterson (Virginia)

  • Jr: 7 seat, second eight. 5th at VSRC, semis at SRA.
  • Sr: 2 seat, varsity eight. Gold at VSRC, semis at Stotes, 4th at SRA.
Matt got a late start in rowing but made up for it through hard work. Built more like a nose tackle than a rower, Matt can really muscle an oar. I can safely say that our two man was stronger and heavier than anyone else's. Matt improved his rowing skills each week and became a force within the boat. His ability to switch sides late in the season made the final line-up possible. 

Erik Wichern (University of Pennsylvania)

  • Fr: 7 seat, freshman eight. Silver at NOVAs, semis at SRA.
  • So: 7 seat, second eight. Gold at VSRC, semis at SRA.
  • Jr: 7 seat, varsity eight. Gold at VSRC, 6th at Stotes, semis at SRA. First team all-met.
  • Sr: 7 seat, varsity eight. Gold at VSRC, semis at Stotes, 4th at SRA. Team captain. Honorable mention all-met.
Erik is an individualist. It is not easy for someone with such an independent nature to thrive in a sport which demands conformity, especially when the coach is rather narrow in his expectations. Though Erik never let go of his personal identity, he made some significant sacrifices for the sport that he loves. He did a great job with his duties as captain during the off-season, and he set a good example at practice each day with the efficient way in which he made sure that the equipment was ready. Over the years, most of the stars on this team have rowed the seven seat; it is the seat that I consider the most difficult. Erik rowed that seat all four years and did a great job with it. His tremendous engine and competitive zeal make him the kind of kid every coach wants in his stern pair. 

Andrew Winerman (Harvard)

  • Fr: 5 seat, freshman eight. Silver at NOVAs, semis at SRA.
  • So: 3 seat, second eight. Gold at VSRC, semis at SRA.
  • Jr: 3 seat, varsity eight. Gold at VSRC, 6th at Stotes, semis at SRA. Honorable mention all-met.
  • Sr: bow, varsity eight. Gold at VSRC, semis at Stotes, 4th at SRA. Team captain. First team all-met. Coaches Award.
How often do any of us put a full effort into anything that we do? Probably not very often, and even more rarely for a sustained period of time. Andrew dedicated himself to becoming a good rower and gave nearly 100% effort from the spring of his freshman year through the last race. Andrew's commitment to training will be remembered for a long time. He erged twice a day during the winter and often did a 25k piece for fun on the weekend. Anyone who wants to excel in this sport would do well to follow Andrew's example. 

David Ziegler (M.I.T.)

  • Fr: coxswain, freshman eight. Silver at NOVAs, semis at SRA.
  • So: coxswain, lightweight eight.
  • Jr: coxswain, varsity eight. Gold at VSRC, 6th at Stotes, semis at SRA. Honorable mention all-met. Coaches Award.
  • Sr: coxswain, varsity eight. Gold at VSRC, semis at Stotes, 4th at SRA. Honorable mention all-met.
The best way to explain how good a coxswain he is to say that we had several capable coxswains on the team who were at least 25 pounds lighter than David, yet he held his seat in the V8. At 6'3", he towered over several of his rowers. I wanted to have a smaller driver for the varsity, but David was just too good to replace. He knew his crew well, ran a good practice, and was experienced in racing under pressure. What impressed me most about David over the years was the mental energy that he brought to the boathouse. I have hardly had to think for the past two years, because David was always a step ahead of me.