row2k Features
Collegiate Coaches Corner
College Rowing Coaches on the Response to the COVID-19 Crisis - Part I
April 16, 2020
Erik Dresser, row2k.com

With the cancelation of the 2020 spring collegiate racing season last month, programs were left scrambling to make sure their student athletes were safe while trying to make sense of a lost season. row2k chatted with several coaches and staff on the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 cancellation and some steps moving forward in Part I of our Collegiate Coaches Corner series on the COVID-19 Response.

HOW DID YOUR PROGRAM DEAL WITH THE INITIAL NEWS THAT THE SPRING SEASON WAS CANCELLED?
SCOTT FRANDSEN, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA - BERKELEY
It was a really tough time for all of the guys as I’m sure it was for teams all over the world. Just thinking about the amount of hard work that was put in to develop the boat speed that we had and then for the lineups to not get the chance to race and show that speed was really disappointing. Given how everything has escalated in the past month, it was clearly the right decision to call off the season but that doesn’t remove the sense of loss. I think the best way to deal with it is to stay connected and adjust to this new normal together. It takes the same culture of persistence that we are always trying to build with in regards to the ups and downs of training and this just requires it in a different way.


COLIN FARRELL, PENN LIGHTWEIGHTS
The team was really in shock initially. I think the suddenness of it all was tough for all. Everyone sort of grieves in their own way and I think you saw that in the spectrum of emotion that the situation was eliciting. Unfortunately, there was nothing really to be done to change it though, so we moved towards some actionable steps. The first was figuring out where everyone would be. Most went home, but some stayed in Philadelphia if that was a better option for them. Then, the students had to start getting set up for online learning. And then third, we started working to pivot the training plan and help the athletes understand how they can best use this time before we’re back together again as a team.


MIKE CONNORS, SACRAMENTO STATE WOMEN
First of all, the news sort of evolved over time whether that was a good or bad thing. I initially talked to the team after Thursday’s practice on March 12 about the things that were happening with other conferences and then the NCAA cancelled spring championships, so it looked pretty grim. Friday, we had a voluntary practice where most everyone showed up to row and after that we found out the state park had cancelled all of our race permits for March, then by Monday the Aquatic Center itself had closed down. So, the bad news was sort of spread out over a couple days, but at least we were rowing and had the chance to process the news as a team. I also told them I felt there was a good chance at least the seniors might get a year of eligibility back, if not everyone which ended up happening so that gave some athletes hope.

Closed Sac State Aquatic Center
Closed Sac State Aquatic Center

Second, our team had sort of been through this on a smaller scale last year when we were not able to compete at our conference championship due to a number of unfortunate events. It did not make it any better, but they showed their resiliency after last spring, so as devastating as it was this year the issues surrounding us were much bigger than the sport. We were fortunate to have raced our first spring race so there was at least some validation of their training. We also had Alumni Day that day and it had been some time since we had done that, so I was grateful for accomplishing those events.


BART THOMPSON, ADRIAN
As a second-year program we were uniquely blessed in that we didn’t have any graduating seniors on the team, so we talked about that. With that said, we also told them that it’s okay to grieve. It’s normal to be sad during this time; if anything it would be odd not to be disappointed, so we told them to allow themselves a few days to grieve fully. After that though, we needed to turn our focus to new goals that we could set. It’s a challenging time, without a doubt, but we also stressed that it was an opportunity to get a ton better over this summer.


ALICEA STRODEL, MINNESOTA WOMEN
This was a transitional year for our team and staff; we were eager to put it on the water and assess ourselves. We got the news of the cancelled season in Oak Ridge on our team training trip. After we broke it to our team, we threw on our unisuits and ripped off a 2K. It was awesome! And a big shout out to the Navy lightweight men who cheered us through the final 500.


