row2k Features
Book Excerpt: Chapter 16, 1960 Intercollegiate Rowing Championship -from Four Years at Four, by John Escher
April 1, 2022
John Escher and Philip Makanna

People who were unaware of our hard work and recruitment and sound coaching tended to view our speed as the freak accomplishment of naive kids who didn't know any better. Rowing however is basic. Knowing this, Bill's brother Tom Engeman and George Baum, the captain of our JV crew, hitchhiked together from northern Virginia to Onondaga Lake just west of Syracuse in hope of witnessing an unusual phenomenon.

The day of the IRA was cloudless on the lake. The flat water reflected every oar of the twelve boats spread side by side across the surface in a broad array. I cannot remember in my four years as an undergraduate and later years as a crew coach a more smooth and perfect motion as we made our way the three miles to the starting line with soft strokes.

The 1960 IRA program cover
The 1960 IRA program cover

Favored Cornell had won the IRA the last four years but would be rowing without their prodigy stroke Bill Stowe, whom that university was reminding that he stole a Christmas Creche. Observers expected that Navy, who always has taken rowing seriously, and Penn, whose good-looking seven man was Brooke Shields' future father, would also be serious contenders.

As the race began, we started out with ten lackadaisical strokes on purpose and fell behind the other crews except for Columbia.

Goodbye Columbia.

Brown in the 1960 IRA program
Brown in the 1960 IRA program

Then we fell into a rhythm of long, long hard pulls, about one every two seconds. Normally, boats pass each other arduously, edging ahead of competition mere oarsman by oarsman, and foot by foot, with the coxswain rallying his crew with notice of every incremental gain.

But that day Mouse took to yelling out whole colleges we went by so fast.

"I've got Dartmouth, now give me Syracuse. I got em!" Mouse yelled. "Now gimme Princeton! And Wisconsin! Yes!!!!"

The race announcer noticed Brown's advance and assured viewers he would double-check to make sure he was seeing things correctly.

"Get me Cornell...yes...and Penn..gottem, okay!" Mouse cried. "We just passed the Naval Academy!..Washington's all that's left... wait! There's something wrong with Washington!... Their three-man's passed out! Half a mile to go... get em!!!"

Yet as we were overtaking Washington, their coxswain decided not to steer. His veering boat pushed us toward shore and sent our bow to consort with the boulders. This allowed California and Navy to recover and pass us in the final moments.

We were awarded fourth place in consolation, and the officials, who reviewed the result fourteen times, kept asking us about filing a protest. Did we want to disqualify Washington and take third? Or re-row the three-mile race?

That last idea seemed truly crazy-- one could die. And we wanted to win, not take third. At the urging of Bill Engeman, a future labor lawyer known for resolving conflicts that no one else could, we voted unanimously not to disqualify Washington.

The newspaper and magazine coverage we received for that race was magnificent, but not one article, including the one I wrote, came close to expressing what our crew felt.

If you enjoy and rely on row2k, we need your help to be able to keep doing all this. Though row2k sometimes looks like a big, outside-funded operation, it mainly runs on enthusiasm and grit. Help us keep it coming, thank you! Learn more.


Log in to comment
There are no Comments yet

Rowing Features
Rowing Headlines
Get our Newsletter!

Support row2k!

Tremendous thanks to our
row2k supporters!

Get Social with row2k!
Like row2k on Facebook Follow row2k on Twitter Follow row2k on Instagram Follow row2k on Youtube Connect with row2k on LinkedIn

Get the row2k app!

row2k rowing store!

Get our Newsletter!
Enter your email address to receive our weekly newsletter.

Support row2k!

Advertiser Index
Advertise on row2k