At the Head Of The Charles Monday night all-staff meeting, the first for the regatta after the close of the 2023 regatta, Executive Director Fred Schoch shared with the HOCR staff, board, race operations committee members, and partners that he has decided to 'let it run' on his tenure leading the beloved Head Of The Charles Regatta.
(I use 'let it run' and not 'way enough' because Fred will stay on in his role while a search takes place, and as you will read ahead, will continue working with the rowing community in several ways - maybe call it a long warmdown.)
Schoch comes from a rowing background among rowing backgrounds; his dad was the legendary Delos 'Dutch' Schoch, who until the past couple years was known as one of the top coaches in history (one who has had his name on countless rowing shells, including one of the first shells this correspondent ever rowed), and is now known as one of the Boys in the Boat; Schoch was the alternate for the 1936 crew.
Dutch Schoch coached rowing at Princeton from 1946 until 1965, when a heart condition dictated he switch jobs to be the golf coach; when he was a kid, Fred spent his days at the boathouse, coxing his dad's crews from the age of 10, and starting sculling soon after.
Fred later rowed at his father's alma mater the University of Washington, where he got a BA in English, and started his career as a teacher and rowing coach, ending up at Belmont Hill, Connecticut College, Princeton, the US Naval Academy, Georgetown, and for the US team.
Schoch got his start running regattas after a summer coaching the USA women's eight at the Bled World Championships in 1989. His most recent employer was unhappy that Schoch would need to come back to school a bit late (Worlds ended on September 10 that year), so Schoch decided to move on for more supportive environs - a somewhat bold move for a young coach with two kids at home under the age of three.
Schoch had worked in admissions when he coached at Princeton, had worked at private schools, and had taught English (in addition to his BA from Washington, he has an MA from Colorado State) at Belmont Hill and elsewhere. He was looking for work possibly as a director of development at a private school that also could allow him to keep coaching, and then got a call about a regatta in New York.
"I came home from Worlds, and soon after got a call from Bill Miller saying that he had heard from a guy in New York who wanted to start a regatta on the Hudson River to bring awareness to the scenic Hudson area." They signed Schoch on to run the regatta.
Schoch went to work to get his friends to attend, and then, as Schoch describes it, "I learned to fundraise." He cold-called IBM, which had headquarters nearby, to sponsor, then got Barclay's on board as well.
Schoch's work at that regatta, including the rental of a train from Grand Central Station to carry VIPs complete with champagne and a brass band, may have ultimately presaged the 'Biggest Show on Earth' status that the Charles has now.
Steve Carr and Ed Smith, who were looking for someone to run the Charles, raced in the regatta, and immediately thought to interview Schoch.
'Steve and Ed, whom I had known when I was teaching at Belmont Hill, decided to interview me," Schoch said. "The Head Of The Charles was completely run by volunteers, and they were feeling the weight of running the regatta. Bay Bank was a sponsor of the Charles that year, and their contribution made it possible for the regatta to hire Schoch.
Schoch, along with Smith, 'the man at the start' John Romaine, Carr, and others on what was then a five-person board, dug in.
"When I started, we didn't have email," Schoch recalls. "I was I was sending out proposals in 5x7 envelopes including pictures of the regatta. Then I would wait for two weeks and call them up and say, 'Hey, did you get my package? I'd really like to come in and see you.'"
Since those analog days, the Charles has become one of the most beloved regattas on the planet, and a must-go for many rowers.
Did Schoch ever think that the regatta could become the juggernaut it is now?
"I always knew we could be a significant rowing property, because of the cities of Boston and Cambridge, that their physical layout of the Charles River, and the fact that there was already an audience coming," he said. "But I will never take 100% credit for what's happened here. This has been the hard work of these dedicated race committee members, and volunteers. I do take pride in the fact that I hand a big hand in bringing on some super people with business acumen. So you can quote me on that."
Arguably the most impressive element of the regatta is the corps of volunteers that actually run the regatta come Thursday morning; both on land and on the water, their competence, good attitudes, and dedication is legion.
