The 53rd Head of the Charles Regatta will be held this coming weekend.
Lots of us who are friends, acquaintances, and just plain spectators from the banks of the Charles River know the event as a fun time from shore…where sometimes you see people that you haven’t seen in ages.
But, what does the Head of the Charles mean to a high school crew?
I know a thimble full about rowing. I don’t really know the importance of the Head of the Charles from an athlete’s/team’s perspective so I thought I’d pose this question to a couple of high school crew coaches — Noel Pardo and Mike Bentz, respectively, Tabor Academy’s boys and girls crew coaches.
What’s the value of the Head of the Charles to high school crews? Why is it important to row the race and what do they learn from the experience?
“For the rowers, it is a chance to be a part of history and the largest US regatta each year. They also have a chance to put their hard work and skills on display in front of tens of thousands of people – for some the largest crowds they will ever see.
It is also the opportunity to see how their fitness compares to the other crews that they race against and where they will finish in an 80 boat division (at least for our two entries, some divisions are smaller).
The event also means recognition of a sport that is rarely seen or understood. With announcers near the biggest crowds, fans and the casual observers hear about the history of the sport as well as what to look for and which crews they should watch.
The party atmosphere that once existed is really no longer there. Many come to watch the crews gracefully row up river on what is usually a pretty fall day.
Some fans look for the inevitable clash of oars and steering mishaps as boats attempt to maneuver down the course. A variety of colleges, schools, and even national teams are represented by many blade colors as well as different uniforms and spectators marvel as a floating rainbow streams down the river. All in all, it is quite the spectacle.”
“The greatest value of having our Tabor high school girls at the Head of the Charles is simply the opportunity to be a part of such a grand and historical regatta. There is really no other regatta — or sporting event, for that matter, in the world like it.
It is an opportunity for athletes, who are relatively new to the sport, to compete in the same arena as Olympic medalists from the US National Team as well as international competitors. According to some sources, there will be nearly 300,000 spectators there. To put that in perspective, those fans would fill Gillette stadium (home of the NFL New England Patriots) four times.
Since our program typically only rows in the spring season- where races are 1500 meters- the Charles River is also a great opportunity for the girls to row a longer race with greater variables. The Charles course is circuitous and the coxswain has to try to steer the best course. Other boats need to be dealt with, whether they are passing, or, being passed.
I told the girls, that there are so many strokes, that there is going to be a bad one in there. The key to racing the course well, is how the rower and the boat responds to a bad stroke. This is also invaluable because it teaches the rowers tenacity and issues can be overcome.
It is important for us to row the head simply to represent the tradition of Tabor Academy. We just had our inaugural Tabor Academy Athletic Hall of Fame induction and I had the pleasure of introducing our crew from 1988 who had won the school girl division of the Charles in the fall of 1987.
I also enjoy that our girls get to see more immediate alumnae who are competing for their respective colleges. We have a recent graduate in the Princeton Championship 8 race, and a couple of girls rowing for Syracuse. Seeing them at the Head of the Charles acts as a bridge for our girls and I think helps them see that rowing in college is a possibility.
The greatest Head of the Charles lesson comes down to grit. It is a long, tough event. I remember how that last turn was when I rowed in the Charles over 20 years ago. I rowed bow seat, starboard, and when I thought I was giving everything, the rudder wasn’t doing enough for our coxswain, she yelled, “Starbords more pressure!” Rising to the occasion and doing everything you can for your team – that’s what I hope they’ll learn.”