One day, 50 years ago, a police officer made a not-so-routine stop when he flashed his lights and pulled over a group of six college students packed into the station wagon of David Wicks ‘63.
Strapped to the car’s roof was a crew boat (called a “shell”) that was nearly four times the length of the car, which was attempting to blend in with traffic, turning corners like a…well...like a car with a really, really long boat on its roof.
There were only two possible explanations to the approaching police officer and surrounding onlookers:
1.) this was some sort of a circus act being performed, free of charge, to the public;
or 2.) this was a group of young men doing something that could only lead to no good.
As the police officer would learn, neither assumption was correct. Yes, this was a group of young men, but it was a group doing something that would, in fact, lead to quite a bit of good. Strapped to their car roof was the key to a new world at Trinity, one that revived a defunct crew program at the College, catching the attention of the Trinity community, the state, and beyond. Police officer after police officer escorted the students from town to town, bidding ‘good luck,’ as they traveled from Worcester, Mass., where Clark University had donated the shell to the ambitious group, to Hartford Conn., where one of the nation’s top crew programs was experiencing its rebirth. During reunion festivities at Trinity last weekend, Wicks gathered with his teammates at Trinity’s boathouse, where they recalled that earlier time.
“That was one angry father,” said Wicks, whose dad recognized the car in an Associated Press photo that ran in newspapers as far north as Boston. “Let me tell you, he was not too pleased when he saw that.”
Wicks’ father, who was also an avid rower in his younger days, calmed down when he was given the full explanation, but the media frenzy surrounding the pioneers from Trinity was just picking up, giving Trinity something to cheer about as the team began knocking off top tier competitors, one race after another. In 1962, just their second year as a team, the Trinity students finished third of approximately 30 teams in the Dad Vail Regatta, which was, at the time, the top national regatta.
“Colleges were looking for an easy win when they faced us,” said Tom Boyd ’62 at the 50th reunion event. “But we kept winning and kept surprising.”
Members of the original Trinity crew team relived their rowing days (Photos by Nick Lacy: http://bit.ly/k6cQS9)
Like any little engine that could and that did, their success didn’t happen without a struggle.
Hanging in the updated Trinity boathouse on the Connecticut River is a framed letter, by former Trinity President Albert Charles Jacobs, which is a written vote of support, but a prediction that the program would be unable to survive the treacherous financial waters involved with operating a program.
“We didn’t have strong support from the administration,” said Wicks. “They didn’t realize how much work we were really putting in this.”
Still, many faculty members did voice their support to the group, including Dan Jessee, Head Football Coach at the time, even if he didn’t know much about the sport.
“Damndest sport I’ve ever heard of where you win sitting down going backwards,” Peter Bundy ‘62 recalled Jessee telling the team.
Whether the school’s skepticism that the program would flourish acted as the flint that would spark the team’s rapid rise to national and international success is not clear, but it adds to the fable of this pioneering group, who spent many of their Trinity days in a tobacco barn on the Connecticut River.
“What the College did was permit us to use the name Trinity, which was important for competing against other schools and building the program,” he added. “That had tremendous value to us.”
L to R: Ted Wagner '62; Tom Lloyd '62; Peter Bundy '62; Ned Roberts '64; David Wicks '63; Charlie Todd '64; Brewster Perkins '65; Steve Lockton '62; Terry Mixter '61; Tom Boyd '62; Baird Morgan '62; and Lloyd Reynolds '63 (Photos by Nick Lacy: http://bit.ly/k6cQS9)
The tobacco barn shed, which the rowers claim as an integral element to the success of the program, was loaned to the team by J.E. Sheppard, the father of Nancy Sheppard, who was dating Lloyd Reynolds ’63, a member of the team. The group expresses gratitude to Mr. Sheppard to this day. “He was as generous as could be,” says Reynolds, while others echoed his sentiments. A photo of the barn now hangs inside the boathouse, which today includes a warehouse-sized basement for all of the team shells and plenty of video/recreational space, including a room overlooking the Connecticut River, where the pioneering oarsmen sat 50 years later, on June 9, 2011, recalling these and other great memories from their experience.
Inside the boathouse, it is impossible not to notice the major impact that the original 11 have had on the program, as photos, newspaper clippings, letters from the administration, and other artifacts, including a scrapbook from their adventures, line the hallways of the facility. The many accolades that the men’s and women’s rowing teams have garnered since –12 N.E. Championships, nine straight NCAA Championship Regatta berths, two national titles, 10 undefeated seasons -- are enough for a museum exhibition alone. None of this would have even been possible had it not been for the work of the original 11 back in 1962.
“It is always exciting to welcome alumni to the boathouse,” said Kevin MacDermott, head coach of men’s rowing at Trinity. “But to have the founders of Trinity Rowing back is truly special. The rowing program owes an enormous debt to these men; against significant odds, they created the modern-era of rowing at Trinity. Through the past 50 years, every Trinity rower and coach has been inspired by the founders’ example of fortitude, self-sufficiency, perseverance, and ambition.”
Since 1962, rowing at Trinity has become one of the most accomplished athletic programs at the College, creating a noteworthy wake in waters from California to Henley, England. Perhaps as important, no athletes today are responsible for transporting shells on their car roof.