row2k Features
Views from the Referee's Launch - An Excerpt from Chasing Races: A Year in Rowing
April 19, 2024
Tom Mannle

Tom Mannle (photo by

Tom's book in progress 'Chasing Races - A Year in Rowing' is part journal, part memoir, part “war stories,“ and part explanation of the sport for the general reader who may be interested in rowing but doesn’t know much about it.

When someone finds out I'm a USRowing Referee, one of the reactions I might receive goes something like, "Huh? You mean like crew? How do you referee rowing?"

Short answer: standing up in a launch, juggling megaphone, flags, and stopwatch, and hanging on. Sometimes the hanging on part doesn't work so well; I have two Order of the Dolphin pins to prove it (use your imagination!).

Standing up in a launch, following a well-rowed race in the warm Spring sunshine after a long cold winter, is one of the great joys of being an official. I have no personal experience as a rower; teaching Rowing merit badge at Boy Scout camp in 1965 doesn't count for much. Like a few of my colleagues, I started my Referee journey as a parent of a scholastic rower in the Washington, DC metro area, a hotbed then and now of scholastic rowing. I stayed with officiating because I found the craft immensely enjoyable and a great deal of fun; 2024 marks my 25th season as an official (leaving out the no-no season of 2020).

If there's a "best place" to learn the craft of officiating rowing-and it is very much a craft-high school regattas are that place. Mostly because a LOT can go wrong, at any time, and the rowers involved are as new to the sport as a novice Referee. Learning how to deal with the chaotic situations that can arise all too frequently is the laboratory that eventually produces an effective and competent Referee.

To wit: my Referee brother the late great Ryz Obuchowicz was on the starting bridge at the Occoquan Reservoir one Saturday, trying to assist a Freshman girl's 8+ back onto the fingers with the stakeboat holders. He wasn't having a great deal of success.

"Ladies! Look at me! Turn your oars over and back it down! Turn them so the blades are opposite! Ladies!"

"But sir! We can't row backwards. We just learned how to row forward!"

Sigh. There was a Freshman boys coach of my acquaintance, Kevin Anchakaitis), who formulated what is known as the Anchakaitis Rule:

Q: How many freshman boys does it take to accomplish any task?

A: All of them; and it still won't be enough.

I was in a launch on the Occoquan near the starting bridge when a Freshman boys crew passed by me-on the way to colliding with the bridge.

"Weigh 'nuf, gentlemen! WEIGH 'NUF I said! That means STOP!!"

Moseying over, I looked down at the small coxswain, whose teammates were talking at him, and each other, in a not very nice manner.

"Uh, coxswain...OK here's what I want you to do: steer to starboard, paddle slowly past the starting bridge, steer to port, talk to the Marshal in the warm-up area about where he wants you...OK?"

The poor guy looked up at me and plaintively said, "Sir, I don't know how to do that."

Sigh. Scholastic coaches take note.

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