"As Ed Smith says, our secret sauce is our volunteers," Schoch said. "The race operations group meets every week starting right after Labor Day, and it is a bit of a tribal experience. People just really enjoy it and have fun. And then on the regatta weekend there are even more volunteers, and it occurred to me that we have been lucky to have apparel sponsors, and if you make it fun for people, and we are all part of a signature event in Boston, and then maybe everyone gets a jacket, it can really work."
Asked what he thought might be among his favorite changes in the regatta during his time, Schoch cited the growth in the number and variety of events.
"Bit by bit, we added events as we saw demand," he said. "It was fun to create Director's Challenge events, to create the parent child-double, which is being widely copied all over. Some of the Youth events, we took a flyer on those; for example, the Youth Singles, the first year maybe there were a dozen boats, in both genders, and now we have to turn people away.
"Contributing to the growth of and being a leader in American rowing, being a leader in worldwide rowing, and setting a new bar for regattas, I suppose, will be the legacy that I'm that I'm particularly proud of - but I didn't do it alone. Really, all these contributors make it happen. It's a multifaceted sports property now. When I came when I came in, it was a small one-day event."
Schoch's job has required an unusual set of skills, from finding sponsors to helping clean up after the regatta; from adding events to adding enclosures; from fielding complaints to fielding television interviews.
Schoch credits his work as a coach and teacher for his ability to shapeshift as needed. He compared seeking out sponsors to recruiting, both efforts where you are trying to find a fit, to find good partners, and in which you need to be able to bounce back from rejection. As for being the face of the regatta, he cites his time in the classroom. "Being a classroom teacher gave me preparation to be a media person when I needed to," he said. "I choose my words carefully as an English major and an English teacher, so when I first went on WBZ or other outlets, it just came pretty naturally. Just stay with the script and, and try and represent the regatta as best I could."
Schoch really has no plans to sunset his time in the rowing community, or arguably even really to slow down all that much.
"I'm in my mid 70s now, and I've worked well past 'normal' retirement time, and I want to go out on a good note," he said. "But I want to keep doing what I love, but I don't want to do it full time. I want to consult with other regattas and events, so I'm going to put out my shingle and see what comes next. And I really want to coach again. I had so much fun riding with Alex Perkins last year at Northeastern, with Paul Cooke (at Brown), and with Wyatt (Allen) at Dartmouth, and I want to stay involved in that way in the launch.
"Some friends have told me 'Fred, retirement is the best job you'll ever have," he said with a laugh. "You're going to be so busy, you won't even recognize that you're not working full time. So I am looking forward to those opportunities."
I asked Fred to look back on a life in rowing, and he, as rowers will understand, started with his time in boats with friends.
"Charles Attager was created by D'Arcy MacMahon when he didn't want to answer the phone at the boat club. You know, 'Oh, Charles Attager? He's not here.' And then they started signing all the letters from the regatta Charles Attager.
"When I got here, I started Team Attager. We had so much fun racing in that lineup, and I miss my two dear friends, Charlie (Hamlin) and Nik (Kurmakov). Every day I think about those two guys.
"We used to get grief from Harry Parker; he called us the Hessian crew because we were always bringing in one or two really fit guys to help us balance out the boat. That has been a great joy for me.
"But I also worked with FISA for 15 years, and it was a real kick to work with Matt Smith and others. I got to make so many friends in Europe, I can go to Europe now, go to a boathouse in almost any country and take out a single and go for a row."
Schoch is a third generation Husky, his grandfather (Fred C.) having been a recruited baseball player, and Dutch and Fred having rowed.
"From my beginnings, my father having been one of the Boys in the Boat, to see his picture on the murals at the Boys in the Boat tent (at the regatta) this year, it has come full circle for me. You know, he would be so proud of me.
"All three of us now have a place in the Hall of Fame at Washington," Schoch said, not without some wistfulness. "And that's amazing."
The regatta has announced a search for Fred's replacement; see the full release here.