AARON BENSON, PUGET SOUND
Being so close to Seattle, we had early measures to address the virus before everything got canceled. We began with a deep-clean of all workout spaces. Our program already did a good job of cleaning all ergs after every use as a regular habit, and we took the extra step of putting individual names on every oar, so people touched the same one each day. At the time of our first regatta on 3/7, campuses in Seattle were already closing.

On Thursday morning 3/12, I told the women’s squad that since a couple conferences had already pulled the plug, as well as the NBA, we should treat it like it was our last row. The water was glass, and the row was one to remember. Afterward, I gathered the 11 senior women together and we were able to have an emotional moment on the dock. We talked about how if this were the end then there would be sorrow and rage, but there would also be love. Later that day our conference suspended everything, so the men’s squad never got to get out for their scheduled afternoon row, which was a bummer, but we had a great team meeting to digest the news and come together with a bit of perspective.


JOHN FX FLYNN, NAVAL ACADEMY HEAVYWEIGHT MEN
The team was together on Spring Break when everything began to unfold. As we went through the week, each day brought the reality of what was happening in the larger world a bit closer, but it helped that we were sequestered as a team and could process what was happening over the course of a few practices. The Mids stayed really present and focused on getting the most out of every row, but it was tough taking those final strokes.

Loading up a day earlier than we planned with no prospect of being able to restart the season or follow through on any of our goals for the season was also difficult, but as coaches we reminded the guys that racing is really only a part of what we get out of the sport: as a team and a Brotherhood, we get far more out of the shared struggle to work hard together and put great boats together--in other words, all of the things that we did have a chance to do over the course of that last week.


JOHN BOYD, IONA
It was tough to say the least. It still is. Personally, for me this is the first spring in 20 years that doesn’t involve being on the water. With the news changing by the hour during that final week it became obvious that it was a matter of time before we get shut down. We sat the team down one day before practice to remind them to not waste a single moment they have on the water because there is no telling when or if this will end. No one knew that that would be our final row.


TOM BOHRER, BOSTON UNIVERSITY
We were down in Clemson during our spring training trip when we got the final confirmation that the season was cancelled. Things were changing almost daily leading up to the trip and each day down in Clemson. We got daily updates that more programs were cancelling training trips and spring seasons. Then schools were cancelling classes and sending students home, the NBA canceled their season – when our AD called to say we were shutting down as well we kind of knew it was coming, but the shock was the reality that this was real.

I am glad we were in Clemson during this time. We had about a day and half to process a bit before we headed back to Boston. We did our traditional “senior swim” on the last practice which we do every year at spring break along with a “southern barbecue” that night. Even though sad and disappointing, we were able to spend some time together. The conversations were very meaningful and reflective of what the team had accomplished this year – even though we did not have a racing season. Also you could really see the friendships and bonds that had been built between the team, especially amongst the seniors. I was very proud of them all.


KIM CHAVERS, MICHIGAN STATE
We were at the boathouse getting ready to start practice when we found out the Big Ten’s decision. To be honest, it was terrible listening to that phone call with our Athletic Director while I watched the team bring down oars and warm up knowing what was about to happen. We let the seniors know first and were able to give them time together while telling the rest of the team, it was by far one of the most challenging conversations I’ve ever had to have with a group of athletes.

In retrospect, I’m thankful we were at practice when we found out as we were able to talk about it together, be there for each other, and we were able to give our seniors, and team, one final row together. It was not the sendoff we had planned for the seniors, or season, but I’m grateful they were able to end it on the water together.


ERIC GEHRKE, GEORGE WASHINGTON
The student-athletes in our program have been handling the cancellation well to date. Obviously, that can change over time, but the young men and women we have understand they are allowed and encouraged to mourn the loss of this Spring while also working towards creating daily routines and goals. I am very proud of this group."

