row2k news New York City Rowing Legend Seth Hoard Dies At 98
March 31, 2005
Coach Introduced Rowing to Blind Students a Half Century Ago
NEW YORK, March 28, 2005 -- Seth Weeks Hoard, a pioneering coach in the sport of rowing who first introduced blind students to the sport as a form of rehabilitation in the 1950s on New York City's Harlem River, died recently at the age of 98. He also served as an assistant coach at Columbia University, Fordham University, the Empire State Rowing Association and other local rowing clubs in the New York metropolitan area.
Members of the rowing community are encouraged to post their memories of Seth Hoard on an online tribute.
Mr. Hoard was a legendary local figure in the sport of rowing. Despite having no rowing or coaching experience, in the early-1950s, while a professor at the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind (now known as the New York Institute of Special Education), he convinced school administration officials to allow him and a colleague, John Hordines, to start a rowing program at the Viking Rowing Club on the Harlem River in New York City as a form of rehabilitation for blind and visually-impaired students.
Though he began as a novice instructor, Mr. Hoard was confident that rowing could become a sport that blind students could participate in at the same level as sighted athletes, without any limitations. Recruiting sighted coxswains from local high schools, he introduced the sport to scores of blind pupils, many of whom stayed in touch with their mentor many years after his retirement. He invented innovative coaching methods for his charges, such as nailing a thumb tack at a precise position on a wooden oar handle, which enabled students to know how far to feather their oars. He also installed fiber matting to the edge of the boat dock to safely alert the students to their surroundings. A methodical coach, he perfected the "claw clutch grip" for use in sculling, in which a rower uses his or her fingers as hooks to grasp and feather the oar. He also composed musical jingles to make it easier for his pupils to recall the finer points of rowing technique. The program quickly became successful, and eventually the Institute purchased the Viking boathouse and their fleet of rowing shells. His blind crews competed in regattas, and in informal races, even beat some novice crews from Columbia University.
In 1971, facing cuts in its federally-funded budget, the Institute was forced to abandon the rowing program. The boathouse and equipment was sold to the Fordham Rowing Association, a group of Fordham University rowing alumni that aspired to rekindle the broad local interest that rowing enjoyed at its peak in New York City a century ago. Mr. Hoard seemed to be part of the transaction, as he joined the Fordham University Crew coaching staff as an assistant coach.
After he retired from teaching, Mr. Hoard was a member and former director of the Empire State Rowing Association. He provided free coaching for individuals that wanted to learn how to row. He continued as an active rower and coach until his early 90s. Leveraging his background in literature and linguistics, he authored numerous essays and poems and gave presentations to fellow rowers on the sport.
In addition to serving on the board of directors of the Empire State Rowing Association on the Harlem River, Mr. Hoard was a life member of the Malta Boat Club on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. He also coached at the Nereid Rowing Club on the Passaic River in Rutherford, New Jersey.
A native of Corry, Pennsylvania, Mr. Hoard was the son of the late W.W. and Mary Weeks Hoard. He was a retired mathematics and linguistics professor at the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind; City College of New York and Hunter College. He spoke several languages.
Mr. Hoard is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Thode Hoard, of Arden, North Carolina, a former concert pianist and professor of music at the Bronx Conservatory of Music.
The sport of rowing has deep roots in New York City, and in the Harlem River in particular. One hundred years ago, New York was a center for rowing enthusiasts. Prior to the widespread popularity of baseball, football and basketball, rowing was one of the most popular spectator sports. Thousands of New Yorkers crowded the edges of The Speedway (now known as the Harlem River Drive) to cheer local clubs competing in rowing regattas. New York City rowing clubs -- as many as 31 in 1905 -- produced national, international and Olympic champions.
Established in 1985, the Empire State Rowing Association, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to bringing the sport of rowing to New Yorkers. ESRA has been operating from a temporary facility in Roberto Clemente State Park on the Harlem River since 1987.