Oak Ridge, site of 2020 NCAA Championships
Oak Ridge, site of 2020 NCAA Championships

IN WHAT WAYS IS YOUR PROGRAM/CONFERENCE HONORING THE LOST SEASON, SPECIFICALLY FOR THE SENIOR CLASS?
MIKE CONNORS, SACRAMENTO STATE WOMEN
I have not heard anything from the AAC regarding awards or honoring seniors. In fact, I have only gotten one email from the AAC and that was the press release cancelling spring sports on March 16. At Sacramento State we have a tradition of awarding nice plaques for 4-year rowers so I still plan on awarding those to any seniors who can’t return for a fifth year. They usually give a speech at the banquet upon accepting this award so we have not decided yet exactly how we will do things given the fact we can’t hold a real banquet. We also usually have senior night near the end of season so perhaps we will try to do something virtually where the seniors can say a few words to everyone.


TOM BOHRER, BOSTON UNIVERSITY
We always have an end of the year banquet for the seniors, usually right before Eastern Sprints. I told the seniors before they left for home that we will have an event that will honor their time at BU - I could just not tell them when. When things stabilize, and we can get all of them back with family and current teammates around we will do it. The athletic department will also honor each one of our seniors on GoTerriers.com. One senior per day over 10 days leading up to Eastern Sprints.


JOHN FX FLYNN, NAVAL ACADEMY HEAVYWEIGHT MEN
As a program, we are running Firstie Fridays on Instagram, planning a virtual version of our annual awards banquet, and also relying on the Firsties to continue leading the team as they now do the workouts that will set them up for their first stop in their training pipeline as officers.

Mercer Lake, site of 2020 IRA Regatta
Mercer Lake, site of 2020 IRA Regatta

Another special moment for our seniors came courtesy of the members of the 1960 Olympic Eight. That crew of Navy oarsmen was set to have their 60th Reunion this spring, and they felt a special connection to this graduating class. They came up with the idea to write to each of the graduating Firsties on the loss of their season, and those letters meant a lot to our guys.


AARON BENSON, PUGET SOUND
That’s a work in progress. We normally honor our seniors at our cup race with hometown rival PLU, which was slated for the weekend everything got canceled. Until now it had been the longest-running uninterrupted cup race on the West Coast. Usually we have the juniors from each team give flowers to the seniors of the rival team, which is a really nice display of our friendly rivalry. We’re working through some ideas on how to keep that spirit with social media, or perhaps a future event.


ERIC GEHRKE, GEORGE WASHINGTON
Our program and the conference that our athletic department works within are honoring the ability for seniors to return for 2020-2021. It is up to the coaches and administrators to work together in order to handle it respectfully within rosters and budgets.


KIM CHAVERS, MICHIGAN STATE
Our seniors will still letter for this year, receive their senior rings and gifts. We’ve been able to recognize their contributions in our team newsletter and through social media, and we have plans to continue to acknowledge the senior class through the end of the semester on our social media platforms. The Athletic Department’s Academic Gala celebration has moved online and will celebrate our program’s academic achievements virtually this coming week. This year’s Team Banquet has been postponed; we are planning to host an event this coming year to recognize our seniors in conjunction with an alumni row. We are looking forward to the opportunity to finally celebrate with them in person.


COLIN FARRELL, PENN LIGHTWEIGHTS
At this point, we’re really working through all of the eligibility for everyone moving forward. The Ivy League and NCAA are working to get that eligibility back for all the athletes, but there are a lot of logistics to work through. Our AD, Grace Calhoun, has been a really strong advocate for our athletes and is pushing to help them as much as possible. It’s still a process at this point though to work through a bunch of different scenarios for each school and athlete.

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Comments

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billengeman
04/16/2020  11:25:26 AM
Ed: It was great of you to allow these young people, our coaches and future, to demonstrate for us all the one lesson the sport teaches above all others. It bubbles up from the team, as Steve said, but the coaches reflect it well. You can't sit in a boat without valuing those who pull more than their own weight, can be counted on right through the race. We are all in the same boat is true. We add: "If we want to get somewhere, we better do it together."



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